In Praise of Vancouver Beach Concession Stands

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Vancouver’s chic-progressive-fresh-local-organic-sustainable restaurant scene gets plenty of attention.  So let me take a moment to praise some unsung, blue-collar heroes of the local food world: the beach (and park) food concession stands.

There are dozens of these humble concessions scattered around Vancouver’s beaches and parks.  They generally don’t look like much from the outside – squat, even ugly, brick buildings with big windows out front where food is served.  And the menus for the most part aren’t terribly exciting – burgers and dogs, fish-and-chips, ice cream and the usual stuff.

But, for beachgoers ravenous after a day in the sun or powerwalkers famished from a long stroll on the seawall, there is arguably no higher cuisine than concession fare.

Case in point: a little stand on Spanish Banks, on the far western edge of the city, which I visited over the weekend on one of the first warm and sunny days of the year.  In the early afternoon, a long line had already formed outside the window, where a pair of cashiers were busy taking orders. Clusters of little girls in bathing suits lined up for ice cream and fudgesicles.  Older couples with canes and dark sunglasses debated between the one-piece fish-and-chips and the two-piece.   Kids begged for french fries.

When my turn came, I settled on the deluxe hamburger (pricey but not unreasonable at $5.45).   The polite girl at the register explained that the burger came with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onions and burger sauce.  Then she handed me my ticket number: 85.

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I sat down to wait for my order to come up.  People in bare feet with sandy legs passed by.  Dogs on leashes sniffed around for a dropped scrap.  And the smell of deep-frying and grilled meat kept a steady stream of people trickling in.  There was something deeply reassuring about the whole thing.  Maybe that’s the real appeal of the beach concession: a little part of Vancouver that has stayed pretty much the same over the decades while the rest of the city has changed completely.

As for my burger, which came out after about 10 minutes wrapped in paper, it was nothing special.  I’m sure the beef was neither organic nor locally raised and had probably been frozen for months.  The bun was not artisan.  The burger sauce was a sloppy mix of ketchup and mayo.  But, of course – after a day baking in the sand, watching the tide come in and the container ships go by – I thought it tasted pretty good.



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