A Bit of an Ode to Granville Island

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

Entrance to Granville Island at Dusk

I often tell peo­ple that liv­ing near and shop­ping reg­u­lar­ly for food at Granville Island has ‘changed my life’. It’s true, and I thought I’d spend a lit­tle time try­ing to explain how and why.

First of all, it’s changed the food that I buy. I rarely get food that comes in a box or is pre-processed, and get most­ly fresh meat and veg­eta­bles. The things I do buy that are cooked or pre­pared include sausages and oth­er meats and paté from Oya­ma Sausage com­pa­ny, soup from the Stock Mar­ket soup kitchen, the occa­sion­al pie (dessert or entrée) from À la Mode, and bread from any of the 3 bak­eries (French — La Baguette & L’Echalote, Arti­sanal — Ter­ra Breads, or English/North Amer­i­can — Stu­arts). I try to buy what’s in sea­son (although that can be hard in Jan­u­ary or Feb­ru­ary), and look for­ward to cer­tain months when I know some­thing will be appear­ing and grad­u­al­ly (or swift­ly) going down in price. We are about to hit the sum­mer fruit sea­son, and I love see­ing the arrival of peach­es, apri­cots, plums and blue­ber­ries. Because of this, I’ve learned which ven­dors have the best of each vari­ety of fruit, veg­etable or meat. While I do get some organ­ic veg­eta­bles (onions and pota­toes), I also try to buy things that are grown local­ly. Again, this makes the win­ter months a time when I have to com­pro­mise a bit, but most of the year it’s quite pos­si­ble.

We are very lucky in that we live a short walk from the mar­ket, and I quite frankly can’t imag­ine liv­ing far­ther away from it. The fact that we walk there and car­ry our gro­ceries back adds just a lit­tle bit of exer­cise (or at least the excuse to go out­side and get some air, even if the weath­er is rainy or sim­ply drea­ry.) For the vast major­i­ty of vis­i­tors to Granville Island, the mar­ket is a curios­i­ty, a kind of liv­ing muse­um of the way peo­ple used to shop for food (and still do in many oth­er coun­tries out­side of North Amer­i­ca). I’m always amused to see some­one tak­ing a pho­to­graph of a stack of cher­ries or straw­ber­ries (although they are pret­ty); They’re get­ting a snap­shot of my gro­cery store, and in a few cas­es where they flood the aisle and are obliv­i­ous to the rest of us, I wish they’d just get out of the way and let me get on my shop­ping. That doesn’t hap­pen too often, but some days, when a tourist bus lets off, the mar­ket has to walk the thin line between attrac­tion and gro­cery store.

I shop at the mar­ket often, and near­ly always bring a sack. Since I’m there so much, I’m rec­og­nized by near­ly all of the mer­chants, and am on a first name basis with sev­er­al of them. I’ve also learned about their fam­i­lies, heard some sto­ries, found out their likes and dis­likes, and think of them as peo­ple, not just some­one at a cash reg­is­ter. I’m impressed with the close-knit fam­i­lies who work in the Mar­ket, and am often been cheered up (or calmed down) by sim­ply enter­ing the mar­ket, espe­cial­ly when it’s not crowd­ed with tourists, which unlike a Super­mar­ket, is not lit sole­ly by flu­o­res­cents. (I should add that on Foursquare, the social media ‘game’, I’m the may­or of Granville Island Mar­ket, and have yet to be replaced by some­one who checks-in there more.)

Speak­ing of Super­mar­kets, I do go to Cost­co about once every 2 months or so for a few items (olive oil, paper goods, maple syrup), and also go to an organ­ic gro­cer on Broad­way (who used to be the Dan-De-Pak home office, or so it seemed) for rice, the odd box of break­fast cere­al or crack­ers, etc.) I always feel kind of dis­ap­point­ed and maybe even a lit­tle depressed when I walk into a cav­ernous Safe­way, IGA or Save-On Foods, all lit by those flu­o­res­cent lights, and very cold from the frozen aisles.

Back to the Granville Mar­ket: In addi­tion to the peo­ple, the food and the light, there are the smells. I can near­ly nav­i­gate the mar­ket by my nose. In the fish mar­ket, I can smell the brine of today’s catch. There’s fre­quent­ly the aro­ma of fresh­ly baked bread by the bak­eries (and La Baguette has that mar­velous yeasty smell of pain de mie near­ly all of the time). The food court (which I must con­fess, I some­times go to first, in order to eat before I shop, which helps stop larg­er pur­chas­es made when hun­gry), there are areas where you smell piz­za, cur­ry, or falafel. In sev­er­al spots in the build­ing, the smell of cof­fee and tea wafts out into the aisle, and you can under­stand why there’s such a line at J J Bean.

In the sum­mer, there is the extra treat of Thurs­days, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the morn­ing, when local farm­ers truck in their pro­duce, and sell some of it out­side, next to the Mar­ket. In recent years, some farm­ers have spe­cial­ized in Heir­loom Toma­toes, and I’ve actu­al­ly tast­ed cel­ery (yes, cel­ery!) that is actu­al­ly mind-blow­ing­ly sweet and tasty. Some of the farm­ers stay all day, but most of them are there main­ly in the morn­ing, so Thurs­days are par­tic­u­lar­ly good to get ear­ly and get the best pro­duce.

I’ve dis­cov­ered new fruits and veg­eta­bles at the mar­ket. We’ve tried Sting­ing Net­tles as a side dish, and boiled down elder­ber­ries into syrup. I’ve cooked sour cher­ry soup, and after our trip to South­east Asia, have made Ataulfo Man­goes (Mani­la Hon­ey Man­goes), Drag­on­fruit, Rambu­tans, Lon­gans, Lychees, Pom­leos and Pas­sion­fruits a treat for break­fast or dessert. Near­ly all are avail­able (although not cheap­ly most of the time) at the mar­ket. I’ve fre­quent­ed the Asian Food spe­cial­ty shop in the mar­ket, The South Chi­na Seas Trad­ing Com­pa­ny, where I’ve final­ly learned to appre­ci­ate the fin­er points of coconut milk, fresh tamarind, lit­tle red chiles, lemon­grass, galan­gal, and even fish sauce. I’m thrilled to have found great fish that is cheap (Rock­fish — big, red, and ugly, but they’ll filet it for you for free, so you have a love­ly, firm white flesh for cur­ry or soup), and am sur­prised at how good the turkey is. I’ve cheat­ed a lit­tle, and got­ten pre-mar­i­nat­ed Maui Ribs, as well as Cor­nish Game Hens, and one of these days this sum­mer we’ll make a Caribbean Goat stew with the fresh goat meat we some­times see them cart in. The spot prawns are in this week, and every year I look for fid­dle­head ferns (in the Spring) and Okana­gan pears (in the Autumn).

All in all, Granville Mar­ket has expand­ed my diet, made me more in tune with the pas­sage of the sea­sons, low­ered my blood pres­sure (at least when I’m vis­it­ing, I think), and pro­vid­ed me with a sense of con­nec­tion to my food with the peo­ple who grow it and sell it. It’s helped me learn to cook new and more com­pli­cat­ed dish­es, and also let me off the hook when I’m stumped and just get a home­made turkey pie or soup. I feel as if I’m rich­er and my life is health­i­er and fuller with the mar­ket in it, which is about the most one can say about any activ­i­ty, espe­cial­ly one as mun­dane as food shop­ping.

Heirloom Tomatoes at Granville Island Market

Heir­loom Toma­toes at Granville Island Mar­ket