While exploring Victoria’s food and drink scene I enlisted the help of a local food tour to help me better understand what makes the city such a foodie favourite. Although I covered this outing in my overall take on British Columbia’s capital city, a dedicated Taste of Victoria tour review is warranted. It’s that good.
If you want a crash course on both Victoria’s history and it’s wonderful food scene, Andy is your guy. He did his undergrad in history at the University of Victoria and spent 4 years as a summertime pedicab driver where he gave guided tours of his city. His love of food, local sights, and local ingredients led him to create A Taste of Victoria Food Tours, a perfect way to show of the city and some of its tastiest locations.
At the time of my Taste of Victoria Food tour review, Andy had only been operating for nine months but had already served over 1000 satisfied guests. Again. He is that good.
If the above doesn’t already make him overqualified, he loves to travel too. He has visited 47 countries so you know he is well-versed in culture from all over, making him appreciate and understand Victoria’s diverse food scene that much more.
Our three-hour tour kicked off at the Victoria Public Market, something I didn’t even know existed until this visit. Although located in the 1921 built Hudsons Bay building, the markets origins are much more recent. The beautiful building was saved from years of vacancy and turned into the present day market in 2013. Modelled after New York’s Chelsea market, it currently houses plenty of unique and boutique shops and restaurants and hosts events such as cooking classes and Victoria Craft Beer Week.
All this said I was a bit concerned when Andy ran down where we would be sampling – Olive Oil from Olive the Senses, fresh bread from the French Oven Bakery, pork crackling form Roast Meat & Sandwich shop, and tea from Silk Road Tea. Not because they didn’t sound great. They sounded like places that give away free samples. How would I fill up on that? And where is the value?
Short answer, I was so very wrong.
At Olive the Senses, Andy explained the market’s interesting story and how it has become a focal point for flavour in the community. He highlighted how the shops work well together for both owners and clients then gave us time to sample flavoured oils and vinegar. We were asked to grab our favourites to bring along to our next stop, the French Oven Bakery. There we sampled some amazing bread including the softest ciabatta I have ever had, all while dipping in the oils and vinegar we brought with us.
Andy then advised us to grab some of our favourite bread for our next stop, Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop. Known for their use of only natural and humane meat, this spot is a local favourite for its sandwiches and massive (baked not fried) pork crackling. We got to sample a small piece along with a couple of meatball swimming in an amazing marinara sauce. The bread came in handy to sop up the remains.
Again, so smart. It was a great way to tie the market together, creating a sense of community between local vendors and local flavours. And really, isn’t that what a local market should be?
We left the market fuller than anticipated and made our way through Victoria’s historic Chinatown. This is where Andy’s knowledge of the city really shined. I have been to Victoria several times and through the area but missed so many things. Notably, a phone booth (who uses payphones still?) decorated in Chinese fashion and the story behind the beautiful Victoria Chinese Public School which still operates today.We then ducked down the narrow corridor of Fan Tan Alley, again something I did not know existed until taking this Taste of Victoria food Tour. I won’t give away all the details as I think you should take the tour but will say the history of gambling and Chinese culture is fascinating in North America’s second oldest Chinatown.
Our next couple stops were local favourites, both old and new. First up was John’s Place, an eclectic diner known for its breakfast and has been operating in the same spot for 30+ years. It is also known for its homemade soup du jour which we sampled regardless of it being a hot summers day. Try the borshch if available!
Sticking with an Eastern European trend we then visited the Sült Pierogi Bar where I had the best pierogies outside of Warsaw, excluding my grandmother’s of course. Why pierogies in Victoria and what makes them so good?
As manager Ryan Broeckhuizen explains, Sült Pierogi Bar exists because they wanted to embrace Canada’s diversity through food. They took a simple Eastern European staple and made it Canadian by stuffing them with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. It’s the use of these fresh ingredients that makes the place so good and a new local hotspot.
Their hip bar with local craft beer on tap doesn’t hurt. Nor does their bacon confit which is made slowly over time and with plenty of love. And yes, you can taste the love.
Taste Victoria with Taste of Victoria Food Tours
By the time we wobbled out of Sült, I was stuffed. Thankfully we had a bit of a stroll down Government Street before our final stop at Rogers Chocolates. Along the way, Andy filled us in with titbit after titbit on this historic town and its architecture. This included the story about the mural on the Belmont building. Painted in 1922 simply because the folks behind this new building complained about losing their Olympic Mountain range view. I am not sure how many times I looked at this mural without knowing this.
The history lesson continued inside Rogers Chocolates while we sampled a tasty truffle. From there it was back to the harbour for goodbyes and one final story about the town’s most famous hotel.
The Empress recently got a facelift which included the removal of its iconic vines growing up its walls. While doing this, workers found all sorts of jewellery leaving them to believe that a family of racoons used to live in the vines and were stealing items from rooms with windows opened for relief during the pre-AC days. Can you imagine how much grief hotel staff probably got and for how long?
It’s interesting stories like that as well as Andy’s clear knowledge and love for local food that makes this Taste of Victoria food tour a no-brainer. Seriously, I’ve taken food tours all over the world and this is truly one of the best.
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Although my Taste of Victoria food tour was made possible by a Tourism Victoria.
As always, the experience, opinions, and love of local eats are my own.