Monthly Archives: August 2013

Butter chicken and Blueberry Lassi: Food Adventures in Vancouver

I perceive my six month field work in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to be more of a food adventure rather than “field work”. On my adventures I have come across many wonderful and wonderfully weird items of food. Vancouver has a diverse food scene reflecting its multicultural population. For example the Richmond Night Market, an annual summer market held in the City of Richmond has a variety of food stalls selling foods such as bubble tea and chocolate covered bacon (sounds gross, but tastes pretty darn good). Over the past five years there has been an increased change in the Vancouver food scene. The most noticeable is the rise of the number of food trucks which started off with Japadog, selling Japanese style hotdogs (see Burnett, 2012 for further details). For the purpose of this blog entry I choose to focus on Vij’s Railway Express food truck.

Vij’s food empire
Vij’s is well known for its Indian fusion food, pairing local and seasonal ingredients with Indian spices. The Vij’s line is owned and run by Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala. The Vij’s food portfolio consists of two restaurants Vij’s which opened in 1994, and Rangoli in 2004, which is located next door to Vij’s. They have also published two cook books, Vij’s: Elegant and inspired cooking (2006) presenting recipes that are served at the restaurant, and Vij’s at home: Relax, honey (2010) presenting recipes that Vij and Dhalwala cook at home. There is also a line of ready made meals which are sold at Rangoli and in high end grocery stores throughout the city. More recently Vij’s Railway Express which was launched in June 2012. One can therefore argue that Vij’s is not just merely an establishment in Vancouver, but more of a brand that has re-defined Indian cuisine in Vancouver beyond the Punjabi and Indian Raj styles of Indian cuisine.

Vij’s Railway Express
Vij’s Railway Express is located in the heart of Vancouver downtown and is often seen at food truck festivals. The menu for the food truck is inspired by foods Indian railway food, using locally sourced ingredients. The blueberry lassi (figure 1) is the food truck’s most innovative product, as far as fruit flavoured lassi is concerned mango is usually the most commonly used fruit. However, Vij’s take on the lassi uses local blueberries, and is served in a plastic bag with a straw. The blueberry lassi reflects Vij’s ethos of combination of the local with the Indian, and offering something that is unique.

My blueberry lassi

Figure 1: My blueberry lassi

The food truck offers patrons dishes that are available at Rangoli, the slightly more affordable restaurant out of the two, and also has other dishes such as the butter chicken schnitzel, which is described by Dhalwala (2010, p. 166) as a “signature family dish”. For customers, it gives them the opportunity to purchase a dish that is consumed in the Vij-Dhalwala household. Vij’s Railway Express is the only Vij’s establishment which serves butter chicken, as Vikram was determined not to serve butter chicken at his restaurant because every other Indian restaurant does. Butter chicken appears to be a popular food among Canadians, and is featured in almost every way possible, like butter chicken pizza, butter chicken lasagne, and butter chicken poutine (I eagerly await for invention of butter chicken ice cream)!

The truck itself is also interesting in terms of the use of paisley patterns, which are associated with Indian design. The logo is an impression of a stamp with the Indian emblem in the middle with Vij’s Railway Express written on the outside in English and Hindi (figure 2).

Figure 2: Vij's Railway Express logo

Figure 2: Vij’s Railway Express logo

What is particularly striking is the slogan (figure 3): “Curry art in motion”, indicating that it is food on the move and that cuisine is an art, not just something that we eat or in Vij’s case, just a business.

Figure 3: Vij's Railway Express slogan

Figure 3: Vij’s Railway Express slogan

The establishment of a food truck has made what is seen as gourmet cuisine more accessible and available to a wider audience.

Food for Thought
The example of Vij’s railway Express highlights the City of Vancouver’s food philosophy of using fresh local ingredients wherever possible, especially where sustainability and food security are concerned. More importantly it also highlights the interaction between multiculturalism and food, not in terms of the consumption of ethnic foods, but going beyond this by getting immigrant communities to think about how they interact with food, by using fresh local ingredients in their daily lives, and for people to question where food comes from. For Dhalwala this is all about defetishizing the commodity.

Burnett, K. (2012) Restaurants that changed Vancouver: Japadog. Spacing Vancouver (online). Retrieved from:
Dhalwala, M. and Vij, V. (2010) Vij’s at home: Relax, honey Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre
Vij, V. and Dhalwala, M. (2006). Vij’s: Elegant and inspired Indian cuisine Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre

Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)

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RHUL at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference

Lowther Lodge. © Victoria and Albert Museum

With the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference less than two weeks away, here is a run-down of papers being delivered by Royal Holloway geographers. For sake of brevity, the list does not include details of sessions which Royal Holloway geographers are chairing, convening, or acting as discussant (please see the full programme for details of those sessions).

