British Columbia

Cherry blossom festival highlights tastes of Japan

As On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson tells host Stephen Quinn, the festival also provides tree-gazers with the opportunity to experience all sorts of Japanese food, embracing the traditional spirit of Hanami festivals across the pacific.

'The good news is that most of the food-related events are not subject to Mother Nature'

Although the bloom of cherry blossoms is a bit late this year, the annual festival is gearing up to present tastes of Japan paired with events under the pink and white petals. (Gerry Bates)

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is almost here to celebrate the beauty of the pink and white blooms around the lower mainland.

After the long and harsh winter, the bloom is off to a late start this year says Johnson, but the events that aren't blossom-dependent will begin on Mar 30 with the Cherry Jam Downtown Concert at the Burrard SkyTrain station.

"The good news is that most of the food-related events are not subject to Mother Nature. And there are several super culinary experiences to be had," she says.

Lunch and a show

The show on Thursday will include a lineup of local talent and attendees can order a bento box catered by Cocktails and Canapes to snack on while taking in performances.

"The "Blossom Bliss" (box) includes a baguette with chicken breast seasoned with furikake. This is a common Japanese condiment consisting of sesame seeds, nori, bonito flakes, soy sauce, and other ingredients.  

A photo taken of last years bloom around Burrard station of the Akebono cherry trees downtown. (Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival/Facebook)

The sandwich also contains miso marinated slaw, pickled cucumber, sriracha, and Japanese mayo.

"That box also comes with a red and green kale salad with buckwheat soba noodles, lemongrass cabbage, and grilled zucchini in a peanut dressing. There's also temari sushi, which is ball-shaped sushi, and, for dessert, a rose-petal-and-white-chocolate square," explains Johnson.

Picnic under petals

These bento boxes will also be available for the Big Picnic, a signature festival event that has not been scheduled yet because it is bloom-dependent.  

"This is a really lovely Vancouver experience; people gather underneath the cherry blossom canopy at Queen Elizabeth Park'" said Johnson.

Picnickers can bring their own food to snack on under the petals, but those hoping to try a bento box will need to order online in advance.

The fundraiser for the non-profit festival, the Sakura Night Gala, will invite blossom-lovers to the Stanley Park Pavilion on Apr. 2 to sip some pink bubbly from  Encore Vineyard in the Okanagan and taste feature dishes made by eight local chefs.

Masayoshi Baba from Masayoshi Restaurant, which landed on the list of Canada's Best 100 restaurants for 2017, will be one of the chefs creating unique dishes for the event.

"One of the dishes he'll be serving is what he calls uni "cappuccino", uni being the Japanese word for the edible part of a sea urchin," says Johnson.

Baba will be joined by Nobu Ochi from West Vancouver's Zen Japanese Restaurant and Ricardo Valverde, of Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio.

Sakura Days Japan Fair

Johnson says the final highlight is the Sakura Days Japan Fair at VanDusen Botanical Garden on Apr. 8 and 9. The gardens will be transformed by traditional Japanese drumming, dance, theatre, music and crafts.

Aside from food demonstrations, there will also be sake tastings, tea ceremonies and food trucks, including Benkei Ramen, Gyoza King, Ichiyo's Matcha Bar, and JapaDog.

The Teriyaki Boys will also be on hand, with chicken, beef, and tofu don.

"Finally, Mogu — Japanese Street Eats will be there too, with items such as sweet and spicy chicken karaage. Those are just a few. So there will be lots to taste."

With files from the CBC's On The Coast