Friday, 24 September 2010

Granville Market

Earlier this month we went on holiday to Vancouver, in Canada. The holiday was a prize won by my wife Jane, who is a very active "comper". She runs a business connected with entering and winning competitions so she does enter a lot of competitions -- and wins a fair few too! This time we went for a week in Canada, courtesy of Blockbuster Video. 5 days in Vancouver, and 2 days in Whistler, including flights, accommodation in top-class hotels and transfers. Brilliant!

Our hotel -- the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel
To be honest, we were not particularly impressed with Vancouver -- especially on the food front, where we had some very disappointing meals at some very high prices -- but there were some redeeming features. High on the list was a 20-minute seaplane flight around the city area. We were lucky enough to do this on an afternoon of perfect weather, with wonderful visibility.

The seaplane in which we had the tour
Biggest problem with Vancouver was the very obvious poverty and unemployment. Never, in the "developed" world have we ever visited a city with so many beggars, drug addicts and down-and-outs on the streets. And right next door to some hugely opulent mansions too.

View of Vancouver city centre from the seaplane
Another highlight of the Vancouver element of the holiday was a visit to Grouse Mountain, about 30 minutes drive out of the city centre, calling en route at the Capilano suspension bridge (240 wobbly feet above a mountain torrent).

Me holding on for Grim Death at the centre of the scary bridge
 Grouse Mountain was nice though. Accessed by an 8-minute cable-car ride, and offering opportunities to see at close quarters Timber Wolves, birds of prey and Grizzly Bears.

Grizzly Bear on Grouse Mountain
 In top spot for Vancouver though was our visit to Granville Market. This is a high-profile attraction that is a mixture of functional market for local people and tourist attraction for foreign visitors. It is a big complex, situated on a virtual  island at the southern extremity of downtown Vancouver -- a 5-minute taxi-ride from the centre, where our hotel was. It is normally accessed by a pedestrian ferry. We visited it on a Wednesday, when it was fairly quiet (which suited us well) but it hosts a weekly Farmers' Market on a Thursday, when I suspect it gets a lot busier. The site has lots of shops and stalls selling all manner of attractive items, including arts, handicrafts, food and drink. Obviously, my main interest was in the food area!

The food market was very interesting. It had lots of "basic" commodities, such as the standard fruit and veg that you would expect to find in a Western market -- potatoes, cabbages, carrots, apples and pears -- but also a lot of exotic and oriental fruits (like mangosteens, rambutans, longan, dragon fruit, fresh dates, physalis etc), and huge quantities of whatever was in season locally (mainly tomatoes, to my intense delight!).

Oriental  ingredients-- mangosteen, rambutan, longan etc
All the stalls were exceptionally neat and well-presented. Many of the stall-holders evidently sprinkled their fruit and veg with water at frequent intervals to keep them fresh, and they were constantly tidying and re-arranging their stock to make it look more attractive. In contrast to the market we visited in Ferney-Voltaire in France (described in my Food / Gardening Philosophy blogpost), this market was comprised mainly of permanent stalls belonging to retailers rather than producers. What this means of course is that they were able to stock a wider variety of goods. One stall with which we were particularly impressed was called The South China Seas Trading Company. It was run by a Filipina lady, but sold food and related gadgets from all around the world. This rather dim picture shows some of the extensive range of dried chillis on offer.

Dried chillis on sale
Here's a close-up of some Chipotle chillis that we bought. Some of these are going in a Mexican-style pork and black-bean casserole tomorrow...(along with some of my fresh chillis and tomatillos)

From this stall we also bought an authentic made-in-Mexico tortilla-press. Made of cast iron too! We did have a few moments of hesitation when we considered the implications of this on our baggage allowance for  the return journey, but we have been looking to acquire a tortilla-press for ages and the doubts were soon dispelled when I declared that I would rather leave behind all my shoes rather than forego this rare opportunity.  Here is a picture of it.


