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How to Eat and Drink Like a Local in Victoria, BC

How to Eat and Drink Like a Local in Victoria, BC

Arriving in Victoria, British Columbia one immediately notices a blend of old-world architecture, historic sights, colorful flowers baskets hanging from lanterns and new world culinary adventures.

It’s a small city offering a favorable lifestyle for locals and visitors combining the beauty of the Pacific Ocean with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop. Taking a BC Ferry from Vancouver, BC, we drove off the boat and straight to Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery and Twa Dogs Brewery. This is where farm to beer and whiskey is made by Graeme Macaloney, PhD in Fermentation Engineering. He and his skilled team brew bold and distinctive flavors.

Two Dogs Brewery

Two Dogs Brewery

Taking a tour with a Lavender Saison in hand, I learned the sweet malts and Bilston Creek Farm’s island-grown lavender are combined with Moroccan orange to create notes of warming spices and honey. Local unmalted rye and wheat support a special Lithuanian Farmhouse ale yeast, for an added layer of juicy tropical fruit and aromatics, producing a vibrant ale. Every tour has stops in different stations around the brewery for a total of three different beer and two whiskey tastings.

Macoloney's island Distillery

Two Dogs Dorcha Dark Lager

Checking into the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suites Victoria our one bedroom suite had unobstructed views of the historic Empress Hotel, Parliament Building, and Pacific Ocean. Breakfast is served in the morning for guests who reserve a bed and breakfast package. There is also a Starbuck’s in the lobby reception. Upon check-in we received a warm chocolate chip welcome cookie and another each day after sightseeing. This hotel has the friendliest doormen and valets, including one named Mur who was always helpful with a tip of where to go, what to see and where to eat.

Views from the DoubleTree

Views from the DoubleTree

For dinner we walked a few blocks into Little Jumbo, a cozy speakeasy with no windows, providing a hip vibe and imaginative menu featuring potato gnocchi, pastas, flat-iron steak, vegetarian dishes, a few seafood and salads. They make some good craft cocktails, and have a nice selection of wine and beer. Other worthy restaurants in Victoria include 10 Acres and II Terazzo.

Little Jumbo

Little Jumbo

Since Victoria has more restaurants per capita than any other city other than San Francisco, the next day we joined a group of foodie enthusiasts at the Victoria Public Market for A Taste of Victoria Food Tour. Led by the sole owner of the tour company, Andy guided the group along an enlightening  two hour walk with stops to explain fun facts, and how the history of the city ties into our tasting experience. He has been leading locals and tourists on this tour for 6 years, after being inspired by taking food tours in 52 different countries himself. Andy is a bit of an ambassador in town and always receives a warm welcome while strolling to different venues through the Public Market, Chinatown, Old Town and the Inner Harbor.

Andy leads the A Taste of Victoria Food Tour

Andy leads the A Taste of Victoria Food Tour

Andy shared that the six tastings total anywhere from 1200 to 1400 calories, and we started our calorie count at ‘Roast’ a meat & sandwich shop offering us their signature beef/pork meatballs. Bathed in a slightly spicy arrabbiata sauce with a sprinkling of grand Padano cheese and salsa Verde, they were a terrific start of the tour. There was a vegetarian in our group and she received a different dish based on her dietary desire.

Roast in the Victoria Public Market

Roast in the Victoria Public Market

Next we walked to the oldest Chinatown in Canada that was created in 1858, and stopped at the Chinese Public School. It opened in 1909, because Chinese students weren’t allowed to attend other schools. Andy said he will have his son attend this school to not only learn English, but also Mandarin and Cantonese.

Chinese Public School

Chinese Public School

This area offers a diverse and modern food scene. We learned that the serpent tails on the buildings are there  to guard off evil and many are painted red for prosperity. We visited a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ gem – Victoria BBQ House Bakery for the best Bao buns. Andy likes the owners a lot, and has known them since he was a child. He encouraged us to grab a bun of our choice. I selected a warm pork bun and walked down the street with a big smile on my face while enjoy the sweet and savory flavors.

Victoria BBQ House Bakery

Victoria BBQ House Bakery

Walking through the 38′ tall Chinese ‘Gates of Harmonious Interest’ we learned that at the entrance are two hand carved stone lions given to Victoria by its sister city, Suzhou, China. They guard each side of the elaborately detailed red and gold gate. The male holds a globe in his hand and the female holds a cub. Walking through the left “lucky” side of the gate, Andy pointed to a time capsule that is to be opened in 2081. It’s on the ground near the outer red pillar.

