Granville Island is my favorite place in Vancouver. The fact that it offers so much to visitors is only part of its enduring appeal: house galleries, artist studios, restaurants, theaters, pubs, craft shops, an art school, a cement plant, a hotel, and more. This once-declining industrial site was transformed in the late 1970s when the Canadian government decided to encourage newer, more people-friendly developments, a sort of urban renewal, if you will. They kept the original industrial look and the former warehouses and factories became this almost-city within a city.
For food lovers, the centerpiece of Granville Island is the Granville Island Public Market. Many say it’s one of the best all-around markets in the world, perhaps the most successful public market in North America. Part farmers’ market and part food court, it’s an epicurean enchantment unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Freshly-harvested produce still glistening with dew is lined up beside a scintillation of berries and grapes. Nearby, various vendors hold court over artisan cheeses, sugared nuts, breads with bubbled crusts and sharp slashes, maple syrups, and bakery items of every sweet persuasion. I’m especially enraptured by a box of heirloom tomatoes in odd shapes and colors, and through a somewhat filmy display case, gasp-inducing fillets of black cod and tuna. There’s seafood everywhere.
My senses are on full alert, every neuron in me is tingling intensely at this blitz of smell, sight, touch, and sound. And taste? I scout around, walking slowly like a beast in search of prey. I spy caramel apples, their shining exteriors pocked with chocolate candies awakens the child in me. Farther on, I see a bakery where pies, every flavor of my dreams, are lined up wanting to be ravaged by a sweet tooth. Beside it is a stall where colossal chocolate chip cookies, large as serving plates, proffer themselves with the sign, “Be a kid — have a big chocolate chip cookie.” I chuckle, which turns into a laugh, when beyond the counter I lay eyes on a pie heaped high, impossibly high, with a profusion of apples, its burnished crust hiding bumps and bulges of the treat within. I giddily imagine what a slice of that pie would look like.
It’s a problem of mine that when faced with the thrill of choice ”“ too much choice ”“ I tend to shut down. My usually decisive, determined self transforms into this glass-eyed, blundering fool who looks but never decides; desires but does nothing to turn destiny into reality. Lori the lamebrain, ack. What goes through my head at times like this runs along the lines of, “That’s way too big, how on earth am I going to finish that by myself?” or “Wait, I want this, and this, and that, and oh, this one too.” Madness it is. I need a stomach as deep as the Philippine Sea just to finish what I want to eat.
I take a time-out to grab a cup of coffee, although more caffeine is probably the last thing I need right now. With a cappuccino in hand, I continue to meander through the market, the low, squat frontages of the stalls hiding cavernous depths of untold delights. My brain has just about short-circuited with the possibilities.
I step outside to breathe, gazing up at the Granville Street Bridge and the boats nearby. In the distance, seagulls squawk. Numerous tourists pass me by, their hands (and mouths) full with food. Catching whiffs of assorted aromas, I envy their decisiveness. Ducking out of the market, I head to another building housing another cluster of stores. I lose myself in a kitchenware shop and then spend some time talking to the bookkeeper at the cookbook shop. I end up buying two cookbooks. Finally, decision! Sadly though, it’s not food.