Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Northwest Coast Native Art - Some Clarifications

Justin Rivard Wrap Ring
Art of the Northwest Coast Native peoples - indigenous cultures based in British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon - is distinct from art produced by other cultures within North America. This brief overview has been created to clear up some misconceptions about Aboriginal art and culture from the West Coast of North America.

First, there are twenty-seven unique Native cultural groups in British Columbia alone. These groups have their own languages and idiosyncratic aesthetic systems. The term 'Haida' is often used to describe Native art from the Northwest Coast, but the Haida are just one of many groups producing artwork...although this particular culture is indeed more productive than many! A more accurate general term is 'Northwest Coast Art'.

Second, the politically correct term to describe indigenous peoples in Canada and here on the West Coast is 'First Nations'. While blanket terms with anthropological roots such as 'Aboriginal' and 'Indigenous' are not incorrect, preferred terms are 'Native' and 'First Nations'. Terminology is different in the United States, where 'Native American' is still commonly used, and the controversial and outdated 'Indian' tag is still carelessly thrown around in everyday parlance.

Third, art and jewellery from Washington State and BC are based upon family crests. Crests are figures and symbols used to visually communicate an individual's family history and mythological origins. For example, the Gitksan of northern British Columbia are all divided into four clans: Frog, Eagle, Wolf, and Fireweed. Members of each clan then inherit secondary crests which are used when creating regalia and objects of adornment. This adherence to animal symbols (in such a structured fashion) is unique to the Northwest Coast when considering indigenous art from North America.

'Salmon Life Cycle' by Kelvin Thompson
Finally, a noteworthy trait of Native artwork from this part of the world is the specialization of hand-engraving. Hand-engraved jewellery is difficult to find to begin with, and has its roots in European jewellery-making, but First Nations artists in BC and Washington State have really made inroads into this field. Jewellery-making and silversmithing is common with other indigenous cultures in North America - as with the amazing silver and turquoise pieces created by both the Navajo and Hopi - but the Northwest Coast is the only area where you will find intricately hand-engraved collectibles. Northwest Coast Native artists are always in high demand to engrave custom wedding rings here in Vancouver!

By far the best place to familiarize oneself with carving and jewellery from the Northwest Coast is Vancouver's Lattimer Gallery. In business since 1986, this Vancouver landmark carries works for every budget and strives to represent those artists who are determined to push this art form forward. The Etsy shop Art From Above Native Jewellery is also spectacular.

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins Vancouver", "Native American Jewelry", "Native Art Vancouver"

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pizzeria Barbarella

The pizza wars in Vancouver are heating up! Heating up like a Neapolitan wood fire oven! Craft breweries, food trucks, Thai restaurants...we are finally catching up to the foodie-friendly cities of SanFran and PDX. Like many friends and family, I have been making the rounds to Vancouver's best pizza joints and was excited to try Barbarella after hearing about it for several months. Like Farina and Nook, the menu at Barbarella is limited and emphasizes the ingredients placed upon the pizzeria's thin crusts.

When I think of Neapolitan pizza, two things automatically pop into my mind.

The first is a pizza I had in Milan from La Taverna on Via Francesco Anzani, a pizzeria run by a family from Naples. I had this with my sister during our Round-the-World trip in 2011 and it blew us away with its flavourful (and minimal) toppings, paper-thin crust, and uber fresh Roma tomato sauce. I hate this phrase, but it actually did "melt in our mouths".

The second is a Lonely Planet episode I saw when I was about 16 on Italy where the host went to one of the oldest pizzerias in the south. The chef - a cocky teen with a sneer and slicked hair - said that a true Neapolitan pizza must be super super thin and should really only be made with sauce, basil, and fresh mozzarella. The host was sceptical of this simplicity but took a few bites and proclaimed that the pizza he was eating was genuinely the best pie he had ever consumed.

Thus, in my mind, a Neapolitan pizza should be very thin, crisp, and PACKED with flavour!

