So it’s been three weeks since I’ve been living in Vancouver and I thought it was about time I wrote a ruddy blog. Sorry for the delay, but the truth is, I’ve been having something of a summer holiday. The weather, which has now turned – and all the Vancouverites, bless their delicate souls, are insisting that it’s now ‘fall’ (it’s not) – has been amazing, and we’ve been spending time on the beach, cycling lots around the wide, tree-lined avenues with their sunflowers and wooden Victorian houses, and generally I’ve just been getting to know this unique, scenic city.
My favourite flower shop in Vancouver: Olla flowers
This kind of thing is EVERYWHERE
And oh my gosh have I been eating. And cooking. And eating. And cooking. I don’t know whether it’s a comfort thing – but being somewhere new without my family and friends has just made me lose myself in food even more than usual (recipes forthcoming). I’m really lucky in that my boyfriend (who’s been out here since March) has chosen to live in an area known as Commercial Drive in the east of the city, and it’s basically this mile long drive that’s choc-full of amazing independent restaurants, businesses and food shops. It reminds me in its way of Brixton or Hackney, and I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to bakeries, health food places, specialist shops, coffee shops and grocery stores selling everything from tinned oysters to achiote paste.
So I bought this baby, and have been filling it regularly with ingredients from ‘The Drive’.
But one thing that has been really quite shocking is the price of everything. This is a very expensive place to shop in, and very often it’s actually cheaper to eat out than it is to buy a load of ingredients and cook them. Dairy products are the absolute worst:
Decent, affordable cheese is very hard to come by. I’m yet to find mozzarella that isn’t the consistency of halloumi (middle class crisis alert), and a tub of marscapone for cheesecake set me back $7. The best I’ve found so far is a gorgeously juicy, creamy truffled goat’s cheese from Salt Spring Island cheeses which is sold at the amazing Trout Lake Farmer’s market – a market that takes place every Saturday five minutes from our house, showcasing the best produce from around BC.
Space ship squashes (yes really!) at Trout Lake Farmer's Market
We’ve also been eating out quite a bit, as I’ve been researching a couple of travel pieces. My favourite place so far was Pidgin – an amazing restaurant on the Downtown Eastside which has been continually picketed by anti-gentrification protesters since opening in February. There’s a huge debate going on here in the Downtown Eastside about its low-income residents being displaced by new residential and business developments pushing up prices in the area, and protestors have been very vocal about trying to make an example out of this place, and shut it down. But given that this is a small, independently-owned, owner-run restaurant doing some really good, creative things and employing local people, and it’s a two minute walk from a cluster of places in Gastown (including Starbucks and Spaghetti House), this vitriol seems to me displaced and misguided.
But above and beyond that, the food here is utterly amazing. And the prices are very, very reasonable for what you get – so a sharing plate of melting lamb belly with piquant pickled mustard seeds and silky, smoky egg plant was $16 (that’s under 10 English pounds). The chef, Makoto Ono, is Canadian-born Japanese but is classically French-trained, and his cooking is absolutely incredible – using French and Asian technique applied to fantastic local produce.
The delectable soft-boiled, ramen-marinated dipping egg with summer beans and yuzu brown butter at Pidgin
The above dish of ramen-marinated dippy eggs with sauteed summer beans and mushrooms in a yuzu brown butter was a total revelation, the eggs deeply savoury yet rich and creamy, and it even inspired me to have a go at my own version! I bought some kikkoman noodle base (which includes bonito, mirin and soy), gently soft-boiled a couple of eggs an picked off the shells, then packed them into a glass with the marinate and left them for an hour. The result wasn’t half as good as Pidgin’s – I think I should have diluted the marinate as it was too intense, but it was certainly a start and something I’ll carry on experimenting with. I ate them with wok-fried beet tops, radishes and zucchini from the garden, cooked in the marinate.
I’m also pretty lucky that the flat we’re living in has a kitchen garden, maintained by our lovely landlord Mr Choi. The garden is alive with runner beans, Japanese squashes, tomatoes, really fragrant basil and zucchini (courgette for us Brits), and Mr Choi was kind enough to let me have the flowers, which have been growing in abundance because he doesn’t use them. Now I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with courgette flowers, but I’ve always found them hard to come by in London – I just never seem to have been at the right Farmer’s Market at the right time (middle class trauma mark two), but now I find myself surrounded by the lovely little delicate yellow flowers!
So after paying above the odds for some marscapone I decided to stuff these beauties with it, mixed with a tin of smoked oysters, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. I then coated them in a tempura batter and shallow fried them in some olive oil. The result was a punchy, crunchy, creamy yet subtle snack which we enjoyed with some pale ale. Rather a nice way to see in a summer’s evening.
Tempura coated, smoked oyster and marscapone stuffed zucchini flowers
Last night I decided to make pizzas, as we had a friend coming over – and there were still lots of courgette flowers, so I picked them, took out their pollen-laden stamens and used them as a pizza topping along with some garden zucchini and the attractive space ship squash we bought at the farmer’s market – all of which I marinated first with a bit of lemon juice, white pepper and olive oil. I used a sour cream and raw garlic base, and chucked over some chunks of mozzarella, which was really sub-standard, and browned rather than going all creamy and gooey – but the result was still one of the prettiest pizzas I’ve ever made. And SO summery.
The experimentation continues.