A roundtrip ticket from Vancouver to Nairobi, Kenya, can cost upward of $2,000. So can a return flight to Goa, India. Then pile on the cost of food, accommodation, and everything else. If all that’s beyond your budget and you’re booking a summer staycation instead, since you live in a multicultural city like Vancouver, why not create a cross-cultural experience with local resources? You can even use it to prepare for a future vacation or that big move to a foreign locale. Okay, okay, we know that Vancouver weather doesn’t match the luxurious embrace of tropical climes. But at least you’ll spare the environment the carbon emissions of a flight.
Here are some sample itineraries to try out or to inspire you to create your own.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you talk about the Persian community in Vancouver: not everyone is sure that a community really exists. Without a proper community centre, finding out about local Persian cultural events can be a challenge. But once you uncover a few hidden treasures and try some well-known favourites, you’ll strike the perfect balance of delicious cuisine, traditional music and dance, and plenty of warm people.
Start the morning off at Kandoo Restaurant & Bakery (2099 Lougheed Highway, Port Coquitlam), where the first thing you’ll notice is the intoxicating smell of freshly baked sangak bread, a staple of the Persian diet. This long bread is cooked on hot stones—sang means “stone” in Farsi. Add to your cart some feta, butter, fresh walnuts, and sour cherry jam, and along with a cup of chai, you’ve got all the fixings for a simple, authentic Persian breakfast.
Your day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the North Shore, where a large Iranian population has set up shop—literally. Whether you’re looking for baked goods or an extravagant handwoven rug, you’ll find it along Lonsdale Avenue. Once you’ve built up an appetite from all the shopping, just a 10-minute drive away, Kashcool Restaurant (222 Pemberton Avenue, North Vancouver) will have your mouth watering. Yes, the kebabs are delicious, but venture out of your comfort zone and try the fesenjoon, a sweet and tangy pomegranate-and-walnut stew served over rice. To get the full culinary experience, be sure to ask for the tah-deeg, a crispy, golden brown rice cake made using rice from the bottom of the pot. Not only is it delicious, a well-done tah-deeg is the sign of a great chef. After lunch, try a music lesson at Nava Art Centre, where you can learn to play a variety of instruments, including the setar, the tar, the barbat, and the tombak.
It wouldn’t be much of an excursion into Persian culture if you didn’t take in some dancing. Azita Sahebjam, director of Vancouver Pars National Ballet (239 St. Georges Avenue, North Vancouver), can teach you everything from the sultry to the folk dances of Iran—just don’t mistake either for belly dancing. It may seem like you don’t have to leave the North Shore to experience this vibrant culture, but dinner at Darya Restaurant (1795 Pendrell Street) is worth the trip downtown. Here, the kebabs are a must; having forgone them at lunch, try the kebab koobideh (halal ground meat formed into patties and cooked on a metal skewer) served with saffron-flavoured rice and char-grilled tomatoes. Complete your night with some tea and a smoke with a hookah at the Persian Tea House (668 Davie Street). The mellow vibe and traditional décor will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Persian living room—minus the pushy mother who tries to feed you more food than you know what to do with.
> Shadi Elien
When British Columbians think about South Asian presence in this province, the first thing that pops into their minds is usually the Sikh community, much of which traces its lineage to the northern Indian state of Punjab. This is understandable, given the more-than-century-long history of Sikh contributions to B.C.’s forest and agricultural industries, not to mention their rising influence in politics.
Lesser known is the increasing presence of South Indians in Metro Vancouver, hailing from the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. Some of the biggest cities in the south are Chennai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, the latter two of which are hotbeds of the high-tech industry. A large part of this community is ethnically Dravidian, and many in it are vegetarians, which explains why South Indian restaurants offer some of the city’s finest meat-free dishes.
Shushma Datt, president of the multilingual radio station RJ1200, told the Georgia Straight by phone that she has expanded the amount of South Indian programming on her station. “It’s a community that’s very steadily growing here,” she said.
