There’s a reason that food is such a big part of travel. Yes, because we all need sustenance, but there’s much more to it. To eat the local food is to know a place. A trip to Paris or Bangkok or Marrakech without eating French or Thai or Moroccan food is hard to fathom. Likewise, to eat in BC is to better understand the land and its people.

Food doesn’t just nourish our bodies, it nourishes our souls. Few experiences engage the senses as fully. Close your eyes, and the taste of freshly caught Pacific salmon can conjure the sounds and smells of the ocean. The earthy flavour of a newly foraged mushroom can make you feel like you’re in the rainforest. The key is to eat slowly and deliberately, savouring each bite.

Mindful eating, and the notion of honouring food, goes back many thousands of years. BC’s Indigenous Peoples have always had a reciprocal relationship with food and with the natural environment that centres around gratitude and respect. The people protect the land and the animals, and in turn, nature takes care of the needs of the people.

Science tells us that time in nature can heal. It allows our minds and our bodies to reset, and there is a measurable change in the way our brains function, ranging from enhanced creativity to a heightened ability to problem solve. In her book The Nature Fix, Florence Williams demonstrates how as few as three days in nature can impact us positively. Food helps us connect with nature. To a sense of place.

Here, we call it the British Columbia Effect.

Fall is arguably the best time to visit BC and take advantage of smaller crowds and the bounty of the harvest. Time your visit for the second Monday in October to be here for Canadian Thanksgiving, the ultimate harvest celebration. Along with a protein of choice (traditionally turkey), a Canadian Thanksgiving table is loaded with seasonal veggies like squash and Brussels sprouts, and fresh cranberries are a staple—cranberries are one of BC’s biggest berry crops. If you have room for dessert, the meal is usually finished off with a pumpkin or apple pie.

Any apple lover will tell you that U-pick farms are the place to be in fall. The intense smells and flavours are a sure sign that the harvest has begun. Fall means plenty of fresh cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, and wild mushrooms will start to appear on restaurant menus across the province. From the sea, this is the time to feast on salmon—the fish that is synonymous with British Columbia—and practise your shucking skills in anticipation of oyster season.

U-pick fields at Krause Berry Farms | Albert Normandin

THE LAND

The Vancouver Area

Food, like wine, is a product of where it grows—the terroir. The flora, the fauna, the landscape, the minerals in the soil all combine to create unique, regional flavours, ensuring different areas of the province offer different culinary experiences.

The verdant Fraser Valley, an hour east of Vancouver, has some of the richest soil in the province. Here you’ll find berry farms, a range of vegetable crops, dairy farms, wineries, and even an organic grain mill. The region has created a series of self-guided circle farm tours, each of which gives you an opportunity to meet the farmers and hear their stories, and to taste the food right where it was grown.

 

 

Vancouver Island

East of Vancouver, a short ferry ride away, Vancouver Island is another agricultural hub. Along the west coast of the Island and on the nearby Gulf Islands, you can tour wineries, sample artisan cheeses, sink your teeth into crispy, organically grown heirloom apples, and talk to proprietors about what makes their products special. The mild, maritime climate here combines with mountainous terrain and fertile lowlands to create agricultural pockets with distinct growing conditions, and nearly every community you pass hosts a farmers market in the spring through early fall.

 

 

 

Penticton | Kari Medig

The Okanagan Valley

The best-known and most productive food region in BC is the Okanagan Valley. Summers are hot, the soil is nutrient-rich, and there are long, cool lakes perfect for swimming. The landscape is dotted with orchards and vineyards almost everywhere you look. Conditions here and in the nearby Similkameen Valley are perfect for growing tree fruits; in the summer months, fresh Okanagan peaches and cherries are a highly sought-after commodity, and in the fall it’s apple season. At any time of year, the valley is a feast for the senses. The scent of fresh fruit is in the air, mixing with the aroma of creative, locally inspired dishes wafting from restaurant kitchens. There is a rainbow of colour at farms and roadside produce stands, and flavours that elicit an audible sigh.

THE SEA

Salmon

An integral piece of BC’s culinary experience is the more than 25,000 km (15,000 mi) of Pacific coastline. The quality and the freshness of BC seafood is unsurpassed. BC is blessed with five species of salmon, and there are many ways to prepare it. One of the best ways to indulge is to enjoy a traditional salmon barbecue as part of an Indigenous cultural tour. Learning about the critical role salmon has played in the lives of BC’s Indigenous population for millennia adds a distinct element of appreciation to the meal, and there is often an accompanying performance with the rhythmic beating of a drum.

 

 

Haida Gwaii | John Scarth

Haida Gwaii

One of the best places in the province to fish for salmon—and for halibut—is Haida Gwaii off the coast of Northern BC. The marine environment in this area is teeming with life, and the fish are big and plentiful. Haida Gwaii is the home of the Haida Nation, a people known for their stewardship of the land as well as for their stunning and prolific artwork. This remote archipelago is often described as “mystical,” and it is said that a trip to Haida Gwaii will change you. The dining experience on Haida Gwaii changes with the seasons, as “freshly harvested” is an important theme.

 

Seasonal Delicacies

If your visit to BC comes in the spring, you may be lucky enough to arrive during spot prawn season. The season usually lasts between six and eight weeks, and it culminates in the annual Spot Prawn Festival in Vancouver. Spot prawns are renowned for their sweet, delicate flavour, and they have the added bonus of being a sustainable choice as the spot prawn fishery is very carefully managed.

In the fall, Dungeness crab is a local specialty you won’t want to miss. These delicious crustaceans are available in restaurants around BC, or for a more hands-on experience book a tour where you catch your own crab and have a cook-out on the beach. It’s hard to get more west coast than that.

 

The British Columbia Effect

How does BC leave you feeling restored and refreshed? The answer lies in the landscape. Stay in the moment, eat nutritious food, let the mountains, the forests, and the ocean work their magic, and leave transformed.

Here, we call it the British Columbia Effect.

Terrace | Andrew Strain

Unique to BC

Before you head home—sated, refreshed, and feeling content—there are a few unique-to-BC foods to consider checking off your list.

The BC Roll was invented here in 1974 when local celebrity chef Hidekazu Tojo took inspiration from the abundance of fresh salmon in our waters. The roll is made with barbecued salmon skin and cucumber.

Another don’t miss is JAPADOG, Japanese-style hot dogs with toppings such as seaweed, kimchi, and special sauces. What started as a small, husband-and-wife-run food cart has become a fleet of food carts around Metro Vancouver, as well as a bricks-and-mortar location. They have also recently expanded into California. Try the signature Terimayo, made with teriyaki sauce, mayo, and seaweed.

If you find yourself on the west coast of Vancouver Island, make a stop in Nanaimo and follow the Nanaimo Bar Trail. “A steadfast source of comfort to Canadians,” according to The New York Times, this decadent dessert is made with a base layer of graham crumbs, coconut, and cocoa, a middle layer of vanilla custard, and topped with a layer of chocolate.

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