Oh Vancouver…

Too many teas to choose from at The Urban Tea Merchant in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BC – I had barely made my way through customs, when hunger struck. I realized that I hadn’t had time to polish off my usual at O’Hare, a torta or a mollete from the Tortas Frontera stand, so I ate the puny graham cracker they gave me on the airplane, and then just hurried as best I could to check into my hotel and get moving. I knew that a walk down Robson Street would yield something Japanese, and ramen was the order of the day, since it was a cold, drizzly mess of an afternoon in Vancouver.


Miso ramen at Sanpachi


Sanpachi would have to do. I know it’s not the best ramen shop on Robson, but it was the closest, and with the windows all steamed up, I could just barely make out the sillouettes of people hunched over their bowls of ramen inside. I also knew that in a few hours I would be eating the most amazing Indian food in North America, so lunch didn’t have to be the greatest meal of the trip.


After lunch, I walked over to Georgia Street, where, tucked beneath a giant glass-and-concrete building, hidden among a cavernous stretch of banks and shops, The Urban Tea Merchant offers exclusive teas from TWG Tea, based in Singapore. They have a beautiful retail area up front, including a secluded tea ceremony table, as well as a quiet respite in the back of the store, where ladies come to snack on tiered afternoon tea trays – or, as I would soon discover, a West Coast version featuring salmon, smoked sable and fresh fruit. They not only employ a Tea Sommelier, but also feature dozens of loose leaf teas to sample. If you’re so inclined, a small assortment of tea-infused cocktails is also available.


Tea infused cocktails and West Coast afternoon tea service at The Urban Tea Merchant


I kept walking. Trying to build up my appetite, knowing that I would be eating jackfruit with black cardamom curry and lamb “lollipops” swimming in a creamy fenugreek-laced curry in a few hours. I jumped in a cab, hoofed it to Vij’s, in Granville, and by 5:10 p.m., there was already a line of about 25 people (they open at 5:30 p.m.). We were among the first group to be seated, and just as I remember from a few years ago, the food (and impeccable service) was just as good as I had remembered.


After the feast at Vij’s


Throughout the early part of the meal, servers would walk by with little snacks for us munch on, like tiny, golf ball-sized pakoras and crispy lentil crackers with dal. If you wanted extra chapatti (flatbread), naan or rice, just ask, and someone will bring you more. Each of the curries was more resplendent than the last; black cardamom, fenugreek, cumin and coriander filled my nostrils and penetrated my shirt (in a good way). Vij’s staff (all women, by the way; more than a binderfull in the front and back-of-the-house) made recommendations, deftly answered questions and drew upon the bounty of as much local product as possible, while staying true to the spirit and intensity of Indian cooking. “Depth of flavor” is a term that gets overused in our business, but when it comes to describing this food, few phrases do it as much justice.


We visited L’Abattoir, in Gastown, for a late-night snack afterward, but it just didn’t live up to the advance praise I had heard so much about. Dishes were either underseasoned, overcooked or just plain bland. The cocktails, however, were worth the cab fare alone. Unique spirits, a free hand on the lively bitters and a jovial barkeep kept us going another hour or so, before the length of the day caught up with me. Time to head to bed and get ready for a full day tomorrow, going in search of some salmon.


“Gastown Swizzle” – gin, aperol, passionfruit, lime, Fernet drizzle at L’Abattoir

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