Sunday, November 11, 2012

Granville Markets, Vancouver, BC

Recently I took a trip to Canada to attend a course and had the great fortune to spend a couple of days in Vancouver. Of course Vancouver is all about the Canuks! The big foodie highlight for me was Granville Island, the location of the public market.

With autumn falling across Canada, many shop windows showed displays of their harvest produce. I was concerned that there really wouldn't be much good food available, but boy was I surprised! Here is a selection of the great fresh produce I found on Granville Island.

Granville Island was originally a swamp and was converted into an industrial island where the main product being produced was iron and steel. It fell into dilapidation after the second world war, and was reclaimed by the city and turned into an urban redevelopment in the late seventies. You get there by taking the bus from downtown, or you can catch the Aquabus which docks right outside the market. You can find out more about Granville Island by checking out their website.

The first sight that greeted me in the public market was capsicums as far as the eye could see and of every colour. I really would have liked to buy a big load of these and get to work cooking traffic light ratatouille with some delicious pasta and meatballs. In Australia the most common coloured capsicums are red and green. Granville Island has red, green, orange and yellow capsicums. Apparently red capsicums are just rippened green ones, but the orange and yellow ones are actually a different variety and are grown from different seeds. In Canada they probably call these bell peppers.

There was also an abundance of tomatoes. Every shape, every colour. Under the tables were bags of cherry tomatoes - red, yellow and orange. I have never seen so many varieties of cherry tomatoes. They also had them on the truss, which is highly covetted in Australia. I had the feeling that one could cook up an enormous Italian feast with the foods I found on the very first stall.

Asparagus is typically a delicacy in Australia, and we pay a lot for it. Granville Island had bunch after bunch of asparagus. Can you imagine all of this lightly steamed and served with beautiful hollandaise sauce and freshly cracked pepper? Or how about if it was tossed in garlic butter and garnished with roast hazelnuts? Or maybe even wrapped in a lovely slice of proscuitto and baked in the oven then drizzled in light olive oil. Mmmmm!

This stack of strawberries amounted to a pound, which I actually bought and attempted to eat. I polished off six for lunch, another six for afternoon snack and another six for breakfast the next day and I still hadn't put a dent in the big pile. The flavour was amazing - even better than English strawberries. Clearly they were grown in a field not a hot house. Sadly, I had to leave at least half a pound of strawberries behind because I simply couldn't finish them. I won't mention the maple syrup seller who offered me a free sample to enjoy with my strawberries and then put it back on the shelf. Because that might give the markets a bad reputation!

There were so many gorgeous little cakes that would have been great to try - but they were very expensive. And lets face it, you can't eat every cake, right? Well at least that's what I tell myself. Pictured here are mini lemon cheesecakes, chocolate cheesecakes, mango cheesecakes and strawberry tarts.

Spooky halloween cookies.

Fresh raspberries and fresh blackberries. Really we don't get them in this kind of quantity in Australia. And we're more likely to get them frozen rather than fresh. It just seems to work out cheaper that way. But I found raspberries in particular were served fresh all the time in Canada. I truly would have loved a chance to cook with these beautiful berries. French style flans I think!

In Canada I found the cult of toast to be extremely lacking. Most commonly I saw bagels, likes these beautiful fresh bagels at the Granville Island market. Or there were "breakfast sandwiches" which we would call Egg & Bacon McMuffin! But rarely was there toast offered. When I ordered toast in a cafe, they said they could make it for me but then they scrambled to locate the bread?? Whereas here all the loaves would be lined up next to the toaster waiting. It was good to de-toast for a while, but the result has been a week long vegemite toast fest since I got home.

All over Granville Island were signs of Canada preparing for halloween, a festival which is tied in my mind to the autumn harvest. As it turns out, halloween is based on the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, which is also known as All Saints Day. On October 31 to November 1, it was believed the doors to the other world opened and allowed spirits and fairies and the like to enter our world. Maybe I won't be so "thingy" about halloween now that I know this. I like the idea of connecting to the other world, but really, has it got to be so gruesome?

Apart from all the beautiful fresh produce on Granville Island, there's also many sellers of freshly cooked takeaway meals. You can buy your lunch and seat yourself at a table inside, or you can head outside to sit by the harbour if you don't mind battling the seagulls. Which incidentally are about three times the size of the seagulls in Australia. I offered them strawberries but they clearly weren't to their taste. But that didn't stop them from noisily demanding I come up with their snack. If you are ever in Vancouver, make sure you don't miss Granville Island - it's definitely worth the visit.