The tortilla afficionados amongst you will know that Mexican tortillas are traditionally made with a type of cornmeal called Masa Harina. This is now on our shopping list, though I think it may be hard to find in our part of the world. For the time being we will be using "Island Sun Fine Cornmeal" from the supermarket (look in the West Indian foods section at Tesco). Never having made tortillas from scratch before, we will have to experiment a bit, so we are prepared for less-than-perfect results the first time round. I'll keep you posted.

Ready-made corn tortillas
 Some of the corn on sale was for ornamental rather than culinary purposes.

Ornamental corn-cobs
Regular readers of my blog will know that this year I have produced vast quantities of green tomatillos, another key ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Well, on Granville Market they were $1 Canadian for 100g. I could have been a rich man if I had been able to sell my crop there!

Green Tomatillos
 Whilst on this theme, perhaps I should mention the crab apples? You don't often see crab apples on sale (at least, not in England), but on Granville Market several stalls had them. If I remember rightly they were about $2.50 for a punnet containing approximately 500g of fruit. The crab apple tree at our house probably produced about 50 kilos of fruit this year = £250!

Crab apples (centre)
Another curiosity we bought was a pair of cedarwood barbecue planks. These appear to be very popular in Canada, and there were lots on sale in Granville Market. We bought ours from a fishmonger, who explained how to use them for grilling Salmon -- though I expect we will try them with chicken, since I don't eat any fish. You soak them overnight to stop them burning, then lay your food on top of them, either in the oven or on the barbie. They impart a sort of smoky flavour, we hear. A bit like adding Hickory chips to your barbecue coals. I shall report on their efficacy in due course!

Cedar planks
 You all know that I am obsessive about tomatoes, so here are some photos of some of the many types that were on sale at Granville Market.

This next picture is of fresh dates, and physalis (Cape Gooseberry - closely related to the tomatillo)

Dates (left) and physalis (right)
These are some gourds and squashes, mainly ornamental I think.

Ornamental gourds
What about these Patty Pan style summer squashes, spotted on a florist's stall?

Summer Squash
There were also lots of different types of mushrooms available, including the usual button types, chestnut ones, some absolutely vast Portobello ones, and these impressive-looking things, which I think may be Chanterelles. [For one of my meals I had a lovely veal chop which was served with a ridiculously huge quantity of chanterelles. Nice, but just too many]. We did notice that they are very keen on mushrooms in Canada -- they seem to be served at every possible opportunity.

Olives. You like olives? Then take a look at this... What type would you like? They have 'em all.

Part of the amazing array of olives on sale
The bread stalls were visually and "olfactorily" wonderful too. I didn't take many photos of them I'm afraid, because at the time I was a bit overwhelmed by the multiplicity of foodie delights, but here's one representative item -- little cornbread muffins with cheese and chives:- (Sorry about the reflection of the camera flash; this is taken through glass)

Cornbread muffins
There was some less healthy but equally tempting stuff on offer too

Some stunning chocolates!
There was even a postcard stall. You can see what caught my eye...

The postcard stall
We were tempted to buy a cute little pair of Indian moccasins for our grandaughter Lara

Or a Panama hat for our son-in-law Juan....

Panama hat
Most of these items were VERY expensive -- not the sort of thing for an impulse buy -- but we did add one more small dish to our Round-The-World collection. It is officially a Brie-baker (and I'm sure it will be good for this), though we will probably use it as a general purpose dish. Have you tried baked cheese? We once had a baked Tunworth cheese (it's from Hampshire, where we live) which had been lightly scored before baking and sprinkled with honey and thyme. It was served with miniature granary baguettes to dip into the oozy unctuous cheese. Superb! Good for sharing, because it cannot be eaten elegantly.

The Brie-baker
Well, you can see that Granville Market was a true Foodie Paradise then. It's presence rescued for us what might otherwise have been a fairly disappointing stay in Vancouver city.

Finally, a few words about, and a couple of photos of, the second part of the holiday. We travelled up to Whistler on the Rocky Mountaineer train. It is a very scenic journey, that takes about 3 hours (it goes very slowly so that you can enjoy the views). Here's a picture of the train.

