Archive for July 22nd, 2007

When I was six or seven, I was fascinated by the promise of stores. They seemed full of undefined but definite wonder, capable of containing anything. Their potential seemed unlimited, but, the reality always fell short of my imagination. Even the magic shop at Disneyland only sold tricks rather than brass lamps with their very own genie or antique bedroom furniture that was a gateway to a world of adventure. Nowadays, I don’t expect such wonders to be near at hand, except very occasionally in a well-stocked book or music store – which is why the Granville Island market is always a pleasant surprise.

It would be easy to dismiss Granville Island as a nothing more than an extended ploy to separate yuppies from their bank accounts as painlessly as possible. And maybe if I visited with any regularity, I would come to see the market that way. But, visiting only once or twice a year, I can preserve my view of it as a bazaar of potential delights.

Part of my enjoyment is the setting – a chaos of comings and goings in which pedestrians stroll unimpeded and cars give way on the irregularly angled streets. Stores come and go in the unlikelilest places, so I could almost believe that they magically shifted locales. On the docks, water taxis are continually disembarking people from other parts of False Creek. In the outdoor sitting areas, seagulls wander with psychotic gleams in their eyes, secure in their knowledge that they have the right to any food they recognize as such.

And every fifteen minutes or so, the buskers (many of them surprisingly good) move on to a location. Rumor has it that, twenty years ago, their numbers would include Loreena McKennitt when she was in town. Now, they include many of the mainstays of the local folk scene, as well as the occasional musician. Some years, too, the Fringe Festival has had small plays performed in various corners. Something is always happening or about to happen at the market – or, at least, it seems that way.

Some of the market tables include crafts, but the main appeal of the market is its selection of food. I’m far from being a foodie, despite the half dozen or so special menus I sometimes prepare, but, more than any other public market in the greater Vancouver area, Granville Island comes close to fulfilling my imaginative expectations.

Besides the fresh produce, the market vendors sell an endless variety of food, ranging from the raw to the prepared. Wild salmon (no one in BC would admit to selling farmed salmon), crepes, locally blended coffees, dolmathes, cassava chips, smoked almonds, flax rolls, maple syrup toffee, tzatziki, pinots and zifandels – I can’t begin to list the types of food offered with anything like completeness.

Pastas, breads, and chocolate desserts are especially well-represented, but, no matter what your palate or ethnic preferences, you have a good chance of finding it somewhere on Granville Island. If you have the patience, you could assemble a ready-made meal that cost the same but was far more varied than anything you could find in the nearby restaurants. Alternatively, a well-dressed homeless person who kept their poise could feed well by going around to all the booths and taking the proferred samples as they talked seriously to the clerks about the various offerings. Just wending your way through the aisles is enough to turn you gluttonous.

Usually, I get away with only spending twenty dollars or so, but I could easily spend thirty times that if I indulged in every impulse that came my way at Granville Island. Not that I haven’t had many unexpected and delightful gourmet meals after a wander through the market, but it is the array of exotic possibilities, not actually possessing them that fascinate me. Mostly, I am content to look, sample sparingly, and buy little. The experience, which is free, is worth more to me than anything I could buy, no matter how it melted on the tongue or lingered on the palette.

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