After a year and a half of staycations and local day trips, many people are ready to revisit some favorite places and discover new adventures. Fortunately, there’s an exciting international destination just a three-hour drive from Seattle: British Columbia.
Despite being so close, B.C. feels like it’s a world away. The diverse culinary scene makes it an ideal destination for travelers who love to embrace new cuisines and are looking for a sense of connection to a new place this fall or any time of year.
The following four B.C. destinations are full of diverse communities that pride themselves on sharing their culture with others through food and drink. Here’s a tempting menu of-one-of-a-kind culinary experiences to embrace during a trip to B.C.
The biggest city in British Columbia, Vancouver offers the best of both worlds. In addition to its gorgeous setting against the backdrop of the ocean and mountains, it’s also a multicultural hub and one of the best places in the province to enjoy authentic international cuisine.
If you want to get hands-on and enjoy some delicious food, sign up for a Dumplings Masterclass with Judy Lam Maxwell through Historical Chinatown Tours. Maxwell’s three-hour class begins with a one-hour “sneak peek” tour of Vancouver’s Chinatown, then the class heads to a local coffee shop that has closed for the day for the lesson. Maxwell teaches participants how to properly prepare the ingredients and fold the dumplings and then, of course, eat the dumplings! Maxwell even provides recipes so students can give dumpling-making a try at home.
“People have sent photos of their homemade dumplings to me,” says Maxwell. “It’s really nice when they follow up on that.” Maxwell’s classes are always small in size (pre-COVID, the maximum was 10 people) and she customizes the classes depending on the attendees, who can let her know what types of ingredients they like and she’ll choose accordingly. Let Maxwell know in advance if you follow a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet.
For those who prefer an ever-changing variety of cultural flavors, St. Lawrence Restaurant offers a monthly lineup of multicourse menu concepts. The menus are inspired by culinary regions and influences and include a choice of a starter, a main dish and a dessert. For example, September’s menu is a tribute to Normandy, France.
Venice meets Vancouver in the newly opened Giovane Bacaro, which is inspired by traditional bacaros and offers a wine and cicchetti bar experience. The wine menu features selections from small, family-run wineries in Northern Italy as well as local options from British Columbia.
The drive from Seattle to downtown Vancouver passes through nearby Richmond. Resist the urge to hurry toward Vancouver’s urban bustle and allow time to take in the unique charms of Richmond, which blends the flair of a modern city with the farm-to-table ease of an agricultural community. Over 70% of Richmond’s population is of Asian descent and this is reflected in the city’s delicious cuisine.
One way to sample the local flavors? Alexandra Gill, a food writer for The Globe & Mail, recently launched Dine Like a Critic, which currently offers four-hour tours on Thursdays and Saturdays. These tours are small and Gill customizes them depending on what guests are most interested in. In addition to providing historical information about the waves of migration from China to British Columbia, Gill speaks about what characterizes different types of Chinese cuisine as the dining tour progresses.
Although the tours are educational, Gill describes them as more like a small dinner party. “We sit around the table like I would with my friends and really it’s an open conversation,” she says. “People can ask me anything, and that’s what I want.”
Another spot for high-quality international cuisine can be found in an unexpected place: the Vancouver Airport Marriott. Here, Executive Chef Michael Gonzales prepares a five-course Pacific Plates meal; each course represents a prominent international cuisine, allowing guests to travel the world during the meal. In order to ensure that every menu item is authentic, Gonzales collaborates with a diverse team. In addition, diners engage with Gonzales and his team, who share their stories of immigration, their personal connections to the dishes, and provide unique insights about customs related to each cuisine.
Another of the many cuisines represented in Richmond is Thai, and some of the city’s finest can be found at Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine. Chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng is committed to using fresh, organic ingredients and whole foods; the rice used in dishes at Baan Lao is grown organically on the family’s rice fields in Thailand. The restaurant also has a “living wall,” which they use to grow fresh herbs and greens the kitchen team harvests. They also collaborate with Nutrigreens, a nearby family-run farm that’s certified organic and provides Thai basil to Baan Lao.
Two hours north of Vancouver along the famed Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler has long been a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts in search of pristine powder. But it’s also earning a reputation as a culinary hotspot, with craft brews and a dining festival taking turns in the spotlight.
October is Craft Beer Month in Whistler. The month is full of beer-themed activities, including beer bingo and ax throwing with a side of mead. There’s also the “Brew Bus” tour, which explores the Sea to Sky’s Craft Breweries, and Coast Mountain Brewing x BETA5 Chocolate Tasting Flight. The latter is a tasty collaboration that pairs the perfect beer with the perfect chocolate. It will be on the menu at Cure Lounge & Patio at Nita Lake Lodge for the entire month.
Next up is Cornucopia, Nov. 4-28, a popular food and beverage festival which marks its 25th anniversary this year.
Although modifications have been made due to COVID precautions, there’s still a wealth of activities to enjoy at Cornucopia. The schedule is still being finalized, but it will include events such as Winery Speed Dating, a Murder Mystery Dinner, an American Thanksgiving Dinner, drink seminars and master classes. Because the festival runs throughout the entire month, Mary Zinck of Tourism Whistler recommends planning a trip to B.C. around the events of most interest. The schedule is still being finalized so be sure to keep checking for new additions.
Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, the capital of British Columbia on Vancouver Island is known for its gorgeous gardens, beaches and historical buildings. Victoria’s fancy high-tea experiences are popular, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in this city, which is home to many innovative chefs and mixologists.
Not sure where to start? Book either a guided or self-guided tour with Off the Eaten Track. Bonnie Todd, founder and owner, recommends the self-guided tour for travelers who can’t fit a scheduled tour onto their itinerary or who are looking to save some money. “It’s not a hard app to use; it’s intuitive,” says Todd.
Of course, the biggest pro of a guided tour is having a local expert on hand to provide recommendations and answer questions. The guides also introduce the groups to business owners, offering more interaction and opportunities to ask questions. “Guided is the most authentic experience,” says Todd. “We talk about the story behind each dish and people get to learn more about Canadian dishes.”
But what all the tours have in common is the goal of taking people to hidden gems that even some locals don’t know about.
Now, about those opulent high-tea experiences! For those looking for a Victorian-style afternoon tea, head straight to Pendray Tea House. It offers a wide array of teas, including every flavor imaginable. Pendray serves TWG Teas hand-picked from the best tea collections in the world. Traditional afternoon tea is Pendray’s most popular, featuring sandwiches, fresh scones, signature pastries, and a choice of TWG Tea. There is also a vegan option.
For a taste of France, look no further than Bon Macaron Patisserie. The owners are from France and this pastry shop focuses on the beloved macaron, a perfect pairing with an array of hot drinks or a lovely option to carry home so you can relive a few sweet B.C. memories.
Pack your bags. It’s time for an escape — beyond your backyard and into another world. In British Columbia, discover new sights, sounds and tastes that are close to home but feel like a world away.