Fresh Vancouver Dining
Countless Vancouverites are self-proclaimed food experts, and can you blame us? Our beautiful city is situated on the Pacific Coast, which boasts of bountiful, sustainable seafood. To our east lies the fertile valley where farmers harvest organic delights. The Okanagan Valley, our version of Napa Valley, presents us with award-winning wines. The temperate climate around Vancouver means the city sees three distinct food seasons and each season yields a different haul of edible specialties. Luckily for us, this in turn means that Vancouver restaurant menus are always changing.
It can be difficult to keep up with all the new, seasonal menu offerings. So to make sure you do not miss a bite on your next visit, here is a three-season guide of some of our favourite local and sustainable ingredients.
Spring – Summer
Wild Spot Prawns, Line-Caught Halibut and Salmon
The spot prawn is a prized specialty that appears on the docks and in the markets in early May, celebrated by the annual Spot Prawn Festival marking the start of the season. A local variety of shrimp, they are large, sweet, flavourful and firm in texture. As with much of the seafood served in the city, spot prawns are often sustainably trap-caught instead of farmed. . Japanese chefs around the city prepare this delicacy as sashimi, while other restaurants will gently cook them before incorporating them into everything from iced shellfish platters to pasta dishes and seafood boils. This is a great time of year for seafood as line-caught Pacific halibut and wild salmon are also in season. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol on menus to confirm the seafood being served is sustainably caught.
Where to Find It:
Many of Vancouver’s best restaurants will celebrate the spot prawn when it’s in season. Seafood-focused spots like YEW seafood + bar, Blue Water Café, Coast and Wild Tale Coastal Grill are all quick to celebrate spot prawns in season, but even non-seafood restaurants like Pidgin get in on the action. For a Japanese take on the delicacy, head to Tojo’s, Raw Bar at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, and Miku. These will also be good choices for finding line-caught halibut and wild salmon while in season.
Summer – Fall
The stunning summer is the time for British Columbia’s produce to shine. Both the Fraser Valley, about an hour from downtown, and the Okanagan Valley, a 4 hour drive from Vancouver, are responsible for the majority of the beautiful produce you’ll find at the farmer’s market.
The many varieties of berries alone may boggle your mind: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and more. You’ll see piles of cherries - from the deep red Bing cherries to the firm, yellow-blushed Rainiers. Don’t forget the sunny apricots, peaches and nectarines, begging to be eaten whole, sliced into salads, or baked into a pie.
Chefs also gather inspiration from the farmer’s markets, browsing the heirloom varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, peas and even squashes which naturally then appear on restaurant menus.
Where to Find It:
Many of Vancouver’s restaurants are guided by a farm-to-table philosophy, meaning that if something is at the farmer’s market this week, it will end up on their menu. Spots like Forage, Edible Canada at the Market, YEW seafood + bar and Brix + Mortar all offer ever-changing menus filled with seasonal produce. For desserts featuring in-season fruits, try the city's high-end patisseries like Beaucoup Bakery and Thierry.
Fall – Winter
Game Meats, Pacific Oysters and BC Sea Urchin
When the weather gets chilly, the first instinct is often to order a meaty stew. And indeed, you’ll find menu items featuring delicious game meats from the north and interior of B.C. such as pheasant, elk, caribou or venison. But that’s not all that’s in season. Instead, try a unique type of comfort food: oysters and sea urchins.
Internationally acclaimed Pacific oysters are harvested sustainably along B.C.'s coast and around the islands near Vancouver. You may have heard the rule to only eat oysters in months that end in an "-er." That’s because oysters are fattest and tastiest when the water is bone-chillingly cold. Enjoy freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell with some grated horseradish or a touch of lemon juice. Some popular B.C. varieties to enjoy raw include Chef's Creek, Effinghams, Kusshi, Pacific Rim Petites and Royal Miyagi.
If you are not ready to go raw, deep-fried oysters are also popular. Fanny Bay is a larger variety that is commonly used.
For the more adventurous eater, try a dish featuring the delicacy of sea urchin. Commonly called by its Japanese name, uni, these prickly crustaceans also live along B.C.'s coast. They may look menacing but they are considered a delicacy for a reason. The creamy roe inside the spiky shell hold a complex, briny flavour and a velvety richness that can best be described as foie gras from the ocean. During the winter months, harvesters sell both red and green sea urchins at the Steveston Fishermen's Wharf and at Granville Island. A large number of them end up in Japanese restaurants, served straight up as sashimi or on nigiri sushi.
Where to Find It
Blue Water Café + Raw Bar in Yaletown has a gorgeous cocktail bar where guests can sample the best of B.C.'s oysters alongside an extensive sake and wines list. Other spots to try local oysters in season include Boulevard, Chewies, Joe Fortes – all downtown, and Merchant’s Oyster Bar on Commercial Drive. For sea urchin, try Miku Restaurant or a number of other Japanese spots such as Ebisu on Robson Street, and Minami in Yaletown. For those in the mood for the more traditional comfort food options try Chambar in downtown Vancouver, Wildebeest in Gastown, or Exile Bistro in the West End.