The Evolution of Street Food in Vancouver
The Evolution of Street Food in Vancouver
Experiencing culinary diversity on the West Coast of BC
We are a species who love to eat. No matter the country or culture, we love to put food as a focus in our celebrations and gatherings. Location based specialties that leave an imprint on our memories are no different for the culinary traveller visiting restaurants in British Columbia.
Only a few years ago, the streets of Vancouver were populated only by your average food vendors. The common theme of hot dogs could be seen everywhere, and the distinct smell of roasted chestnuts wafting down the streets of the downtown core during winter. But as the young city itself begins to evolve, along with the prospect of earning the title of “The Greenest City in the World” by 2020, so do the plans to create a distinct and one-of-a-kind street food and mobile restaurant scene in Vancouver.
A recent decision was made by the City of Vancouver to institute a different method of issuing food cart vendor licenses. The focus was no longer to be on whose name would be drawn at random. The City now asks vendors to prepare a business plan, meet specific saturated fat requirements, and also consider their carts’ sustainability and environmental impact. Potential vendors increase their chances of acquiring a license by sourcing their fruits and vegetables from local organic farmers, using recyclable and compostable serving dishes, and considering the environment when planning their carts' power needs. The food carts chosen did not disappoint, now setting a new standard for street vending in the province of British Columbia. For example, the Vancouver food cart, Fresh Local Wild, has accomplished an industry first by equipping their cart with an onboard intake and filtering system that allows them to fuel their generator with vegetable oil from their deep fryer. This has become one of the first steps to setting a green example in the food cart community. As a vital part of the vision for a ‘green’ Vancouver, the city’s energy plan includes the conversion of all food cart power usage to a renewable energy source with no negative environmental impact. Imagine a day when all food carts could be powered by a solar panel grid.
Local chefs and entrepreneurs have also risen to the challenge of creating west coast inspired dishes as well as bringing their ethnic roots to our street food. From within a few city blocks you can choose to dine on French stew (boeuf bourguignon), spicy curry, pulled pork sandwiches, seafood chowder poutine, or sip fresh blended fruit juice shakes. It is the goal of these chefs to bring their original home recipes to the gourmet savvy foot traffic of downtown Vancouver.
Although the majority of the food carts are based in the downtown Vancouver core, it is the intention to branch out into the surrounding neighbourhoods. With the addition of a dozen carts in 2012, the number of street food vendors has risen to over 100 and the city hopes to add another thirty over the next two years. The recent addition of food carts to Stanley Park, The Bloedel Conservatory and Vanier Park has simply enriched the environment of these tourist destinations, and added a cultural element new for the streets of Vancouver.
Street Cuisine Walking Tours
No visit to Vancouver is complete without sampling this new gourmet adventure. The best method of attack is to combine your walking tours of the city with some of the best street food on the west coast. Where most of the carts are available from 11am to 3pm, these tours would best be started in the morning, with a plan to enjoy a street cuisine lunch or refreshing break.
Historic Gastown to Trendy Yaletown
Begin your journey through the historic Gastown at the Waterfront station and proceed east along Water Street. While taking in the classic architecture and the quaint charm of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, you may find yourself in one of many unique tourist stops along the way—the world’s first steam-powered clock, located at Cambie and Water Street, is a mere block away from our first food cart.
Located at the corner of Water and Abbott Street, The Juice Truck is a Gastown staple for fresh, cold pressed juices and smoothies, sourcing their produce locally in support of organic farmers. Along with your smoothie, grab a ‘Raw Chai’ brownie or cacao coconut bar—a refreshing and light breakfast or mid-day snack, while exploring this eclectic neighbourhood.
Upon reaching the intersection of Water and Carrall Street, turn right and within three and a half city blocks you will find the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, one of Vancouver’s iconic cultural attractions and a must see on any visitors’ things to do list. Continue Carrall Street until you reach Pacific Boulevard. A right turn onto Pacific will lead you past the newly refurbished BC Place Stadium, and the stunning waterfront views of False Creek.
Only a few more blocks will land you at Pacific Boulevard and Davie Street, the location of our light and incredibly healthy food cart lunch at The Loving Hut Express. Serving the community of Yaletown with its yummy gourmet vegan sandwiches and burgers, The Loving Hut Express aims to change the misunderstood reputation of vegan cuisine. Their sauces, spreads and condiments are all made from scratch and they offer gluten free options.
Iconic Stanley Park
After a morning spent in the company of belugas and sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium, stroll out of the front door into the natural beauty of Stanley Park. Overlooking the water and parked next to the Stanley Park Info Booth is Feastro – The Rolling Bistro. Here you can enjoy a delicious and ‘ocean wise’ inspired menu packed with west coast charm. They cater their year round menu to the locally available seafood. With items like Tuna Carpaccio, Crab Cakes, and Smoked Salmon on Watercress, you are bound to find something to offer a pitch perfect waterfront lunch. You can also enjoy them at their original location a few blocks from Stanley Park, just beyond Coal Harbour near Canada Place at Thurlow and Cordova Street.
The Olympic Torch & Waterfront
In the stretch of seawall along the waterfront, you can easily spend an entire morning taking pictures of artwork, seaplanes, and the Olympic Torch only blocks from the sails of Canada Place. This stretch is populated with multiple food carts and each offers their own unique cuisine. Depending on your taste, you can choose between French, West Coast seafood and Italian, just to name a few.
Ze Bite, located on Burrard and West Cordova Street, is new on the scene but has already been stirring things up with its home-style French cuisine. Their Boeuf Bourguignon brings the classic red wine and herbs beef stew to the streets; even Julia Child would be proud.
Close by at Burrard and West Hastings Street, Fresh Local Wild offers West Coast inspired fast food and a very cute mobile dining option. Their Chicken Fried Oyster 'Po-Boy' and Seafood Chowder Poutine have quickly put them on the map for those seeking a unique alternative to a burger and fries. With the only sheltered dining area built into their cart in the city, they prove to be a warm and satisfying refuge on a rainy Vancouver day.
Slingers, at West Hastings and Thurlow Street, bring Italian sandwiches oozing with flavor and creativity. In addition to their classic menu of Chicken Parmesan, Vegetarian Parmesan, and Meatball Subs, they also offer daily specials such as their tasty Calamari Sub.
Robson Square Landmark
In the central hub of Downtown Vancouver between Howe, Hornby, Robson, and West Georgia Streets—home to the Vancouver Art Gallery—lies the perfect spot to sit by the fountain and enjoy a street food lunch. This ideal location has offered multiple food vendors the opportunity to park on opposite sides of the Gallery. Again, you can roam from cart to cart in search of the exact item to suit your craving. Re-Up BBQ, one food cart that has solidified itself in the heart of Vancouverites, sources its meats from local Fraser Valley farms and focuses on naturally raised, hormone free animals. Their time consuming smoking methods and secret BBQ sauce recipe allow them to offer a menu with only a few but incomparable options. Their signature sandwich is the pulled pork. Lean, moist pulled pork balanced on top of a Portuguese bun, topped with fresh coleslaw, and their secret BBQ sauce. This filling sandwich is perfectly accompanied by their sweet tea.
With so many options on the streets of Vancouver, you might find yourself dining out on the gourmet creations of food carts rather than spending our beautiful summer days indoors. As this scene continues to evolve, it will no doubt bring more adventurous food and even more diversity to our culinary landscape. By appealing to every culture through their taste buds, even those far from home can connect to Vancouver’s enlightened street food inspirations.
Main image by Foxtongue
Local chefs and entrepreneurs have also risen to the challenge of making west coast inspired dishes
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