Unsung Heroes Festival Dares You to Eat Barnacles and Jellyfish in Vancouver

By Alexis Baran

I dare you to put a jellyfish in your mouth. Double dare! The Blue Water Café makes it easy to brag about your culinary audacity this February with the Unsung Heroes Festival.

The “heroes” of the festival are the locally plentiful, sustainable, yet overlooked and delicious seafood that North American menus have often forgotten. Barnacles for example (yes, those sharp little guys who dig into your bare feet on the beach) actually come in many varieties. Gooseneck barnacles, sourced from Clayoquot sound, have a soft stalk that Executive Chef Frank Pabst has featured in previous years. This year the oddball star of the show is red sea cucumber, a soft creature who lives on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean down to 250 m (820 ft). Try the red sea cucumber “hot dog style” with Asian pear and sweet pepper relish and uni miso mustard on a nori bun.

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Grilled octopus | Photo: John Sherlock

If you enjoy French escargot, try one of the west coast versions this year. Whelk are ocean snails, which Pabst is poaching with BC endives, slow cooked ham, and mornay sauce.  Limpets are also ocean snails with a cone-like shell (they look a bit like barnacles), which you can try in a paella.

For those who frequent Asian restauraunts, some of these ingredients may already be favorites. Jellyfish, sea urchin, fish roe and smelt, all of which will be on offer, are regulars in global cuisine that are underutilized on west coast contemporary menus, and any squeamish tendencies toward these can be conquered with mind-over-matter since each is locally sourced, sustainable, and has been prepared and eaten as a part of family meals for thousands of years.

An easy one to start with is smelt – just tiny little fishes with mild-tasting white meat. Just because they are usually served whole, doesn’t mean you have to eat the head (though you definitely can!) Pabst will be frying them to a crisp and serving them in tacos this year.

During the festival, the sustainable seafoods become heroes in more ways than one – ten percent of the proceeds of the Unsung Heroes Festival go to the Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program, which works with restaurants to promote sustainability all year round.

Photo: John Sherlock
Sesame-marinated jellyfish | Photo: John Sherlock

Now, let’s get back to that jellyfish dare. During February, jellyfish will be served with kimchi, braised chicken, onion and carrot.  Give it a try, share it with a friend, and get adventurous.

The Unsung Heroes Festival is on this year from February 1 – 27, 2018

Blue Water Café
1095 Hamilton, Vancouver
www.bluewatercafe.net