Gates of Harmonious Interest

Gates of Harmonious Interest

Next we turned left into the fascinating Fan Tan Alley to see the narrowest alley in Canada. Measuring only 3’5″, be sure to take the side pathways to see some historical photos, maps and interesting shops. As early as 1862, during the Gold Rush era, Fan Tan Alley was known as an emerging hub connecting trans-Pacific trade to the interior of the province. According to Andy, opium was legal until 1890, and this area had quite a few opium dens.

A little over 3 feet wide Fan Tan Alley

A little over 3 feet wide Fan Tan Alley

Nearby is the Just Matcha Tea Shop offering tastes of matcha iced tea. Andy shared that matcha is a superfood with 12 times the antioxidants as a cup of blueberries. The poetic Chinese say that “drinking a cup of matcha is like being lifted by 1000 butterflies.” Andy shared with us that he likes drinking this type of tea for its health benefits and has noticed it has relieved his joint pain.

Drinking matcha makes you feel lifted by butterflies

Drinking matcha makes you feel lifted by butterflies

In the nearby Old Town area of Victoria, is another hidden gem – AYO Eat Indonesian Food. Located in the Northwest corner of the Public Square, the chef Ali Syahbana is known as Bana by his costumers. He is the only one at the little colorful Indonesian take-away spot. He makes the best Spring rolls served with a slightly spicy peanut sauce. They are filled with yam noodles, hard boiled egg, tofu, green bean, spinach and lettuce that is wrapped in thin and translucent rice paper. This was one of my favorite stops.

Be sure to visit AYO Eat

Be sure to visit AYO Eat

Another favorite was across the lively Government Street and down a block is Sült Pierogi Bar. We sat down and tried two different types of pierogis. This Eastern European classic combines world inspired flavors with a fusion of Canadian sourced seasonal ingredients. We tried the roasted garlic, whipped Yukon gold potatoes, Jack, cheddar and parmesan cheese pierogi and one with ground chickpeas, feta cheese, parsley, sundried tomato and olive tapenade. They were delicious and worthy of another visit.

Warm and flavorful Eastern Europe Pierogis with Canadian ingredients

Warm and flavorful Eastern Europe Pierogis with Canadian ingredients

Victoria is also known as the City of Gardens, and during the summer along the streets and waterfront, Victoria’s 800 lanterns are adorn with two hanging flower baskets. Andy said “That is 1600 flower baskets that city workers must water when the city sleeps, between midnight to 6 a.m.”

1600 hanging flower baskets dazzle Victoria in color

1600 hanging flower baskets dazzle Victoria in color

Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the stop at at Rogers’ Chocolate Shop for a chocolate sample worthy of the Queen. Andy enlightened us that Rogers’ was established in 1885, and in 1951 a teenage Princess Elizabeth came into the shop for her first taste of Rogers’ Chocolate.

Rogers' famous Chocolates

Rogers’ famous Chocolates

She loved it so much, that she has visited the shop every time she comes to Victoria. The shop continues to send Queen Elizabeth a box of her favorites on her birthday and during Christmas. The vanilla cream made with sustainable certified cocoa is one of her and my favorites.

Cap off the tour with a pint

Cap off the tour with a pint

For the last tasting, Andy handed everyone 21+ year and older his business card to be redeemed for a pint of beer at a pub on Government Street. Since we had our 17 year old daughter with us, we opted out of this adult tasting and explore other foodie delights including Chocolats Favoris for a soft serve vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and a bite of hazelnut chocolate cake to cap it off. This ice cream is worth every calorie.

The best ice cream cone

The best ice cream cone

Taking the multi-sensory A Taste of Victoria Food Tours gives you a better appreciation about the people, buildings, history and flavors of a city. Andy offers his tours twice a day during the summer at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. except on Sundays. He happily offers tours during the other seasons too.

Beautiful Victoria

 


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About The Author

Jill Weinlein

As a travel journalist for 17 years some of my favorite experiences have been climbing The Great Wall in China, swam with Stingrays in Bora-Bora, explored caves in Belize, followed a pod of Orcas in Alaska, swam in the warm waters of Krabi in Thailand, visited Marco Polo's house in Korcula, Croatia and sailing around Richard Branson's Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. Read my travel reviews to be inspired to see the world.

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