Being a minority within a minority can make it difficult to get noticed. But it’s not too tough to find South Indian cuisine and culture if you know where to look.
Begin the day with a trip to House of Dosas (1391 Kingsway), a 24-hour South Indian eatery. Try the idlis (savoury cakes) or you can be like some in the home country, who eat dosas for breakfast. In a 2007 article in the Straight, CBC journalist Priya Ramu described them as “instant reminders of time spent in Kerala as a child”. Owner Rajakumar Joseph Muttavanchery, known to his customers as Raj, proudly hangs the Indian flag on the wall. The television screen features NDTV newscasts from India, except when there’s a championship cricket match or World Cup soccer game. South Indians are known for intellect, so it’s no surprise that if you ask Raj about Indian celebrities who have visited his restaurant, he’ll rattle off the names of prominent scientists and engineers. Almost everyone who moves from South India speaks and writes English exceptionally well.
If you’re interested in sampling a South Indian movie, drop by Thurga Trading (6049 Fraser Street) for DVD rentals in the Tamil, Sinhala, and Malayalam languages. The staff can also educate you about South Indian cooking, which tends to be far spicier than North Indian. For lunch, try the authentically South Indian cuisine of Saravanaa Bhavan (955 West Broadway), where the servers are happy to tell you more about that part of the world. From there, it’s a 10-minute drive or 15-minute transit ride to the Shree Mahalakshmi Hindu Temple (467 East 11th Avenue). Named in honour of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, it’s the destination for many local South Indians seeking a spiritual lift. Pandit Prameya Chaitanya speaks to the congregation on Sundays. Be sure to remove your shoes at the door.
Chindi Varadarajulu’s Chutney Villa restaurant (147 East Broadway) serves up not only the exceptional food of South India, including outstanding thalis (combination platters), but also the art and music of the region. She has a collection of elaborate South Indian wood carvings on the wall, some featuring Hindu gods such as Ganesh and Hanuman. On the sound system, you’ll hear Tamil music. And if you pick June 30 for your itinerary, you can cap it off with a trip to the Pacific Coliseum for a concert by A. R. Rahman, the superstar Sufi singer from Chennai. You’ll see hordes of South Indians swaying to his tunes from Slumdog Millionaire, Jodhaa Akbar, and many other films.
> Charlie Smith
To experience Africa in the Lower Mainland, here’s a day planned out for you that will not only feed your body and invoke all your senses, but also teach you, clothe you, entertain you, and make you move.
Enjoy a South African breakfast of maize meal porridge from African Breese Imports (1054 Marine Drive, North Vancouver), served with boerewors sausage. Alternatively, have rusks, biscottilike biscuits, dipped into your coffee or tea.
Then catch a class in soukouss, a contemporary music and dance style that originated in Central Africa, with Jacky Essombe. She teaches at various community centres in the Lower Mainland. Check her Web site for the venue closest to you.
Try an Ethiopian lunch. Along the Drive, there are several Ethiopian eateries, each with a slightly different feel, but according to Mesfin Assefa at Addis Café (2017 Commercial Drive), all of them offer similar dishes. Injera, a sour, crepelike flatbread, is served with most dishes. Kitfo is a traditional minced-beef dish for the more adventurous palate and can be served raw, rare, medium, or well-done. Harambe Restaurant on Commercial Drive, Nyala (4148 Main Street), and Red Sea Café (670 East Broadway) are all close by. Be ready to eat with your hands.
After lunch, visit one of the many African beauty salons on the Drive. Most hairstylists offer twists, dreadlocks, and weaves with or without hair extensions. Nunu’s Hair Salon (1855 Commercial Drive), along with most others, will take walk-ins if it’s not too busy, and stylists can work with any kind of hair. A three-hour appointment is average and the hairstyle need not be permanent. Afro Hair Studio (1969 Commercial Drive), Piassa Hair Salon (2655 Commercial Drive), and Déjí Vu International Hair Studio (1840 Commercial Drive) are other options.
