Japanese Flavour: Eating Your Way through the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

From street eats and bento to ceremonial tea, here's how to eat your way through the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

Credit: Flickr / kslee

Assorted sushi and nigiri by Tojo’s, a restaurant participant in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

With culinary adventures ranging from a special edition bento box, to hot street eats and posh ceremonial tea, here’s how to nosh your way through the 2012 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

Once a year Vancouver’s cherry trees blossom and the city dons a frilly, pink get-up that rivals Molly Ringwald’s 1986 prom dress. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival April 5-28 celebrates with origami, flash mobs, haiku and tours…but Vancouver is a foodie city. The VCBF’s culinary adventures are the best way to sensory overload, combining blossom contemplation with noshing like a rotund, festival-goer in Kyoto.

The first cherry trees in Vancouver were gifts from Japan in the 1930s, honouring the soldiers who died during WWI. The blossoms became a symbol of Vancouver spring, and thousands more were cultivated in city parks, along roadways and in private gardens. Today there are 37,000 cherry trees in Vancouver, and enough cherry festival food events to showcase the best of Japanese food culture, from street eats and bento to ceremonial tea.

Special edition Vancouver Cherry Blossom Fesitval SakuraB Bento box feturing dishes by Tojo’s, Toshi Sushi and more (Image: VCBF)

SakuraB Bento Box at Cherry Jam

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off with the raucous Cherry Jam April 5 at the Burrard SkyTrain station plaza. The food portion of this event is the SakuraB bento box ($20) by an untouchable roster of the city’s top Japanese chefs: Master chef Hidekazu Tojo (Canada’s first sushi chef, credited with inventing the California roll) and five other top local Japanese chefs from Shuraku, Zest, Miku, Zen and Toshi Sushi.

Contributing chefs will offer onsite food demonstrations between 11 am and noon. The generous bento box includes smoked sablefish temari-zushi (sushi rice wrapped in smoked sablefish), tuna tataki temari-zushi (sushi rice wrapped in tuna tataki marinated in Tojo’s lemon garlic sauce), ebi crisp (a cucumber cup filled with Japanese plum infused ama ebi, topped with crunchy lobster, fuji apples and masago caviar), braised Fraser Valley pork kakuni and scallop kiwi carpaccio.

Takoyaki at Sakura Days (Image: Sakura Days)

Street Eats at Sakura Days

VanDusen Botanical Garden hosts Sakura Days Japan Fair, April 7-8. This cultural event showcases Vancouver talent in martial arts, origami, song, dance, handicrafts, motorcycles and most importantly: street food + sake.

The most popular street food at Sakura Days is takoyaki: a plump, spherical dumpling made with savoury pancake batter, diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion. After cooking in special takoyaki cast iron molds, the balls are topped with bonito, aonori and mayo.

According to the VCBF founder Linda Poole, the line for these is usually 1.5 hours long, so make sure to sip sake first and bring a riveting conversation buddy. Sakura Days has also put coordinated sakura festival menus at 10 local Japanese restaurants – offering special dishes at budget prices through April 28.

Sakura West Coast Afternoon Tea Service at The Urban Tea Merchant (Image: Lee Cafferata)

Sakura Afternoon Tea at The Urban Tea Merchant

The luxe Sakura West Coast Afternoon Tea Service at The Urban Tea Merchant is the cherry in the VCBF culinary sundae. By far the most elegant of the festival foodie destinations, the shop (1070 West Georgia Street) just received a shipment of the exclusive TWG Sakura! Sakura! green tea, scattered with cherry blossoms, that comes in a limited edition haute couture tin.
Settle into the secret courtyard (between Alberni and Georgia), which happens to contain three blossoming cherry trees, to enjoy a pot with the formal tea service – an ideal mix of Japanese-inspired salty and sweet finger food by Chef Michael Batoux.

The salty bits include: miso-glazed sable fish on butter lettuce, seaweed salad nests on crispy soba noodles, veggie rice paper wraps topped with Japanese-inspired crackers and open-faced salmon sandwiches with soy-maple gelée.

The sweet options are also ample: tea-infused macarons in Lemon Bush and caramel-Napoleon, tea-infused truffles, chevron (chocolate covered) strawberries and fresh fruits.

Reservations are recommended; $29 per person.