Vancouver is a world-class city increasingly recognized for its world-class cuisine. In late 2022, eight restaurants received the city’s first distinguished Michelin-stars. These were the Quebecois inspired St Lawrence, the Chinese iDen & QuanJuDe Beijing Duck House, the Japanese Masayoshi, and contemporary restaurants Public on Main, AnnaLena, Barbara, and Burdock and Co. As one might expect, all use premium, locally-sourced ingredients, but other than showcasing B.C’s outstanding seafood, would any be out of place in Quebec, China, Japan, or among other fine dining restaurants worldwide? No. If you’re looking for food of the land, food of the people, and food for thought, the restaurant to put on your bucket list is Salmon n’ Bannock. Take a seat inside the only Indigenous restaurant in Vancouver, and stop and smell the sage bush.
Located on West Broadway and tastefully decorated with Indigenous artwork, there’s a big heart at the centre of this small restaurant, and a story with every dish. It starts with a one-year-old girl swept up in the 60’s Scoop – a horrendous era when government authorities forcibly removed Indigenous kids from their homes. Inez Cook was taken from her Nuxalk community in Bella Coola and placed within foster care. Raised by loving white parents, she grew up with little connection to her Indigenous roots. As a flight attendant, she lived and travelled around the world, falling in love with cuisine, while nurturing a growing curiosity to learn more of her past. Salmon ‘n Bannock, inspired by a road sign and a dream, is the result.
When the restaurant launched in 2010, Inez was welcomed back by the Nuxalk, and has used great food to bring people together ever since. It’s a bold and confident act of what she calls reconcilli-action. Her friendly staff and kitchen crew serve up a unique menu of dishes native to the region, creatively adapted for discerning and adventurous urban palettes.
“Indigenous people used what was locally available,” she tells me over an alluring plate of appetizers. “Farm-to-table, the 100-mile diet, we were the OG trendsetters!”
With glowing reviews and profiles in global media including the New York Times, CNN and BBC, Salmon n’ Bannock is a fantastic story that literally breaks bread across the cultural divide. That said, you can’t eat a story, so what’s on the plate?
Hot smoked candied salmon with maple, cracked pepper, and delicate sweetgrass-infused cherries. Light elk salami and rich duck terrine. Citrusy salmon ceviche, double smoked cheese, homemade pickles, and the #addicitive wild BBQ salmon mousse. Baked bannock - which Inez corrects me rhymes with panic - makes a wonderful cracker, smothered with her updated version of traditional pemmican: smoked bison with sage-infused blueberries and cream cheese. I wash it down with a refreshing Bella Coola soda, infused with hibiscus, rosehips, orange and apple. No chance I’ll get to the bison pot roast, game sausage, Anishinaabe risotto, smoked sablefish, or urban sage-smoked salmon burger. One visit simply won’t cut it.
It’s healthy, sustainable and delicious, so when will Indigenous cuisine share a food court with Mexican, Thai, Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese, and other international cuisines? This is not a theme, Inez reminds me. “It gets me from zero to a thousand in lividness when we’re called a theme restaurant. Japanese or Italian food is not a theme. Indigenous is not a theme. We are living cultures.”
There are only a handful of Indigenous restaurants across Western Canada, but they’re winning both fans and awards. Scott Jonathan Iserhoff’s Pei Pei Chew Ow café in Edmonton won Best Trailblazer in enRoute’s list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants. You’ll find the Kekuli Café in Merritt and West Kelowna, Bear and Bone Burger Co in Golden, the Ktunaxa Grill at the Ainsworth Hot Springs and several others. Those flying out of Vancouver can leave with a taste too: Salmon n’ Bannock opened up their second location inside the international departures lounge of YVR. Business is strong, but there are still plenty of challenges.
“You might have bad Chinese food one day, but that won’t stop you ever eating Chinese food again. People have to get familiar with our food. We only get one shot, and I want to build everybody up,” she says.
Oh yes, Vancouver is blessed with dozens of fantastic restaurants (and we don’t need Michelin to tell us that either). Yet crafting great food through an Indigenous lens and doing it responsibly with the full support of the community, suggests we’re heading towards a promising, and uniquely regional, culinary future. Enjoy the feast.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.