See Romania and the Caribbean without leaving Vancouver
If there’s one thing that Vancouver residents can agree on, it’s that the city is rich in diverse cultures. Walk a few blocks in any direction downtown and you’re bound to find a sushi or falafel restaurant. Take the Canada Line 15 minutes south of Vancouver and experience a vibrant Chinese community. An afternoon spent on Commercial Drive yields flavours from the Mediterranean and beyond. With so many countries represented in Vancouver, it’s easy to feel like you’ve taken a vacation abroad without venturing too far from your doorstep. Here are two daily itineraries to help you experience two cultures in Vancouver that may have flown under your radar—and allow you to enjoy a staycation without shelling out big money on airfare.
With below-average summer temperatures and hockey season running well into June, you might find yourself daydreaming about escaping to a hotter, tropical destination. Imagine lounging around on a Caribbean beach, with fruity cocktail in hand and the faint sound of steel drums in the background. Well, before you stock up on sunscreen and hop on a near-12-hour flight, know that you can find a little bit of Caribbean culture right here in Vancouver. While these Caribbean spots can’t break up the grey skies or turn the sidewalks into boardwalks, they will undoubtedly spice up your summer.
A morning in the Caribbean can be experienced in your own home with a few grocery items from the Caribbean Market (804 12th Street, New Westminster), which has been stocking hard-to-find foods from the Caribbean for more than 20 years. The shop is open seven days a week, and recently launched an online store, which ships items right to your door. A typical Jamaican breakfast consists of the country’s national fruit, akee. This tropical fruit turns from green to bright red when ripe (and is poisonous if eaten before that), and contains soft yellow flesh, which is delicious when combined with codfish, dense cornmeal johnnycakes, sweet plantains, and callaloo, a leafy green vegetable.
The annual Caribbean Days Festival, which takes place on July 23 and 24 at Waterfront Park (123 Carrie Cates Court, Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver), offers a taste of Caribbean culture. While the colourful and lively park grounds will vie for your attention, the aromatic smells of sweet and spicy dishes will have you wandering over to the food fair first. There you can sample popular Caribbean specialties, such as jerk chicken, flying fish, roti, and Jamaican patties, as well as food from other countries. Also on hand will be a wide selection of spices and pepper sauces to ignite your taste buds. Other festival highlights include two carnival-style parades, music and dance performances in the park, and an eclectic crafts and clothing market. While you’re on the North Shore, swing by Kingston 11 Reggae Café (232 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver) for an authentic Jamaican meal. Owner Prince Rowe’s home-style dishes include the spicy jerk chicken and pork, as well as milder curry and stewed chicken platters. Those looking to taste Jamaica’s most popular fish, red snapper, can try it pan-fried and served with rice, dumplings, or bread. To finish the meal, savour a slice of dark, rum-soaked fruitcake, served with vanilla ice cream.
When dinnertime calls, there are several well-known Caribbean restaurants in Vancouver to choose from. Riddim & Spice (1945 Commercial Drive) serves up hearty comfort food of the Caribbean, including curried chicken and goat, braised oxtail, and vegetable roti. Just down the street from Riddim & Spice is the nine-year-old Jamaican Pizza Jerk (2707 Commercial Drive), which uses the spicy namesake seasoning in many of its dishes, including its famous Jamaican-inspired pizzas. For downtown dwellers, Calabash Bistro (428 Carrall Street) puts a modern spin on traditional Caribbean ingredients. Snack on the curry or jerk poutine and sample the restaurant’s extensive rum list while listening to live reggae and funk. If you’ve still got energy to dance afterward, B.C. Dancehall Reggae Movement promotes reggae-themed nights at various nightclubs in Vancouver, as well as concerts by Jamaican performers Toots and the Maytals on July 5 and Ky-Mani Marley on July 8.
There are plenty of signs that a vibrant and welcoming Romanian community exists in Metro Vancouver. Look no further than the annual Romanian festival, taking place in Burnaby in December and organized by the B.C. Romanian Community Centre. Or there’s Rompost TV, a local program that covers everything from news to arts and culture in its weekly broadcasts on Omni Cable 8. The B.C. Romanian community also recently marked a milestone with the opening of a new Consulate General of Romania in Vancouver, only the third in Canada. For those hoping to sample the sights, sounds, and flavours of local Romanian culture, here are some ideas.
Start off the day in a sweet way with a visit to Transylvania Traditions Bakery (1111 Davie Street). Besides an assortment of cream-covered, fluffy cakes, the dessert shop offers customers the chance to snack on kürtõs kalács, a sugary, cone-shaped pastry that originated in Transylvania, a region in central Romania. With a topping of almonds or walnuts, the fresh, doughy treat is sure to satisfy taste buds in a way that only high-calorie desserts can.
An exploration of Romanian culture would be lacking without a look at Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the largest religious denomination in the European country. Visitors are welcome at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church (220 Carnarvon Street, New Westminster), a white building perched above the Fraser River. The church was built in the early 20th century and purchased in 2003 by the Holy Trinity parish. It has since been refurbished and its interior now features a vivid fresco by Romanian-Canadian painter Petru Botezatu that depicts dozens of saints. Grab lunch at Brick Oven Pizzeria (4265 Dunbar Street), but don’t be fooled by the name. Although pizza is on the menu, customers are invited to order some Romanian staples that aren’t listed. Try some mămăligă (polenta), fill up on stufat de miel (lamb stew), or dine on ciorba de burta (tripe soup).
Round out a day of Romanian culture with a feast for the ears. Lache Cercel and the Roma Swing Ensemble entertain audiences with a jazzy blend of world influences. Cercel, the bandleader and a renowned Romanian violinist, came to Vancouver in 1996. The group alternates between the two East Is East locations in Vancouver (4413 Main Street and 3239 West Broadway) for performances on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Sit down for a delicious dinner at the family-run Transylvania Flavour restaurant (2120 West Broadway). The heaping Knight’s Platter gives two diners the chance to sample a range of dishes, including schnitzel, Transylvanian sausages, meatballs, and paprika-dusted fries. To cap off the day with a stiff drink, take a sip of palinca, a traditional Romanian plum brandy. But good luck tracking down a bottle.