A few weeks ago, I walked into a convenience store to pick up some ice. As I reached the middle of the room, a growing sense of discomfort came over me. Scanning the shelves and fridges around me, I observed all the perfectly-packaged products neatly arranged in the well-lit, sterile space. And that was the problem. There was no fresh food. It was all processed – a delivery system for genetically-modified corn and soy, it seemed. It felt as if I had entered a culinary crime scene, and was happy to quickly leave.
By contrast, Oyama Sausage in the Granville Island Public Market is the equivalent of a tropical rainforest. Their multicultural mosaic of meat is a visual feast – pardon me for staring. It offers the gourmand an opportunity to engage in an anthropological adventure. How can you just cook sausages, when a choice of Andouille, boerewors, boudin noir, linguisa, merguez… begs for more thought? What would a typical meal in their country of origin look like?
Like a shameless groupie, I could easily see myself hanging out at Oyama, learning about the historical backgrounds of the various cured meats, swapping recipes and cooking tips. If only they were set up more like a friend’s open kitchen than a market kiosk. Recently, I did just that, spending an afternoon with owner, John van der Lieck, at their new production kitchen, salami curing room, and ham aging room. It was a crash course in pork that left me wanting for the porcine equivalent of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt. I failed to find it; maybe van der Lieck needs to write it.
“Garbage in, garbage out” came to us from computer science. It also applies to food. Healthier meat is more flavourful. How can you know if the meat is healthy? By knowing where it came from, and how the animal was raised. All things being equal, even a pig’s diet will make a noticeable difference. Take the SPCA-certified organic pork Oyama gets from First Nature Farms. Compared to the soy-based diet of many Fraser Valley pigs, the meat of First Nature’s green-fed Berkshire pigs is noticeably darker.
Oyama produces a diverse range of over 400 handmade products from many different ethnic backgrounds. Some are seasonal, some are in limited supply, some take 18 months of aging. All are made using traditional methods practiced and refined through five generations of European sausage makers. An innate curiosity means van der Lieck is always on the lookout for new recipes, spurred on sometimes by customers returning from travels with tales, even samples, of memorable food experiences. Such is the power of good food.