The train to Whistler
The high spot of our stay in Whistler was a ride on the Peak-To-Peak cablecar, which connects Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain. Here are some facts about it...

The "stats" about Peak-To-Peak
And here's a view of the ride itself - though the picture hardly does justice to the huge distance to the far hillside!

The Peak-To-Peak cablecar
The vegetation on the hillsides was just beginning to show its Autumn colours; not yet at its best I suspect, but still impressive in places.

Autumn colours on the Whistler hillsides
Best of all though was the fact that we saw a real live, wild, black bear! OK, we were hundreds of feet up in a cablecar at the time, and we have only one very rushed and out-of-focus picture to prove it (you really have to know where to look), but WE know we saw it!

From the Foodie perspective, what were the highs and lows of this holiday? As regards the lows -- I had better not name the restaurant where mice were running about all over the place, and in which the same (completely inappropriate) accompaniment of Pak Choi in sesame sauce was served with both my Mediterranean chicken, and with Jane's Cajun Prawns Diane! This is what we call CONfusion food. We also encountered the worst Beef Rendang we have experienced anywhere, in a so-called "Award-winning" Malaysian restaurant. It was tough, gristly, grey and practically tasteless -- a huge disappointment when you know that this is usually one of our favourite dishes.

Granville Market obviously has to be No.1 of the highs, but I also enjoyed:- the veal chop mentioned above (though it was hideously expensive); a salad that had semi-dried cranberries and feta cheese in amongst the mixed "field greens"; Jane had a starter one evening that was bite-sized pieces of fillet steak wrapped in bacon, which was apparently very good; on this occasion I had a salad of baby iceberg lettuce with crispy bacon and blue cheese dressing, which was also excellent. Yes, in retrospect we did have a few reasonable meals.

My final point concerns drinks. The price of alcoholic drinks in Canada is outrageous. Even a very ordinary bottle of plonk wine was about $30 - $50 in the restaurants. In the one in which we ate on our first evening, which was not exactly posh -- spirits were $17.50 a go -- that's about £12! Luckily we had had the foresight to buy a bottle of Duty-free Scotch whisky on the way out, which we consumed over the course of the week back in our hotel room. The whole bottle cost only £12.50. Nuff said!


  1. Those items you (and the Canadians) called "dates", or "fresh dates", are in fact Jujubes, (Ziziphus zizyphus), sometimes called "red dates" or "Chinese dates". They grow on a deciduous shrub/tree. "Real" dates grow on the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera).

    I live in Southern California, where both of these are grown. They are really nothing alike beyond the point that they can be dehydrated. I find the Jujube only marginally edible, either fresh or dried.


  2. Hi Helen; Thanks for the info about the "dates". Sounds like they are not very nice! Are you a gardener too? I would be interested to hear what is grown in your part of the world. Mark.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I'm sorry you did not have a more enjoyable stay in my hometown of Vancouver. I am sure it is true all over the world that expensive restaurants do not guarantee good food. Vancouver has a lot of great restaurants and a wide variety of cuisines, many of which are off the beaten path and are quite inexpensive. And I completely agree... our alcohol is heavily taxed and expensive... $17.50 for a drink is robbery, but it's definitely not the norm.

    As for our homeless and drug addicted population, it is a serious problem here and is constantly being examined, discussed and debated as to the how to deal with it best. Being a port city, drugs are readily available and our geographic location gives Vancouver one of the most consistently mild temperatures in Canada, which is appealing to the homeless. They come here from all across the country.

    Anyhow, just my two cents! I enjoy your blog (came across it while Googling for a brie baker recipe) and wish you all the best for a safe and happy holiday!

  4. Amazing market! I too grow tomatillos, last year i grew the purple variety - the tomatillo grows green still but the husk grows with a hint of purple. You can never have enough tomatillos in my house with all the mexican food i love - are tortilla press has yet to be purchased but is on my loong list!


Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment! Please note that Comment Moderation is enabled for older posts.