What should you eat on your British Columbia holiday? That depends on what’s in season. From spot prawns pulled live from the ocean to blackberries still warm from the sun, BC products are best enjoyed at their peak and at the source.
But if you’re not on the ball, you could miss culinary bliss. Here are five things that locals get excited about eating, as well as tips on when they’re in season — subject to Mother Nature, of course — and where to celebrate them.
Early May for six to eight weeks
Locals and visitors alike go crazy for wild BC spot prawns. The largest of the seven commercial species of shrimp on Canada’s west coast, spot prawns are known for their delicate, sweet flavour and firm bite. The season kicks off in Vancouver with the annual Spot Prawn Festival, which features a prawn boil with peel-and-eat crustaceans fresh off the boat.
For a more refined meal, look for spot prawns on fresh sheets at restaurants such as Blue Water Café, YEW Seafood and Bar, and Miku, where they’re prepared as sashimi, tartare, chowder, in pasta, and more.
Wild sockeye salmon and pacific halibut
Sockeye salmon: Mid-June to early September
Pacific halibut: March to November
British Columbia is famous for its salmon, and locals celebrate it at the height of summer. It’s common to grill a whole salmon for a backyard barbecue, and salmon stars at many community festivals. In Vancouver, for example, you can get char-grilled salmon served Japanese-style with rice at the Powell Street Festival in August. On the water in Vancouver’s suburbs, the Steveston Salmon Festival marks Canada Day on July 1st with a giant community salmon barbecue. Over on Vancouver Island, the Campbell River Salmon Festival fires up in August, and the Port Alberni Salmon Festival takes place in early September.
With a longer season from March to November, Pacific halibut is also beloved by locals for its meaty texture and mild flavour. You won’t see it featured at community barbecues, however, since it’s a more expensive fish. Find it roasted or braised at high-end restaurants, or order halibut fish and chips at casual joints like The Fish Counter and Pajo’s Fish & Chips for a more economical and still delicious option.
Strawberries: Peak from June to early July
Blueberries: Late June to late September
Raspberries: July to September
For some British Columbians, the first strawberries mark the start of summer. A particularly warm, cold, or rainy spring can mean they appear earlier or later at the farmers markets; see this BC summer fruit guide for more specifics.
During peak season, berries are incorporated into all sorts of dishes, including strawberry shortcake, raspberry syrup for pancakes, and salads sprinkled with blueberries. Fun fact: British Columbia is one of the largest highbush blueberry-growing regions in the world, with Canada the third top-producing country.
The fields around Metro Vancouver and in the Fraser Valley are prime berry-growing land. Grab a bucket, head to the farm, and pick your bounty yourself. You’ll find U-pick farms in Surrey, Langley, and other areas, and a day out makes for a fun family experience.
Cherries: June to August
Peaches: July to August
Apricots and Nectarines: July to August
Plums: August to September
Nothing says summer in BC like biting into a luscious peach and letting the juices dribble down your bare arm. Head to the Okanagan for stone fruit (fruit with a pit at the centre), where orchards produce the bounty you’ll see at roadside stands.
The Penticton Peach Festival, which takes place in August, has been celebrating the harvest for 70 years. The fun includes a cook-off, peach-bin races, and a square-dance festival. Over in the Kootenays, the Creston Valley is also a splendid place to find stone fruit; ripening dates vary. Cherry pie or plum torte, anyone?
Blackberries grow wild around BC, and you’ll find bushes even in urban areas, such as parks and back alleys in Vancouver. Many locals have a secret, favourite place to pick.
To enjoy fresh blackberries without braving the brambles, pick up a pint at the local farmers market, where you’ll also find goodies like blackberry jam and blackberry pie. Or head to the northern Sunshine Coast for the Powell River Blackberry Festival in late August for treats like blackberry shortcake and creative dishes like wood-fired pizza topped with goat cheese, blackberries, and basil.