During a recent visit to the stunning Canadian city of Vancouver, David Standen swaps fine dining for deliciously sloppy hot dogs and fried rice balls, when he hits the streets in search of the city’s burgeoning street food scene.
Street food in Vancouver is a serious business, as fine dining in the city is no longer restricted to restaurants. Japanese-style hot dogs, tacos, fried oyster po’boy sandwiches – this is street food with style, made from locally sourced ingredients.
The colourful vans roaming the downtown area are part of a project that started in 2010 to diversify Vancouver’s street food – based on healthy, local, organic and sustainable food choices. Seventeen vendors were chosen from 400 applicants, and another 19 vendors have since been added. The plan is to have up to 60 food vans working in the city over the next four years.
Far from being a blot on the landscape, the vans truly look like they belong in Vancouver, like they’ve always been there, adding another dimension to this exciting city. And, more importantly, the menus on offer are both eclectic and appealing – good news for the city’s office drones, whose lunchtimes might have previously been dominated by pre-packaged supermarket sandwiches, and great news for travellers with a foodie disposition.
“I think we all feel we are pioneering this movement in Vancouver,” says Andrew Fielding, owner of The Kaboom Box, a fire-engine-red coloured van that specialises in local food. Based on the corner of Granville Street, where it meets Robson, The Kaboom Box is an ideal place to start a tour of the city, or end it, depending on your idea of a good time. Granville, with its bars and clubs, is deep in the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district, while Robson is a popular shopping area, nicknamed ‘Vancouver’s Runway’. “I love the location because of the variety of people in the area,” says Andrew. “It attracts business people, shoppers, tourists, protesters, and people from every walk of life.”
There’s a bench in front of the van, dubbed the ‘VIP section’ by Andrew, which is an ideal spot for people-watching while eating the ‘world famous’ Salmwich (fresh smoked salmon in a bun with zingy mayonnaise and homemade maple-mustard coleslaw) or the Fried Oyster Po’boy (a sandwich made from panko-breaded local oysters). Alternatively, take your food around the corner and eat on the steps in front of Vancouver Art Gallery.
The beautiful neoclassical building, with its towering columns and ornate stonework, is also on the Re-Up BBQ food stall’s beat, where anyone yearning for a simple, sloppy, yet sublime pulled-pork sandwich can have their needs fulfilled. A little further along, on the corner of Robson and Burrard Streets, is The Roaming Dragon, whose fried rice balls are well worth a detour.
From the art gallery, a quick walk past the modernist government buildings and bubble dome of Robson Square and a right on Smithe Street, to where it meets Burrard, will lead you to Japadog. This is a food cart with a big reputation. Beloved by residents, visited by stars (who can argue with Ice Cube or Steven Seagal’s recommendations), it’s an immediate port of call for any food lover visiting Canada‘s eighth most populous city.
Japadog, run by Noriki Tamura, has been going seven years, and, as you might have guessed, specialises in hot dogs with Japanese toppings. The popular Terimayo Dog (beef sausage, covered in teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and seaweed) is always a good choice, but the Ume (with plum sauce and onion) and Negimiso (sour gravy, miso and fried cabbage) are also worth a try.
Noriki recommends eating your hot dog while you walk, so a trip along Burrard to Davie Street will lead you to a flourishing community garden, full of thriving flowers and vegetables. It’s a quiet oasis amid the hum of the city, perfect to sit, relax and plan the next course of food.
Of course, if you’ve visited a few food carts already, the chances are you might want to burn some calories before stepping up to the plate again. A jaunt along the vibrant independent shop-filled Davie Street takes you to English Bay. From there, a stroll along the coastal path and along the edge of Stanley Park leads to the harbour.
By the time you reach Harbour Green Park, you should be mulling over where your next street food hit is going to come from. On the corner of West Cordova and Thurlow is the hard-to-miss purple van housing Feastro, the Rolling Bistro, which serves tacos, seafood and comfort food, including Canada’s favourite dish – poutine, made from chips, gravy and cheese curds. A good bet is the ceviche (which includes a dose of the locally made Victoria Gin), or the popular halibut taco. The harbour makes for an ideal location to savour your food, and a good spot to enjoy the vistas is by the Vancouver Convention Centre, where you can stand near celebrated local author and artist Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca sculpture, and look out over the busy harbour watching the sea planes take off.
Head back into the downtown area to Library Square if you want to sample a mixture of Korean, Mexican and American food at the COMA Food Truck. A Bibimap (a mixture of egg, vegetables, barbecue beef and spicy sauce) in front of the huge futuristic glass and concrete library building is a must. Then grab a Korean taco from Cartel Taco, which is on the corner of Dunsmuir and Hamilton, and head down to False Creek for good views of the huge BC Place Stadium and the shiny alien bubble that is Science World. From here there are boats over to Granville Island, where the colourful market place is brimming with fresh local produce.
But if you just want to refresh your palate, make your last stop the Juice Truck. Situated on the corner of Abbott Street and Water Street in Gastown, the truck offers a range of fresh juices and smoothies. “It wasn’t until a trek through the Himalayas that the Juice Truck was born,” says owner Ryan Slater, who was influenced by a Nepalese orange drink made from sea buckthorn berries. You can give yourself a vitamin hit by having the excellently titled F Cancer Juice (made from red pepper, kale, spinach, carrot, celery and beet), or go for something like the deceptively healthy Almost Chocolate smoothie.
All that’s left to do after that is take your drink to Crab Park down on the waterfront, sit back on the lush green grass, with the bustling port and the North Shore Mountains in front of you, and have a think about what you’re going to have for dinner.