Granville Island Public Market

If you love food, or even just love looking at food, you must go here.

Located just across the water from downtown Vancouver and a mere 2-minute ride on the Aquabus, you will find yourself at the Granville Island Public Market. It sure does feel good when surrounded by a myriad of vendors displaying and selling their colorful fresh produce and fruits. The produce and fruits brag their freshness by exuding their bright colors and it was difficult not to fall in love with them. (Hint: Food photography haven). Bakery vendors have freshly baked breads, pies, and tarts that will entice your sweet tooth. The freshly rolled and handmade pasta, sausages, and cheeses will inspire you to cook dinner at home. If you're feeling hungry, get a ready-to-eat meat pie. The size of the market will keep one busy, even if you are just admiring the food as a traveler/visitor while sadly regretting that you can't buy those fresh produce and seafood to cook them in your hotel room.

Granville Island itself is huge so take your time and wonder around outside the public market where you will find art studios, marine stores, restaurants, and locally-owned shops. La Baguette et L'Echalote arguably has the best chocolate almond croissant in Vancouver. When you have finished enjoying your pastry, walk over to JJ Bean which makes solid espresso drinks. The Artisan Sake Maker produces sake in-house and has won numerous awards. Sake tasting is available and highly recommended for the affordable price. 


Whistler, British Columbia

Vancouver really has it all within reach: city + sea + mountains. Merely a 90-minute drive from the downtown Vancouver is Whistler Mountain Ski Resort, the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. This means that lucky Vancouverites can work and play in the city during the week, and then conveniently choose to go up to the mountains for more weekend fun.

We left the city via Lions Gate Bridge towards the North Shore. The bridge was originally built by the Guinness family who at that time purchased a piece of land across Vancouver near the Burrard Inlet for $75,000. In hopes to increase the market price for the area where their newly purchased land was, the Lions Gate Bridge was built to connect the area to Vancouver. Today, the bridge is widely used everyday for traveling between downtown Vancouver and the municipalities across.

Soon enough we were on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the gateway towards Whistler. The winding Sea-to-Sky Highway has been repeatedly rated by travel magazines and websites as one of the most scenic highways in the world. With continuous views of the waters, bay, inlet, and whatever that remains of the snow-capped mountains depending on the time of the year, it is not difficult to see why this is a favorite route of many people. Natural rock formations along certain sections of the highway also make it a favorite among rock climbers which you will be able to see from the inside the vehicle as you drive along the highway.

Enroute to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, we passed several towns and places including Bowen Island with a population of 3,400 residents where one can only find locally-owned shops and not a single chain store. What makes this place note worthy is that it is center place of Vancouver rights activity. Incidentally, Bowen Island is also a favorite place of Richard Branson, the owner of the Virgin business empire.

Shannon Falls is a place that is worth stopping for a quick view of the third highest waterfall in British Columbia at 300ft. Vehicles can conveniently exit the Sea-to-Sky Highway, park at the lot, and take a very short hike to the viewing platform of Shannon Falls.

Located halfway to Whistler is the Squamish town. While the Squamish people, who are native inhabitants of British Columbia, believe that the land belongs to them, so do the little white people (as the Squamish calls Whites). Ultimately, both groups came upon the decision to share the land and that is why at present day the Sea-to-Sky Highway spots road signs that are both in English and Squamish. Today, the Squamish is the fastest growing community in Canada with a growth rate of 14.9% and many of them work at Whistler which always provides many employment opportunities.

Prior to 1959, Whistler Mountain was called London Mountain when it was first discovered by English surveyors who worked on the railroads. The area was always foggy, which reminded them much of London, and hence they proceeded to name it London Mountain. Fast forward to 1968, three Vancouver businessmen had goals to bring the Olympics to Vancouver. Not wanting people to get confused with the name London Mountain, they sought permission from the government to change it to Whistler Mountain which was named after the whistling squirrels that live in the mountain. Gradually, roads leading to Whistler improved.

Vehicles stopping by the highway to view the black bear

Whistler is home to many black bears but it is a common sight for the black bears to have made their way miles outside of Whistler. Therefore, it is not unusual to spot a black bear or two, if you are lucky, before arriving at Whistler. As part of the preparation for the Winter Olympics in 2010, steps were taken to beautify the highway by planting clovers. Ironically, black bears like to eat clovers and after the Winter Olympics were over and when the bears came out of hibernation, many of them were spotted next to the highway. Later in the day at Whistler, we spotted more black bears with a closer view of them.

Almost arriving at Whistler is the neighborhood of Blueberry Hill with homes that boasts gorgeous views overlooking Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. In winter, there is so much snow outside the homes that residents use ski sticks to mark the end of their driveway so they do not drive off the ledge off the driveway.

