If Meals Won Medals
By SAM SIFTON
Published: February 2, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia
AS breakfasts go, it’s not much to look at, just a small plastic container of maple-glazed smoked salmon bits. There is a sourdough roll to go with it, and a cup of hot coffee with cream.
Eating them together here on a dock in False Creek, though, with low clouds scudding over a hedge of green-glass buildings across the water, past Stanley Park in the distance, is to experience something of the solemn, awestruck joy that the philosopher Edmund Burke called the sublime. Above the skyline, to the north and west, mountains rise into a darkening sky as bathtub ferryboats chug past beneath them on still saltwater the color of slate. Gulls come close, beg for scraps. They won’t get any.
Vancouver is a terrific place to eat. It is diverse and exciting in its culinary offerings. But a simple breakfast taken on the pier outside the Granville Island Public Market is an important stop for any wayfaring food pilgrim. The fish — ruddy and cold-smoked, a taste of British Columbia for centuries, best purchased at Longliner Seafoods in the main shed — is a sweet-sour-salty baseline from which we can measure the region’s best meals.
I was on the dock in late January, an advance man for the more than two million people organizers say will descend on Vancouver and its environs for the 2010 Winter Games, which run from Feb. 12 to 28. While in the city and its suburbs, I fed as if in danger of imminent execution. And I was able to confirm earlier reconnaissance: Vancouver is among the best eating towns in the history of the Winter Games.
Not least of the reasons for this is that Vancouver, with more than two million residents, is among the largest metropolitan areas to host the Winter Games. There are a lot of people cooking here.
And they are a mixed lot. Poised geographically and psychologically between Asia and Europe, running on reserves of Hong Kong cash and American corporate interests, on surpluses of immigration and dreams, Vancouver is what the novelist William Gibson, who lives here, calls “radically multicultural.” That is excellent for food.
So are good ingredients. And Vancouver, which sticks like a mittened hand out into the cold waters of the Strait of Georgia, has these in reserve: marvelous agricultural products from the rich land of the Fraser River valley to its east, and the bounty of the western sea.
The potlatch tradition of the Pacific Northwest, said Ed Pitoniak, a former hotel executive here who is one of the region’s most eloquent tutors, “owes a lot to the fact that this land- and seascape has always been rich in protein: shellfish, swimming fish, game, fowl.” The best food in Vancouver, he continued, comes out of that bounty. It comes from cooks, he said, who “want their foods to taste of this sea and those hills.”
The most ravenous visitors to this marvelous, temperate city will begin their culinary touring almost from the moment they land at Vancouver International Airport on Sea Island in suburban Richmond, where a vast Asian enclave is growing.
The city’s central Chinatown has fallen on hard times; it is pockmarked with empty storefronts and dodgy hotels, grim restaurants serving wan broth. But out in Richmond the dim sum palaces are thriving, along with the strip-mall noodle huts and Chinese supermarkets, the tea parlors and barbecue dives. It would take weeks to negotiate them all.
The best place to start is where many finish: at Chen’s Shanghai. Chen’s is a charmless-looking little soup-dumpling shop in the middle of a mini-mall. But it serves terrific cold seaweed, thin, soft strips of kelp dressed in soy and black vinegar, with smashed garlic, and addictive cold steamed shrimp, spicy and sweet in their bright pink flesh.
It is for the restaurant’s steamed soup buns that most have come (and why the room is packed from well before the lunch hour until long after it ends). These are beautiful wrapped dumplings with delicate skin and a soft pork interior surrounded by a powerfully delicious broth. They can erase all memories of missed connections, lost luggage, the cramp of an airplane seat.
Slightly higher on the Mr. Clean-o-meter is Shanghai River, a magnificent Shanghainese restaurant on the ground floor of an office building. The dining room is filled from midmorning until well after dark: prosperous Asian retirees giving way to families and dates. Soup dumplings bring many of them here as well: crab-topped beauties holding luxuriant broth. But the restaurant’s black vinegar spare ribs with pine nuts are reason to swoon: addictive jet-black nuggets of fried sweet and sour porkiness that can float a fellow into the city on a cloud of happiness.
full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/di...note.html?8dpc