…no, it’s not that other stuff either. It’s salt. Or at least, salt is what my favorite foodstuffs here in Vancouver have had in common. We only arrived a day and a half ago. And most of our time has been spent in the Casa Italia Coni, the center of the Italian Olympic delegation, which is installed in the city’s historic Roundhouse, the oldest commercial building in Vancouver. I’m here as a guest of the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole Alimentare e Forestali (aka Ministry of Agriclulture and Forestry), part of a conclave of experts brought together to discuss the marketing of Italian products in North America. We are here for the launch of a new gastronomic marketing initiative called “Buonitalia: The Real Taste of Italy.” It feels more like we are in Milan than Vancouver sometimes, but between panel conversations and Lombardian-inflected buffets, we managed to get out to explore a little bit of the food in this charming Olympic host city.
Full disclosure: I grew up in Toronto and Torontonian foodies have a complex relationship with Vancouver. A beautiful city nestled between mountains and sea, Vancouver seduces its visitors from the moment they step off the plane. And the food, which draws on local ingredients when it can, can certainly be delicious. But it’s a small town with a small-town feel and the great restaurants in Vancouver have been the same great restaurants since I first came here more than 15 years ago. Toronto, whose physical beauty can’t compare, has
a dynamic food scene all its own, but it has a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to Vancouver, which is a media darling, for sure. Like the beautiful girl in high school who isn’t the brightest kid in class, Vancouver gets all the attention. In fact, I leave Vancouver tomorrow for Toronto, where I’m speaking at a conference called Terroir about what steps are required to establish Toronto’s reputation as a bona fide culinary destination.
Anyway, our first expedition out of Casa Italia was to the corner of Burrard and Smithe Streets and the now famous Japadog. Started by two Japanese students, this hot dog stand has become one of the biggest hits of the Olympic games. We waited about an hour to sample what proved to be three delicious dogs: the terimayo, the oroshi, and the okonomi. (For details of each, see the photo of the menu which describes each weiner.) Rich in umami, fat, and salt, these hot dogs are rightfully renowned.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a backlash, especially online.
My favorite negative review was posted by a clerk at Costco who allegedly sees the Japanese kids buying their hot dogs and fixin’s at his big-box store three times a week. One of the gourmet retail specialists waiting on line with me dismissed this criticism out of hand, “But everyone knows Costco has the best hot dogs!”
A somewhat disappointing late-night cocktail crawl brought us down a seedy, dark alley to a comfortable, modern, urban-rustic salumeria/wine bar called, appropriately enough, Salt. (Unexpectedly, our funny, warm, very informed waiter hailed from Toronto.)
A flag with an upside down shaker was the only indication we had found the right place. We installed ourselves in the window and enjoyed a selection of locally cured meats, a highlight of which was a mosaic of pork cheeks and a dry-cured sausaged flavored with Hungarian garlic.
Marcona almonds, olives, and other other salty sides led to more wine and sherry consumption than was probably advisable given our 7:30 a.m. departure from the hotel the next morning. Luckily we are professionals, and the taste buds were rejuvenated on just a few hours of sleep.