Given its world-class resort reputation, Whistler is not surprisingly a very expensive place to live. It has become a place where millionaires and billionaires buy their vacation homes which resulted in pushing the middle class out. The middle class ends up buying their vacation homes in the town of Squamish, which is halfway to Whistler from Vancouver. Seal reportedly owns a vacation home in Whistler, which is also where he and Heidi Klum got engaged but of course we all know that they also got divorced somewhere else. He now spends most of his time in Australia, we were told.

Diversity at Whistler begins with its employees. Only 40% of people working at Whistler are Canadians. Selected Commonwealth countries have a 1-year exchange where their citizens are allowed to work in the partner countries, and this has resulted in many citizens of the participating Commonwealth countries to work at Whistler.

Although Whistler is known today as a world-class ski resort, it started as a summer spot where people went fishing and hiking. Because many areas were left empty during the cold season, hence Whistler eventually became a winter vacation spot as well. People often talk and think about skiing when speaking about Whistler but interestingly the resort has a wider range of activities to be found in the summer which include bear-watching, golfing, glacier skiing, biking, ziplining, etc. In the summer, ski chair lifts are converted to hold and bring mountain bikes up so that riders can bike down the steep and challenging slopes. In the summer, temperatures can rise up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

To explore Whistler, we rented bikes and went along the valley trails which included a combination of paved bike lanes, gravel roads, uphill and downhill. Not regular bikers, our derrieres paid the price of biking almost 20km that day which included biking past the Alta and Lost Lakes. Valley trail biking is a good option if you choose not to do mountain biking which is riding the bike down the same slopes as skiers would in winter. Though it looks like fun when watching the mountain bikers wearing full-face helmets and elbow pads, and doing jumps while descending the slopes, we figured that we could do without those action.


While we did not encounter any black bears while biking, we found fresh poop on our bike paths which was a sign that a black bear was nearby. Back in 2005, when my sister and I visited Whistler together, we encountered two black bears (each at separate times) right in front of us while biking. That memory will forever be etched in our minds. This time, while T and I were not lucky enough to spot a bear while biking, we spotted a total of 10 black bears on the side of the road while we were inside the vehicle. We went up to Whistler on a van with Landsea Tours (which by the way is a good option if you do not wish to rent a car for Whistler and still want to be able to do your own activities at the resort) and on the way out of Whistler at the end of the day, Greg our driver/guide was brilliant to share tips of bear-sighting with his friends in the area which really helped us in spotting all the black bears that we saw at different locations and times. I guess that makes us lucky, too.

In North America, there are 3 types of bears: black, brown, and polar. At Whistler, only black bears are to be found. These bears have a vegetation diet and meat will make them sick. They generally go into hibernation beginning November or December and only waking up around March when the weather gradually becomes more sunny often. Contrary to popular belief, the bears do not kill people but instead, people end up killing the bears. Often when cars spot a black bear, they make sudden stops along the side of the road with a lack of caution and thus resulting in accidentally hitting a bear. Unfortunately, we learned that it is more often the case that people kill bears and not the other way around.

People are also highly discouraged to feed the black bears as the bears will gradually learn to associate vehicles with food. As a result, the next time a vehicle pulls up, the bear will approach the vehicle thinking that it will be fed. When this happens, people will end up reporting the incident of the approaching bear thinking that the creature is aggressive. The authorities, by duty, will put down any aggressive bear.

If a bear is found to have made its way wandering around human areas or ski areas, the park rangers will shoot the bears with tranquilizer and then transport the bears safely back into the forest.

On the way out of Whistler, we made a quick stop at Alexander Falls which was a great decision. The sun was less strong in the evening and the amount of light shining on the waterfall amidst the trees made it more beautiful.

The sky was changing and getting overcast at the Tantalus Lookout, about 40 minutes outside of Whistler on our way back to Vancouver. It was nevertheless beautiful overlooking the snow-capped mountains and the town of Squamish. A fantastic moment to finish up the day before heading back to the city.


Salt Tasting Room

If you think you've got the wrong address, then you most probably got the right address. Located along Blood Alley and depending on which end of the alley you enter from, you might have to make your way past some back alley dumpsters. Salt Tasting Room is located right in the middle along the alley.

