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Where to Tonight?


Our trip was scheduled to last two weeks - or to put it another way - fourteen dinners! With three days off for a side trip we were planning to make up to the Rockies, and another day reserved for the 'official' family reunion dinner, that left just eleven evenings free to spend in the enjoyable search for interesting restaurants in Vancouver, a pleasure that had afforded me a great deal of anticipation while waiting for this trip. Where to start? Perhaps south-east Asia: Vietnamese, Malaysian ... Thai. How about Mediterranean: Lebanese, Greek ... Italian. Or maybe Indian, Jamaican, Native Canadian, English, Spanish ... the list goes on and on and on - as long as that line of flags that stands outside the UN building in New York. And only eleven days!

Perhaps it may seem strange that somebody living in Tokyo, one of the world's great capitals, should be looking forward to travelling to a relatively small city like Vancouver to get interesting dining experiences. Surely we Tokyoites have every possible type of food available right on our doorsteps, don't we? Well, yes and no. Tokyo does indeed have everything, and with enough diligent searching to find the place, many hours spent on trains getting there and back, and a trip to the bank for a loan to pay the exorbitant bill with which we are certain to be presented, we can eat any type of food that we wish. But it becomes an expedition, a major event, certainly not a simple "Let's go out for dinner tonight. What kind of food would you like to eat?" sort of affair.

Why should it be that Vancouver, with a population less than a tenth that of Tokyo, offers such a bewildering variety of restaurants, while the larger city remains such a 'wasteland'? It is of course, due to historical immigration patterns. Tokyo may be a city of embassies, but Vancouver is a city of immigrants, thousands upon thousands of them every year, coming from every corner of the world. Although a small proportion of these arrive well-off financially, by far the greater number arrive with not much more than what they have carried with them. Jobs are scarce, and they have few skills, but they do know how to do one thing ... and that is cook. Not 'four-star' hotel cooking, but the simple basic methods of preparing the day-to-day foods of their native country. Lacking the capital necessary to start up more sophisticated businesses, opening a tiny restaurant is one of the few options open to them. They find a cheap hole in the wall space on a back street somewhere, clean it up, put in a few tables and chairs, scribble a menu on the wall, and go to it. Ingredients are usually not a problem, because after generations of immigration, markets supplying foodstuffs from all over the world are also common here. And thus one more restaurant is added to Vancouver's 'collection', and perhaps even one more flag ...

But Sadako and I had only eleven days ... Well, don't worry, I'm not about to embark on a plate-by-plate description of everything we ate during our trip. We didn't even get to eleven different countries, as we started repeating a bit (Sadako fell for those Greek salads ... the feta cheese ...), and we also got captivated by the new multi-ethnic cafe-restaurants that have sprung up since I was last here (more about them later ...), but we did get to Lebanon, Vietnam, Greece, England, China, Italy ...

All in all, it was a most enjoyable 'tour', especially for Sadako, and when it finally came time to return to Japan, we did so with a definite sense of regret at the delights we were leaving behind. And actually, they were not all left behind. In our carry-on baggage were a couple of spanakopita we picked up just before leaving our hotel. Sadako had been wanting to try them every time we had walked past that restaurant, but we never did get a chance.

So that was our goodbye to Vancouver - Greek spinach pie eaten at the airport just before boarding our plane. Itadakimaaaaasu!