I’m not too impressed with the desserts that I buy from McKinnon’s Bakery (see Vancouver, Canada: Part 1). The only one that leaves a slight imprint on my mind (and taste buds) is the lemon curd cupcake, seen above. A lightly lemon-laced little cake has its top scooped out, and is given a dollop of lemon curd sour enough to pucker the inside of my mouth, a sensation I like very much. The cut-out top is then dutifully placed back on, giving the cake a flying saucer/slanted hat look. Very creative.
Prettiest (and the only) cupcakes in Vancouver
Still on cupcakes, I make it my mission to seek out what is perhaps Vancouver’s only cupcake store aptly named, Cupcakes. The color pink goes so well with cupcakes which is why almost all “cupcakeries” possess it in some way, shape, or form. This one is no exception. All cupcake places also smell gloriously identical: redolent with butter, flour, and vanilla. It’s the kind of scent I’d like to bottle up and get high on once in a while.
Cupcakes are happy things, which is why I seek them out in my travels ”“ okay fine, I’m always seeking them out. I’m not blinded by the pastel arrays, I zero in for the same one all the time: the vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. I don’t like chocolate cupcakes and anything with mint is anathema to me. At Cupcakes, my cake of choice is called Sweet Sixteen complete with a smattering of pretty sprinkles and pink buttercream.
I have to say that Canadian cupcakes are a world apart from their US counterparts. The most evident difference is the frosting, which isn’t as sickly sweet nor as gritty. Also, the cake used here in Canada is lighter, reminiscent of a sponge cake with a slight mushroom cap and crusty edges (ditto the cupcakes from McKinnon’s Bakery). All in all, great cupcakes, but I can’t help but shake off the feeling that a cake mix was used here (at Cupcakes) ”“ it’s not a bad thing, just a (taste) observation.
I tend to drink too much coffee when I travel, about two 8-ounce cups a day, double my usual ration. And the smallest size in most coffeeshops here is a 12-ounce. Gak! My super-caffeinated self notes with delight how there’s a coffeeshop on practically every corner, I’m never far from one, really.
I try the “proudly Canadian” coffee brands like JJ Bean and CaffÃ¨ Artigiano, the latter of which is deemed to serve the best lattes in Vancouver, and after my visit, I wholeheartedly agree. I’m at the location on Hornby Street and the line is almost out the door at 6:30 pm on this Friday. I’m attracted to the pulsating vibe of this place: people chattering excitedly (needless to say it’s from all that caffeine) sipping from oval cups and nibbling sandwiches or scones. The tabletops are decorated with clay tiles, lending an earthy, warm feel to the place.
I order a latte (can’t remember the exact name now ”“ Spanish latte was it?) that’s swirled with condensed milk for a touch of sweetness. I watch entranced as the barista leans over my cup and almost lovingly crafts his art on the foam’s surface with his pitcher of freshly-steamed milk. I’m in awe. To be able to brew and make each cup unique in the face of an onslaught of orders is nothing short of dedication.
And this latte of mine? Rustically full-bodied with a jot of acidity, a sweet kiss from the condensed milk and a finish that stays with me a full hour after I’ve drunk the last sip. The flavor still haunts me up to now.
Seafood so fresh
Because Vancouver is so close to the water, it goes without saying that the quality of its seafood is impeccable. My cousins take me and my sisters out for Japanese one day and quite simply, it’s a revelation. We order (quite literally) boats of food proffering sushi, sashimi, and oysters. The salmon, tuna, and hamachi (yellow tail) is so fresh that it doesn’t taste like fish ”“ I don’t know what it tastes like really, just buttery flesh, my teeth biting into it with the slightest resistance before it surrenders, exploding into a taste of the ocean just before I swallow.
I also eat the best uni (sea urchin) of my life, no exaggerating. I thought that I had tasted good uni until I taste this thing before me: supple slivers of roe-colored urchin slipping and sliding in my mouth. Oblivious to everyone else around me, I close my eyes for a brief, personal epiphany and taste this uni with all my mind, every gentle bite bringing me closer to the finish of this dish. It’s one of those foods I eat that makes me want to weep after it’s all gone. I want to die eating this uni.
When I come out of my uni stupor, my cousin prods me to try the oyster motoyaki, essentially baked oysters with a house cream sauce that differs depending on which restaurant you go to. Oysters on the shell as large as my hand arrive at the table still exhaling puffs of steam from the oven they’re whisked from. Gleaming sauce dribbles over the shell, beckoning, culinary pornography meant to incite lustful hungers and scandalous pronunciations of ecstasy.
Which it does.
British Columbia is the most favored Canadian province for Asian settlers, and today about 10% of its population is ethnic Chinese. Most Chinese migrate to Vancouver, the majority of which call Richmond (also called “Asia West”) home. Vancouver now has the largest Chinese community, and British Columbia the largest concentration of Chinese in Canada.
The Chinese are everywhere here, usually conversing excitedly in their mother tongue.
Modern Asian shopping malls like Aberdeen Centre and Parker Place in Richmond are microcosms of China in the Pacific Northwest. When I step foot inside Parker Place, I can swear I got into the car in Vancouver and got out in Hong Kong. It even smells like Hong Kong!
My sister and I pick up a glass of bubble tea ”“ aka Zagu, aka Quickly, aka plastic-sealed “pearl teas.” Taro (yam) for her, coconut for me, the coconut lover. Sweet and cold with the gelatinous chew from the pearls (aka “sago”), I can swear (again) that I’m in Hong Kong.
They say that the best Chinese food in Canada can be found in Vancouver. True, true. The one Chinese meal I have here is of unswerving quality, the likes I’ve had at the best Chinese restaurants in Manila and dare I say it? Hong Kong.
The only difference perhaps is that the taro puff here has a scallop in the center and egads, would’ja look at the size of them chicken feet!