Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Delights of Granville Market, Vancouver

It doesn't matter the city, and it doesn't matter whether or not I have a kitchen. When I'm in a new place, I inevitably end up wandering over to where they sell food, whether it be a glass-and-steel supermarket or an open market, and checking out the goods. Seeing the different brands of food, the local produce, the ways meats and fish are displayed, is not only enjoyable, but offers intriguing insights into local culture.

Take Granville Market in Vancouver. A formerly industrial area under the bridge, its been transformed into a foodie mecca, offering visitors the chance not only to taste the wonderful local goods, but to see some of it prepared and/or slaughtered (in the case of the seafood).

Last week, I was lucky enough to take a tour of the market with the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, led by the ebullient Julian Bond. A master chef, Bond taught us all about the history of the market, the provenance of the foods, and some useful cooking techniques. In the photo, he's explaining how to properly cook a crab (you quarter it before putting it in the boiling water so you can get rid of the internal organs that will give the crab a funny taste; its also a kinder way for the crab to die).

Bond talked extensively about the importance of sustainability, introducing us to a fisherman who was taking concerted steps not to overfish the area. He takes orders from local restaurants, calculates how much he'll sell in his shop, and then stops fishing once he's reached the prescribed number of fish. Other fishermen catch as much as they can, with the consequence being much wasted fish.

He also took us by the shop of an artisinal sausage maker (see left) who felt that the way the pig died would affect its flavor. His pigs were given long, free-roaming lives and then slaughtered in a swift and humane way. We tasted the prosciutto that came from these animals, and I have to say, it did taste extraordinarily good.

Many novelties struck my eye. The chefs at the market packaged soups in attractive plastic bags. The butcher shop was selling a much wider range of cuts (neck, innards) important, according to Bond in supporting local growers. When you only sell filets and other popular cuts, you must source your meat from far away, adding to carbon emissions with the transportation costs.

The market area wasn't all food. In one shed, First Nation totem poles were being carved. Near that was a shop creating models for architects and not far from there were weavers and pottery shops. Clothing stores, flower stands, a theater and several restaurants add their lively presence to the island.

Though I only spent about two and a half hours on Granville Island it was one of the highlights of my trip. Next time I return, I hope to take another tour, followed by a cooking class at PICA (you cook what you buy and then eat it with wine in their lovely dining room overlooking the water).

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