Situated in the neighborhood of Gastown in downtown Vancouver, this area seems to be the magnet for great restaurants and nightlife. With so much heritage attached to Gastown being the place where Vancouver was born, this area today is anything but old-fashioned. Characterized by it's cobblestone streets, restaurants and cafes are becoming part of the important scene of Gastown. However, if there is one thing that is unfortunate about the location, it would be the fact that just outside Gastown is the area of Hasting Street where druggies hang out on the streets. People will tell you to stay away from that part of Hasting Street, so if you need to get to Gastown or the neighboring Chinatown, avoid walking along Hasting Street to get there. However, this by no means make Gastown (or Chinatown) a dangerous place. Hasting Street is not in Gastown or Chinatown; it is just unfortunately located right in between both areas. It is only part of a normal city life that sometimes there are spillovers from neighboring areas and we got to witness that on our way to Salt Tasting Room as we entered Blood Alley. A group of people were hanging out at one end of the alley and they looked high from drugs, presumably. If you feel uncomfortable walking past them, just turn around and enter Blood Alley from the other side. These people are not violent; they are just unfortunately hooked onto drugs. Gastown remains a very safe place where foodies and scenesters continue to hang out due to the increasing number of highly regarded restaurants and bars that have opened up in the area.

The minute we entered Salt Tasting Room, we sensed a charm to it. The decor is bare and minimalistic with unfinished brick walls with individual light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The wooden tables are also bare, accompanied by metal chairs. The entire back wall of the restaurant is made up of a blackboard that functions as the daily-changing menu where you feast your eyes on the unique options of cheese, meats, and condiments before picking your selection choices for the night. The wine and beer lists are dynamic and perfectly compliments their artisanal cheeses and charcuterie items.

When it comes to being impressed by a restaurant, we look not only at the execution of the food but also the knowledge of the staff employed. At Salt, our server was extremely knowledgeable and was able to articulate clearly each of the items on the menu when telling us about the menu. The concept here is that you get tasting portions of their cheeses and meats. You choose 3 items total from the cheeses and meats in any combination i.e. 1 cheese + 2 meats, 2 cheeses + 1 meat, 3 cheese, or 3 meats. You then choose from their list of condiments that you would like as the accompaniment for each of your cheese and meat selections. Many of their unique selections on the blackboard were unheard of by T and I, which we saw as a good thing,  as it reflected the attention that Salt takes to source for these unique tasting items.


Since we were unfamiliar with most of their unique and unheard-of cheese names on the menu, we asked our server for her recommendation based on our cheese preference. We wanted a mild cheese and asked which of their cheeses would be similar to brie. Her recommendation was the Montboissie cheese from France. To say the least, the Montboissie turned out to be an excellent choice and recommendation as it was very, very unique. The physical appearance looked like bleu cheese and the texture was akin to aged cheese. When we first sliced into it with the knife, we thought that maybe our server gave the wrong recommendation. However, our first bite into the Montboissie put our doubts to rest. The cheese tasted very mild just as we wanted. The mildness was also reminiscent of brie in terms of taste, which was exactly what we described to our server when telling her what we were looking for that night. We learnt some cheese lessons that night. Cheese that has an aged texture and that looks like bleu cheese can taste like brie. Also, not all firm cheeses necessarily have sharp tastes. Our condiment of choice for the Montbossie cheese were they slightly sweet dried cherries which complemented the mild-tasting cheese perfectly.

Clearly, at Salt, when they decide to name an item smoked beef, they take it seriously. Right from the time the piece of meat entered our mouths, the smokey fragrance wafted through inside our mouths. Though the smokey fragrance was strong, it was pleasantly welcoming and if anyone thought that a piece of meat with strong smoked fragrance would also reflect a strong taste, they would be wrong. The beef was delicate in flavor; it was mild and light in taste. The fig bread, which we chose as the accompaniment to the smoked beef, were chopped into candy bite-size pieces. The fig bread tasted so fresh, we couldn't stop popping them into our mouths.

The hot capicollo, while also another mildly flavored meat, was a spicy ham. We love spicy food and although the ham was already spicy, we chose to have the Spanish piparras peppers as the condiment. The result was a very satisfying explosion of heat in our mouths and the best part was that the heat seemed to be short-lived and never lingered long on our palates.

If unsure, your server will be happy to recommend the condiments best suited for the cheeses and meats you have selected. 

There are other non-tasting items like the pig head terrine which was very smooth in texture. We found it great to be eaten either on its own or with the basket of bread and crackers. Picadillo relish was served on the side.

The entire concept and execution of Salt Tasting Room makes it a solid place for people who appreciate cheeses and meats in tasting portions, accompanied with good wine or beer. If we lived in Vancouver, this is where we would bring our out-of-town guests. Since we don't live in Vancouver, we would just have to bring ourselves back there when we next visit.

Salt Tasting Room
45 Blood Alley
Vancouver, BC V6B 1A4

2010 Sommelier of the Year Award by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2010 Platinum Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2009 Gold Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2008 Gold Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2007 Gold Winner for Best New Informal Restaurant Award by Vancouver Magazine
2007 Silver Winner for Best Design Award by Vancouver Magazine
2007 Achievement in new Retail Concepts
2007 Third Place Winner for Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Vancouver
2006 Georgia Straight Golden Plates Award Best New Restaurant