Vancouver Island Specialties
There’s a great appreciation for ingredients here. Whether it’s the classic wine, cheese and bread picnic, a clam bake, or an elegant, chef-prepared meal, enjoying this food is effortless.
Shop from the source – fishing boats, farmgates, farmer’s markets, boutique and specialty shops have everything and a wealth of information to share.
Seafood and Fish: Salmon – fresh, dried, candied, cold and hot smoked – is an important food for the Native peoples and the signature food of the region. There are also beach oysters and clams, cultivated oysters, scallops, and mussels from sustainable farms. When in season, boats bring in salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, snapper, steelhead, crab, and prawns. Restaurant chefs might serve miso-glazed tuna loin, smoky chowders, oyster burgers, craft beer battered halibut and chips.
Fruits and Vegetables: Because of the fertile ground and the long growing season, everything from asparagus to wheat grass grows in abundance. Seasonal produce also includes edible flowers, fresh herbs, and thanks to our European ancestors, over 200 varieties of heritage apples.
Meat and Poultry: Small and alternative farms emphasize free-range, stress-free settings while using traditional practices. Some specialize in heritage and exotic breeds. Butchers make creative use of the whole animal in producing terrines, pâtés, charcuterie, and sausages.
Cheese: Cheese makers use local milk from dairy cows, goat and sheep herds. Look for chévres, cloth bound cheddars, bloomy rind bries, ash veined goat cheeses, creamy blues, earthy pecorinos, and hand churned butters.
Bread: Many bakers work with organic, 100 percent all-natural ingredients. Some even grind their own flours. Gluten-free and vegan alternatives are available as are butter-laden croissants and crusty breads.
Sweets: Island bees love the wild flowers, berry and fruit tree blossoms for their honey, a flavour that can’t be replicated elsewhere. There’s chocolatiers and bean-to-bar chocolate makers, local ice-cream, tarts, pies and cakes, and of course, the famous Nanaimo Bar.
Tea and Coffee: Visitors don’t expect to find a tea plantation in the Cowichan Valley (it’s the only one in Canada), but that’s how warm it is. There’s also many fine coffee roasters featuring exotic, fair trade beans.
Wild Foods: The forests and pastures are rich with chanterelles, morels, and matsutake mushrooms. There’s wild strawberries, blackberries, salmonberries, and wild onions among many other wild foods. To enjoy, dine at farm and forest to table restaurant or buy from a farmer’s market. For your own foraging, we recommend a guide for best results and saftey.
Farmers’ Markets: These are local food Meccas – besides produce and pasture-raised meats, there’s hand-crafted chutneys, mustards, jams, jellies, pickles, soups, salad dressings, fruit salsas, vegetarian pâté, hemp granola, home baking, salts from the Salish Sea, and vinegars made from local berries.