Savour an East African dinner at Simba’s Grill (7413 Edmonds Street, Burnaby), which offers kuku choma, spicy roasted chicken, and several other authentic dishes, infused somewhat with Canadian West Coast flair. The atmosphere at Simba’s is designed to transport you to safari country with a karibu, Swahili for “welcome”, by the owner/chef, Kurshid Khan. (Simba’s sister location is at 825 Denman Street.)
African Arts/Percussions (163 West Broadway) offers African hand-drum jam sessions every Saturday evening from 9 p.m. Alongside a plethora of African musical instruments are jewellery and clothing. Here’s a chance to buy complete African attire to go with your new hairstyle.
The last Saturday of every month is Africa Dance at the Anza Club (3 West 8th Avenue). DJ Diallo plays contemporary and classical music from all over the continent—soukouss, Lingala, soca, and highlife, for example. Here’s where to practise your dance moves, show off your new wardrobe, and visit with a solidly loyal African scene, some of whose members drive up from as far away as Seattle every month.
> Juliane Okot Bitek
It might be news to some that you don’t have to travel outside the Lower Mainland to experience aboriginal culture. Vancouver and its neighbouring municipalities are home to one in five native people in B.C. There are 11 First Nations in Metro Vancouver and surrounding areas, including Hwlitsum, Matsqui, Musqueam, and Qayqayt. The region provides several opportunities to sample their age-old heritage, and you might be surprised how much can be had even in one day. Here are a few suggestions, and remember that most native peoples haven’t formally surrendered their traditional lands through treaties, hence B.C. is largely unceded indigenous territory.
Start things off with a visit to one or more local galleries. There’s the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (639 Hornby Street), which showcases the famous Haida artist’s gold and silver jewellery works. Also located in the city, over at Granville Island, is the Wickaninnish Gallery at the Net Loft (14–1666 Johnston Street). Native art is also on display at the Dorothy Grant Ltd. studio (138 West 6th Avenue). The place has a showroom where walk-in visitors can buy native-inspired women’s and men’s clothes, and accessories. Another option is the world-renowned Museum of Anthropology at UBC, which houses about 6,000 objects from B.C. First Nations. To shop for native artwork and items like hand-knitted sweaters and moccasins, head over to the Khot-La-Cha Art Gallery and Gift Shop (270 Whonoak Street, North Vancouver).
Keith Henry, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C., suggests a visit to the Klahowya Village Summer showcase at the site of the Stanley Park miniature train. Opening on July 1 and running until September 6, the exhibition, which is named after the Chinook word for “welcome”, will include performances, a story circle, authentic food, a teepee with interpretive features, and a traditional canoe-carving area. Speaking of canoes, the First Nation–owned Takaya Tours offers group boat rides on the waters of Indian Arm. Bob Putnam, general manager of the Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak Centre, explains that in the indigenous culture, the “canoe has a spirit, so when you enter the canoe you address the canoe and tell him who you are”. Those who want to march to the beat of their own drum should contact North Vancouver–based Tsleil-Waututh First Nation member Rueben George (604-720-4630). George teaches how to make traditional West Coast hand drums and provides materials like cedar, pine, and deer and elk hide.
Cap the day with dinner at Salmon ’n’ Bannock (1128 West Broadway), a bistro serving aboriginal food. Bannock, a native bread, is served with most dishes, and it comes either baked or pan-fried. Nuxalk Nation member Inez Cook is a co-owner of the restaurant, and she recommends that burger lovers try either the buffalo or salmon burger. There’s also an Indian-candy platter of sweet salmon and clam fritters. “Our deer stew is fabulous,” Cook adds. For dessert, she suggests the bannock berry pudding. The spot offers wine produced by Nk’Mip Cellars, North America’s first aboriginal-owned winery, which operates out of Osoyoos.
> Carlito Pablo
First Nation–owned Takaya Tours offers group boat rides on the waters of Indian Arm, a good way to work up an appetite for some aboriginal cuisine.