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January 17, 2014

During our time in Vancouver, my husband and I tried to find some fun, and different, things to do.  One of the things I came across when looking at current activities happening the weekend we were in town was the Vancouver Christmas Market.  When I asked my husband if he was interested in checking it out, he immediately said we had to do it.  A few years back, my husband and I spent a Christmas season over in Eastern Europe and one of the most magical parts of that trip was experiencing the authentic Christmas Markets that exist in towns such as Munich and Prague and Budapest.  The gathering of locals and tourists in one central area surrounded by traditional wood huts lined up and filled with local merchants selling handmade and handcrafted Christmas goods and cooking up local, traditional Christmas goodies.  It was such an amazing experience, and we were hoping that the Vancouver Christmas Market would be just as magical.


Over the past few years, the Vancouver Christmas Market has become an annual tradition held in the plaza out front of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre within walking distance of the ultra-popular Gastown neighborhood.  Much like the traditional Christmas markets found in Europe, here vendors sell their handcrafted goods in wooden huts to those looking for something unique to buy as a gift or keep for themselves.  What was terrific about the Vancouver Christmas Market is that they really tried to make the market as authentic as possible with merchants who had a connection to Germany, Poland, Russia, Hungary and more.  So you had authentic Eastern European merchants here showcasing their goods.  There were also a lot of European specialty delis, restaurants, bakers and more serving up traditional European classics that you would actually find at a European Christmas Market.


There was the pretzel stall, the Bretzelhaus, serving up traditional German homemade soft pretzels.  These are the exact kind of soft pretzels you’d see sold at Christmas Markets in Europe.  In fact, I remember seeing a very similar pretzel stall at the huge Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria.


What about the Schnitzel House?  Oh my, serving the traditional Austrian favorite, breaded pork cutlet known as Weiner Schnitzel, this stand was a crowd pleaser with full schnitzel plates served with the traditional potato salad and sauerkraut or schnitzel sandwiches that you could easily walk around the rest of the market with.


And then there was the Kartoffel Haus.  Kartoffel in Germany means potato.  Literally, the Potato House.  They spiral cut spuds into one long, unbroken cut skewered onto a stick, battered and deep-fried it and drenched it in your sauce of choice from bbq to siracha to everything in between.  I saw quite a few people giving these potato bad boys a whirl!


But the stand that caught our eye was small Flammkuchen stand.  Flammkuchen is a traditional Alsatian dish popular in the cold winter months.  The Alsace region of France is its Eastern most region bordering Germany.  Due to its close proximity with Germany, many of the locals are descendent from Germany heritage and speak German.  Flammkuchen, as it was called at this stand is the German word for this dish which is actually called flammekeuche in Alsatian or tarte flambee in French.


Traditionally, a flammkuchen is a thin-piece of bread dough rolled out into the shape of a rectangle and topped with fromage blank (white cheese) or crème fraiche, thinly sliced onions and lardons.  This is the Alsace regions most well-known specialty dishes.  You’ll see that at this particular flammkuchen stand they were serving up the classic Alsace style flammkuchen as well as a vegetarian version which had caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese without the lardons.


My husband and I decided to give the vegetarian version of the flammkuchen a try.  Neither of us had ever tried this dish before, though it’s the same idea as a wood fired pizza.  The cook prepares the toppings on the bread dough and the dough is then placed in a wood fired oven.


Here at the Vancouver Christmas Market, they made it the traditional way with an actual wood fired oven.  A small brick and copper domed oven with burning wood in the back creating the high heat needed to cook the dough and melt the cheese.  As the flammkuchens were ordered, the flat dough was placed into the oven as close as possible to the burning wood.  The dough and cheese would blister under the heat of the wood fired oven.  The edges of the dough would burn and get crunchy as the cook would slowly rotate the flammkuchen around the oven to ensure that all sides of this treat were cooked properly.


As it was brought out of the oven, the flammkuchen was laid out on a cutting board and then immediately sliced into 4 diagonal pieces.  You could just hear the crunch of the ultra-thin crispy bread dough!  That was the best part!  The taste of the flammkuchen was terrific.  The ultra-thin dough was wood-fired to perfection creating a nice contrast of texture to the stringy, and woody flavor of the Gruyere cheese and the soft, melt-in-your-mouth caramelized onion.  My husband was really impressed with this little treat.

We walked away from the Vancouver Christmas Market with a little snack in our stomachs, and enough cheer for the season.  The Christmas Market is really a unique, and fun thing to do in Vancouver during the holidays and really gives you the feel and atmosphere of all the Christmas Markets we visited in Europe a few years ago.  Where else can you find authentic gluwein, weinershnitzels and soft pretzels along with lots of hand crafted wooden goods, Christmas decorations and treats for the holidays?  This trip to the Vancouver Christmas Market really put a bow on our already fun trip to San Francisco and Vancouver to kick off the holiday season!

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