I have high standards when it comes to thin crust fire oven pizza and was a bit disappointed in Barbarella. The portions were better than expected, and our group was fine with two pies for three people, but the crust was too chewy for me. We ordered the Cavolini and the Salsiccia. The combination of the Brussels sprout leaves and pancetta on the Cavolini was really great, but the chef added too many greens and the cabbage flavour overpowered the fior di latte and ham. The decor also bugged me. With its plain painted cinder block walls and careless placement of cheap tables, the interior of Barbarella reflects the food they serve...simple and satisfying, but a bit slapdash.

Keywords: "Vancouver pizza", "Pizzeria Farina", "Alex Dawkins"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vancouver's Food Truck Festival 2013

For the past two years I have been invited to Yelp's Elite Food Truck Festival Preview and allowed to sample all food truck fare, for free. The doors opened one hour prior to public access and dozens of Yelpers descended upon the trucks like vultures to wounded voles. We only had one hour to eat as much as we could and with over 50 attendees and 15 trucks, small lines formed at each cart. I was worried about not being able to try everything, but I managed to try 14 of the 15 vendors.

The Best

There were several trucks that excelled in both customer service and food production. Soho Road Naan Kebab provided the best service and were amongst the few vendors to offer Yelpers several options, instead of a single option with tiny portions. While I knew of Soho Road before this event, from working downtown, I had only tried their Indian-themed wraps once and was ho-hum about it. They won me over at the Food Truck Festival though. Their tandoori chicken was super moist and the fresh naan was thick and light.  

Ah-So! Roaming Dragon Rice Balls!
Another truck was at the event that I had seen before but never tried, Roaming Dragon. They offer pan-asian dishes. They definitely had one of the best free items with their Fried Chinese Rice Balls, which were light and crispy and packed with Chinese sausage, shrimp, and bamboo shoots. They were topped with a drizzle of teriyaki sauce and curry aioli. I was tempted to buy a full portion of these!

The Average

No wonder I had never heard of JJ's Trucketeria! It's based in Surrey. The land that culture forgot. Just kidding, just kidding. Actually, I'm not. Surrey has food trucks? JJ's creates Filipino fare that includes Lemongrass Chicken and Garlic Fried Rice. They were offering their Vegan Market Bowl at the Yelp event. My first reaction was "Wow! Big portion! Tangy curry sauce!" which was quickly followed by my secondary reaction of "Meh. It's just rice and veggies. Not enough sauce." The large Filipino dudes that own this truck are jolly and obviously passionate about food, but their menu options and presentation are average. I wouldn't pay to eat here.

Huge Portion! Hugely Average!
The majority of the dishes designed for sampling at this event were average. Ze Bite, a truck offering French items with a North African kick, was serving a pathetically small portion of a Moroccan curry. Their regular menu looked pretty blah too. Unfamiliar with this truck, I was hoping to spot some confit or steak frites but all I saw was baguettes and bland blanquettes. A peek at the other reviews of this place will echo my observations on the portions and prosaic dishes.   

The Sub-Par

The Juice Truck? More like The...The...Gruff Truck! I'm not good at insults. Sorry. Not only were the staff here rude and flat, but the smoothies they were serving to us Yelpers were nasty. Warm and chalky, the tablespoons of pink paste that The Juice Truck were handing out (in unappealing medicine cups) just weren't worth finishing. It looked like Pepto-Bismol. Maybe it WAS Pepto-Bismol! The girl that flippantly served me didn't even tell me what I was about to drink...well, more like chew.

I have a problem with food trucks that produce comfort food. It seems like a bit of a cop-out considering the stiff competition out there, and most comfort foods are unhealthy and gluten-rich. I didn't really like any of the comfort-food-doling trucks at the Food Truck Fest: Holy Perogy, Reel Mac and Cheese, and Taser Grilled Cheese. They weren't "bad" but I would never buy any of this food with my own money. It's heavy, and I can make it at home.   

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins", "Best Vancouver Food Trucks", "Food Truck Festival"