Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tapas in Chinatown

Sometimes a good, stark contradiction makes me giggle.

Like in the rainforests of the Amazon you wouldn’t expect to see someone wearing a parka with a hot pink boa, or in snow-filled Antarctica you wouldn’t expect to see a giraffe. It’s the unexpected that catches my attention, making me giggle, “To see a giraffe, here, in Antarctica of all places, and wearing a cravat!” And then I would roll on the ground laughing at the absurdity, yet at the same time embracing and reveling in the uniqueness of the situation. Plus, it would be rather funny for me to be in Antarctica in the first place.

When my sister recently came to visit from a land far away (an hour-and-forty-minute ferry ride away), we stopped in Chinatown, downtown Victoria, BC. We picked our way around crates of vegetables for sale on the sidewalk, sidestepped store owners and shoppers arguing over prices, and hustled past restaurants with cooked chickens hanging in the window. Its unique atmosphere packed into one street is in sharp contrast to the rest of downtown humming with old English heritage. But as much as I love Chinatown, I was anxious to show my sister a special place I once happened upon among the chaos; a place totally unexpected among the crates of imported vegetables and spices; a place dripping with serene peace and calm typically found only when having high tea.

When you walk through the white doors of Venus Sophia Tea Room and Vegetarian Eatery, you wonder if you are in the English-influenced Empress Hotel. Collections of dainty tea cups in well-lit curio cabinets greet you at the door, and doilies and cushions grace the chairs and loveseats in the eating area. Antique bikes – yes, bikes – hanging from the ceiling with their baskets full of silk flowers make you want to hop on for a leisurely bike ride in the countryside.

But you’re in Chinatown. Step outside the French-looking white doors, and you’re in the hustle and bustle of what feels like the Far East. Step back in, and you forget the sharp cultural difference just outside.

High tea is high on the menu - literally. Three-tiered plates adorned with vegetarian finger sandwiches wait for the dainty to dive in. For me, my growling stomach cancels out any grace or restraint, and finger sandwiches would be washed down the gullet with a mouthful of tea before I could lift my pinky. But I love the girly atmosphere, and what a perfect place for two sisters to gab!

But we wanted ‘lunch lunch’ - high tea wasn’t our forte for the afternoon. Our grimy sweats we wore for trudging around all day was not exactly ‘high tea’ attire, anyways. We perused the menu, and given that I'm not vegetarian it was all Greek to me. Soy this, tofu that, and vegetable concoctions I had never heard of. My more-worldly-than-I sister suggested tapas. I don’t get out much, so the ‘tapas’ concept was foreign to me, but given that one of the options was the all-too-familiar hummus - my fave - I knew it was gonna be good. Olives and feta cheese was another option, and the best part? Baba ghanoush. Not only is it fun to say, but the dish had been elusive in my life-quest to try new things. My house of straight-up meat-and-potatoes men makes trying new foods a challenge. All three dishes were divine; my mouth waters in remembrance.

So there we sat in Chinatown, wearing filthy old sweats, in a tea room fit for an English princess in the countryside. As we ate pita bread with hummus, babba ghanoush, and olives with feta cheese, foods likely straight out of the Middle East, for a minute we were culturally confused. Not only did we not have tea in the ‘tea room,’ but with all that was going on, where the heck were we?

But as I shoved another olive in my mouth – I never knew I was an olive person – I knew where we were. We were right where we should be – together, doing something different, and enjoying the contradictions of life that make the world a spicy, delicious place to be.

Be sure to check out Venus Sophia Tea Room and Vegetarian Eatery right in the heart of Chinatown, Victoria, BC. Vegetarian, Vegan or Gluten-free delights are sure to make your mouth water!

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