As the population of Squamish has expanded, so has the availability of diverse food options. Once more truck stop than foodie destination, the town’s emerging culinary mixture is offering options unseen in years past. Imaginative chefs are mixing food styles or adapting cuisines to hyper-local tastes.
The Middle East meets the far west at SAHA EATERY, which chef and co-owner Jeramy Duckworth refers to as “Levantine cuisine with a hint of North Africa and Persian elements.”
Opened in spring 2017 with co-owner Shannon Walls, Saha’s African and Asian influences make it a good choice for health-conscious, flavour-seeking consumers. “What I’ve done with the menu is used traditional recipes but framed them within a contemporary nutritional background,” Duckworth said.
“For example, tabouli is traditionally made out of bulgur wheat and parsley, but we do ours with quinoa and kale because using the quinoa makes it easier for those who have gluten sensitivities and, you know, people just love their kale.” If he has to shorthand his style, he’ll call it Lebanese and Moroccan, because those are two that most people might be familiar with, but his spice rack and cupboards go further afield.
“If you were actually to look at my pantry, you’d see foods from the Persian influence, Turkish influence, all the Levant and North Africa as well,” he said. “I have dishes that range from Tunisia and Morocco all the way to Turkey with a little bit of Persian in between.”
In a community with a significant number of vegans and vegetarians, Saha’s menu offers plenty of choice for all, including carnivores. “When you look at the cuisines of, say, Lebanon, you don’t just sit down to a steak,” said Duckworth.
“You sit down to a little bit of this, a little bit of that, you get your salad, your grains. The focal point of the menu isn’t meat. Regardless of being a vegetarian or not, nutritionally it’s just better for you. ... You come and eat here [and] you just had a balanced meal. You can check that off your checklist for the day. That’s something I take pride in being able to offer people in the busy and fast-paced world of today. Whether it’s in Squamish or whether it’s in New York, no one has the time to make a balanced meal anymore.”
Duckworth said the town’s expanding palate has to do not only with the growth of the community but the growing diversity within the population and the willingness to experiment with flavours beyond pub and pizza. “I don’t want to sound as though I’m discrediting that at all,” he cautioned. “Who doesn’t love a burger and a pizza? But at the same time, going back to finding balance in your nutritional staples, it’s something that we’ve actually given [as] an alternative.”
Duckworth said that the presence of Saha, as well as the nearby 100% organic plant-based GREEN MOUSTACHE café, means people no longer have to choose between health and convenience. The two establishments, he said, “give people a chance to be healthy and eat healthy in their fast-paced lifestyle.”
Nearby, at the SALTED VINE KITCHEN + BAR, the palate may be global but the keyword is local. “We are basically a farm-to-table restaurant,” said Pat Allan, director and sommelier, who opened the room with chef Jeff Park in 2016, after the two had worked together for years at Araxi Restaurant in Whistler. “We use as much local produce as possible. Most of our vegetables come from ACROSS THE CREEK ORGANICS, some come from the Squamish Valley. We also source out to Pemberton.” All the seafood on offer is 100 per cent Ocean Wise-certified sustainable — one of the few kitchens in the province, Allan said, that can make the claim. Additionally, the menus at Salted Vine are emphatically seasonal.
“In the off-season, the shoulder season, like November, we’ll run four-course, pre-fixe meals,” he said. Anticipate comforting slow-cooked plates. “It’ll be more braised meats, risottos, braised beef, mushroom dishes, braised short ribs, that sort of thing.” Several vegetarian dishes are listed and Allan notes that most of these can be modified for vegans. Crossing boundaries is a theme at the recently opened SUNNY CHIBAS. Mixing fried chicken and Mexican cuisine — two variations not often found together — was a simple decision for the four founders.
“Why not give people what they love?” Diana Frederickson said simply. “I find when I go to restaurants sometimes they just stick to one thing and you have groups of people who can never decide. You might want to go for sushi and you have that one friend who doesn’t like sushi. People might not like Mexican food but nobody hates fried chicken. We kind of put the two together and — why not?” Frederickson and chef Aaron Lawton worked together at MAG'S 99 – previously located in the same space – one of the most visible in town.
On Highway 99, it is pretty much the first or the last thing drivers see of Squamish. “It’s the best location in all of Squamish,” said Frederickson. While Mexican and fried chicken is the core of the menu, the chef doesn’t let figurative border walls stand in his way. “We might be fried chicken and Mexican but one day he’ll put a special on the board that’s Jamaican,” Frederickson said.
“His specials are probably what drives a lot of people in.” Hungry Squamish residents no longer have to head far north or south to feed their cravings for multicultural or otherwise diverse foods. In addition to a half-dozen sushi places, there are two Indian restaurants, and a host of others that would have been unimaginable a decade or so ago. “It’s the best location in all of Squamish.”
The burgeoning of the Squamish restaurant scene is something local foodies see as a work in progress. Much has changed in just the past couple of years, but the success of increasingly diverse culinary offerings — and the ever-increasing demand created by the growth in population and tourism — suggests this is closer to the start of a gastronomic trend than the finish.