The Taste of Home (Away from Home)










Photo: Sign outside the Crow and Gate Pub. Image used with permission.



The opportunity to try delicious foreign cuisine is one of the best by-products of international travel.  Indeed, for some people, eating incredible, exotic dishes is the primary focus of their trip.

Interestingly, what is described as a traditional ethnic food here in the West is often a meal that is infrequently served in the country itself.  When I was in Italy about 20 years ago, pizzas were almost exclusively reserved for restaurants patronized by tourists.  From city to city, pizza was rarely found on menus and it was definitely not something people made commonly in their own homes.   It’s like saying turkey dinner is evocative of Canada.  It is traditional, but I only have it once or twice a year; it’s not a dish that would remind me of home.

For example, for the time I spent in Sarajevo, I am always reminded of kajmak, a Balkan clotted cream-esque side that is served with the multitude of the savoury, fried pastries that can be found in virtually every roadside food shop in Bosnia.  And while reindeer stew is traditional Norwegian food, you are much more likely to find Oslo locals eating hot dogs wrapped in lompe, a potato wrap used in place of a bun.  (Norwegians are crazy for hot dogs, even more so than Canadians. Who knew?)

And so I am always on the lookout for restaurants that serve food that reminds me of a place I’ve been to, of dishes that locals in foreign countries might eat on a day-to-day basis. Dishes that are typical, as opposed to traditional.

Here are some of the local finds that have brought my taste buds back to foreign locations:


In high school, six classmates and I were fortunate enough to be part of an exchange which allowed us to live for three months in Japan.  We got to experience a new culture, learn a new language, explore exotic locales and miss final exams.  It was perfect.  But one thing that I remember being surprised by was the near-complete lack of sushi I ate while living there.

My host family and I had sushi only once, and some of my classmates never ate it at all in our quarter-year in the country.  While I love sushi and Victoria is graced with a large number of terrific sushi restaurants, the foods that really remind me of my time in Japan are udons and curries, kaleidoscopic bowls of noodles, rice, fresh veggies, fish, beef, and chicken.  Victoria’s answer to my Japanese culinary experience is best found at Daidoco (633 Courtney Street).

Squirreled away in Nootka Court, Daidoco is a tiny restaurant that is open only for weekday lunches.  They have limited menu, featuring approximately two mains, two sides and a daily special.  The menu changes daily, but is composed of the exact cuisine that was my regular diet in Yokohama.

Lunch options include udon bowls, teriyaki or curries, as well as organic tofu and locally-grown organic vegetables, including daikon, green onion, squash or whatever happens to be in season.  Get there early, as they only serve their special until they run out of it, which, due to their popularity, low price and tasty food, happens frequently.

As for dessert, my sweet tooth was most often satiated by a treat including anko, a sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans.  It would occasionally come in the form of an anko “popsicle”, or, more commonly, as daifuku, a small, round rice cake stuffed with the delectable sweet paste.  The best place to find these tasty confections is at a Japanese grocery store, such as Fujiya (3624 Shelbourne St) or Sakura (1213 Quadra St).


While living in the UK, I frequently joined my friends in the great British pastime of the country walk.  Like a great number of British activities, having a pint was usually an integral part of the proceedings, and so over my years there I became extremely well-versed with both English country pubs and pub fare.  Nowhere offers a more authentic country pub experience than the Crow & Gate Pub in Cedar (2313 Yellow Point Road), just a short drive south of Nanaimo.

The Crow & Gate offers up a pristine outdoor garden for when the weather’s nice and a cozy, woody interior that is perfect for those typically English rainy days.  The food on offer is also note-perfect for what you would find in the British countryside: shrimp sandwiches, beef dip, chicken pie, pork pie, steak & mushroom pie, steak & kidney pie and a scotch egg pub plate for those seeking out something deep-fried.

My personal favourites, and the ones that make me most nostalgic for British pub food, are the Ploughman plates.  The Ploughmans at the Crow & Gate are DIY combination plates stacked full of food, with a fresh bun, pickled onions, salad, fresh veggies, branston pickle (a sweet pickle relish) and your choice of either cheddar or stilton.  Best served in combination with a pint of something delicious.


For Eastern European delicacies just like your babushka used to make, there’s only one place to go:  Victoria’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre (3277 Douglas Street).  On the last Friday of the month, one can head down to the Cultural Centre for a hearty and sumptuous Ukrainian supper prepared by the Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Society of Vancouver Island.

In Kyiv and Odessa, I was treated to some rich and extremely filling meals, usually featuring perogies, cabbage rolls, sausage and borscht.  All of these items are on the menu at the Cultural Centre and are just like the ones I happily put away on a daily basis in Ukraine.  The perogies come ladled with dollops of sour cream and bacon and the cabbage rolls are thick and meaty.  For those with robust appetites, one can get a mixed plate with sausage, perogies and cabbage rolls all together.

A meal that robust should be savoured and the Cultural Society help out in that regard by providing entertainment in the form of live Eastern European music and traditional dance, all while you eat. – by Noah Wheelock

The dinner is served from 5-8pm, but get there early: lineups for this no-longer-secret Slavic feast can often be well over an hour long.

Daidoco, 633 Courtney Street, Victoria, BC

Crow & Gate Pub, 2313 Yellow Point Road, Cedar, BC

Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 3277 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC

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