By Caylie Warkentin
A Food Journey Through the Pacific Northwest
As a brand centred around locally-sourced ingredients and sustainable initiatives, we continuously endeavour to look within our regional home for everything we need. Our own experiences in the Pacific Northwest have informed our knowledge and love of this land – like our culinary experiences, which have been shaped by the rich abundance of local flora and fauna of British Columbia. We are grateful to operate out of this land that shares so much with us, and invite you to come on a journey with us through the winter landscape as we share some of our favourite locally-sourced foods with you.
Barnacle-encrusted rocks break underfoot as you follow the coastal shoreline, navigating through iridescent seaweed and exposed mussels. At low tide, a rich landscape of shellfish is revealed, and if you stay long enough you might witness larger fauna like sea wolves and black bears pawing at the marine offerings. The cold seeps into your bones, but barren is not the right word - the landscape around you is lush, verdant, despite it being mid-December. Past rocky precipices towards the open ocean bob masses of bull kelp, bulbous heads glistening as they follow the undulation of winter swells. A shoal of euchalon fish darts by, and you’re blinded by silver-blue scales, their dazzling light fading into deeper water like a constellation burning out. Snow has not yet fallen, but you can taste it, feel how the flakes will cling to your hair when the temperatures drop.
A landscape that appears happenstance in its offerings is anything but. Since time immemorial Indigenous communities have cared for, and continue to care for, this land. Land that is plentiful even during colder months, land that has been carefully cultivated to provide sustenance throughout months when many staple foods are more scarce. Alongside stores of summer offerings, like smoked fish and dried berries, foraging and harvesting continue throughout the winter months, with an emphasis on marine fauna and flora.
Disclaimer: The harvest of marine fauna and flora requires knowledge and experience. We don’t encourage you to fish or harvest without permission. The species listed below are an illustration of food sources you might come across on a journey through the rich winter landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
Winter is prime time for local oysters. In summer these bivalve molluscs reproduce and red tide – a harmful algae bloom – is likely to render oysters unsafe for eating. Oysters thrive in cold water, and so they can be safely enjoyed in the winter months. The most abundant variety of oysters harvested off the coast of British Columbia is the Pacific oyster and is a species that was introduced from Japan after our native oyster, the Olympia, was overharvested in the 1800s and nearly went extinct. Restoration efforts are ongoing in an effort to prevent the depletion of this species. For now, though, the Olympia oyster is a protected species, and as such is hard to come by commercially. The Pacific oyster is a species sought-after for its sweet and fresh melon-like flavour and is available at most local restaurants. Rich in Vitamin D, a single 100-gram serving of this oyster can provide 75% of your daily need for Vitamin D.
Try innovative topped oysters at ShuckShuck, an oyster bar located in Chinatown that sources its oysters from a solar-powered farm on Vancouver Island. Succulent oysters are topped with everything from lime curd to champagne vinaigrette.
There are five species of salmon native to the cold waters of British Columbia that migrate through our rivers and ocean – Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye. Each one of these species is anadromous, which means they were born in streams before migrating to the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean. In BC, salmon is both wild-caught and farmed. Salmon is best caught during the late fall and into early winter. Both farmed salmon and wild salmon are impacted by their environment and as such have slightly different flavour profiles and nutritional qualities. Recently, some BC restaurants removed wild salmon from their menu as a statement against overfishing. Salmon is traditionally prepared through smoking, drying, or canning. When cooked, the inside of salmon will turn a distinct pink colour. The fish is abundant in essential fatty acids and rich in Vitamin D. Wild salmon contains 124% of the DV in a 100-gram serving. Comparably, farmed salmon contains 25% of that amount.
One of our favourite salmon dishes is Aburi Salmon, a seared salmon sashimi dish served at Miku, a restaurant that sits next to Canada Plane and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The dish features sockeye salmon and is Oceanwise certified.
Kelp and Seaweed
From kelp oil to smoked seaweed, marine-based plants are nutrient-rich superfoods that grow in abundance in the coastal waters of British Columbia. In BC alone, there are over 530 identified species of seaweed and kelp. Kelp and seaweed are unique in that every variety is edible, though some species are more conducive to cooking than others. Porphyra abbottiae Krishnamurthy, colloquially known as red laver, is a species that has long been valued by the coastal Indigenous communities of BC. Red laver has traditionally been used in addition to other ingredients like fatty fishes and is rich in essential vitamins A, B, and C. Bull kelp, a species that gives shape and structure to underwater ecosystems and provides an anchor for sleeping sea otters, is often used in mainstream cuisine. Seaweed and kelp offer essential nutrients like iodine, iron, manganese, and copper.
Award-winning vegetarian restaurant The Acorn features dishes with locally-sourced ingredients, including ‘Chantarelle’, a dish created with chantarelle mushrooms and topped with sweet maple syrup and kelp oil.
Tofino-based store Wild Origins procures locally foraged food items, including ocean foraged slow-dried bull kelp. They also share recipes made of wild foraged ingredients including a recipe for bull kelp and potato soup.
Sources + Further Reading
Chavich, Cinda. “Seaweed, the Wild Food to Forage From the Sea.” YAM, Victoria’s Lifestyle Magazine, July/August 2019. https://www.yammagazine.com/seaweed-the-wild-food-to-forage-from-the-sea/
Cox, Jeff. “Why the Olympia Oyster Is Primed for a Comeback.” Eater, 10 February 2017, https://www.eater.com/2017/2/10/14570190/olympia-oysters-where-to-find"The Guide to Immune -Supporting Foods, Vitamins, and Minerals," Goop, https://goop.com/wellness/health/food-for-immune-system-support/?ref=newsletter&nlptrk=Story3-edit-wellness-vitaminguide-reader-versiona&utm_source=Emarsys&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=20220217-newsletter-thursday-reader&utm_content=gwyneths_makeup_free_secrets--&sc_uid=J4nRuBzXyy&sc_src=email_1773545&sc_lid=172478262&sc_llid=24400&sc_eh=b846dd29a064b8171
“First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets.” First Nations Health Authority. https://www.fnha.ca/Documents/Traditional_Food_Fact_Sheets.pdf
Jones, Taylor. “7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D.” Healthline, 18 December 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-foods-high-in-vitamin-d#1.-Salmon
Kingzett, Brian. “An Almost Forgotten History of Native Oysters on Vancouver Island.” Deep Bay Marine Field Station, 14 March 2014, https://research.viu.ca/deep-bay-marine-field-station/history-olympia-oyster
Kubala, Jillian. “Are Oysters Good for You? Benefits and Dangers.” Healthline, 8 March 2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/oysters
“Vitamin D.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/. Accessed 6 January 2022.