Wednesday, 28 August

Session 1, RGS-IBG Lowther Room: Caroline Cornish, “Curating science in an age of empire: the Museum of Economic Botany at Kew”

Session 1, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 408: Xuejuan Zhang, “Heritage, Identity, Sense of Place and Dark Tourism in Sichuan Province after the 12th May 2008 Earthquake in China”

Session 2, Sherfield Building, Read Lecture Theatre: Katherine BrickellVandana Desai, and Katie Willis, “Intimacy and the city: Spaces and practices of consumption in Mumbai, Phnom Penh and Taipei”

Session 2, RGS-IBG Lowther Room: Louise Henderson, “Text, travel and translation: exploring the international circulation of David Livingstone’s Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa”

Session 3, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 403a: Katherine Brickell, “Towards Geographies of Peace? Researching Lay and Institutional Perspectives on Legal Reform and Domestic Violence in Cambodia”

Session 3, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 403a: Mary Cobbett, “Researching Kenyan Girls’ Perceptions of Gendered Violence”

Session 3, RGS-IBG Lowther Room: Felix Driver, “Keynote Paper – Geography, Museums & Collections: New Frontiers?”

Session 3, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119: Weiqiang Lin, “Assembling a Great Way to Fly: Performances of Comfort and Affective Care in the Air”

Session 3, Skempton Building, Room 163: Tianfeng Liu, “‘Carps jumping over the dragon gate’? – Chinese migrant negotiation of British /Chinese immigration policy”

Session 3, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119: Danny McNally, “Comforting Others: sociality and the ethical aesthetics of being-together”

Session 3, Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207: James Thurgill, “The unpopular geographies of the Occult”

Session 4, Skempton Building, Room 060a: Anyaa Anim-Addo, “Steam, sail and small island rhythms”

Session 4, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119: Laura Price, “Knitted spaces and the making of comforting geographies”

Thursday, 29 August

Session 1, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122: Bakia Mbianyor, “Resource Geopolitics of Mining and its implications for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods in the East Region of Cameroon”

Session 1, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 508: Sammia Poveda, “Training to fit a job vs training to enhance freedom: Computer skills, social activism in the youth”

Session 1, Skempton Building, Room 301: Helen Scalway, “Visualising Immunitary Geographies: Defensive structures, topological spaces and knotted relations”

Session 1, Sherfield Building, Pippard Lecture Theatre: David Simon, “Spaces, places and flows: Contemporary urbanization as a multiscalar process”

Session 2, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 408: Peter Adey, “Air’s Entanglements”

Session 2, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122: Miranda Ward, “Writing Augmented Place”

Session 3, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 408: Klaus Dodds, “Stretching Across the Bering Strait: US-Soviet science, geopolitics and the Arctic (c. 1967-1973)”

Session 3, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122: Felix Driver, “George Cons, Progressive Education and Geographical Film: A Lost History”

Session 3, RGS-IBG Sunley Room: Dorothea Kleine and Graça Brightwell, “Leveraging Buying Power: middle class views on ethical consumption and sustainable procurement in Chile and Brazil”

Session 3, Skempton Building, Room 163: Laura Prazeres, “Students on the move: geographies of international student mobility”

Session 4, Electrical Engineering Building, Room 408: Duncan Depledge, “Into the Arctic: the northward course of global capitalism”

Friday, 30 August

Session 1, Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207: Harriet Hawkins, “Indecorous Abstractions”

Session 1, RGS-IBG Ondaatje Theatre: Innes M. Keighren, “Circling the Society: Women’s Geographical Frontiers in Edwardian London”

Session 1, Skempton Building, Room 301: Shaun Smith, “A privy without a door: The socio-politics of toilets in the slums of Kitale and Kisumu, Kenya”

Session 2, Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 164: Peter Adey, “Ambiance and Atmospheres”

Session 2, Sherfield Building, Room 7: Lisa Ingwall, “The benefits of using a qualitative approach for the valuation of ecosystem services”

Session 2, Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 164: Anja Kanngieser, “The sounds of our listening: ambiances of voices and commons”

Session 2, Sherfield Building, Room 7: Céline TschirhartJay Mistry, et al., “Defining indicators with local communities: visual methods as a way of bridging the quantitative/qualitative frontier for addressing the emerging social-ecological crisis”

Session 4, Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 164: Rupert Griffiths, “Reimagining the Margins – Creative Practice and the Infrastructural Landscapes of the Lower Lea Valley”

Session 4, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 122: Stephanie Morrice, “Returning ‘home’?: The emotional geographies of the disaster displaced in Brisbane and Christchurch”

Life after PhD event – Cumberland Lodge

This week I had the opportunity to attend the “Life after PhD” event held at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. The conference was a celebration of the postgraduate research culture in the UK, aimed at giving early career researchers the chance to reflect on where their careers are headed. The conference also provided the opportunity for leading figures in academia and outside to share how their own research has influenced their lives post-PhD.

The venue itself was beautiful! A 17th Century house situated in the tranquil heart of Windsor Great Park. Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity. Its Patron is The Queen, who has granted the sole occupancy of the house for discussions aimed at the betterment of society. I was in awe of the surroundings, and thoroughly enjoyed staying in such a historic house. cumberland lodge

After registration, the conference kicked off with a number of insightful talks from guest speakers. A careers development consultant at Cambridge’s careers portal offered us insight into the different career possibilities for PhD’s. The Head of Education at NUS spoke to us about the PhD journey itself; how we feel about it as academics, drawing on her own personal experiences. We heard from those working inside and outside of academia, highlighting the endless possibilities for PhD students upon graduation.

In between sessions, I mingled with other delegates. I really enjoyed this opportunity to meet fellow PhD students from accross the UK and it’s not often that I get the chance to mix with students from other departments. We exchanged stories of our PhD journey’s, talking specifically about our student-supervisor relationships, fieldwork, writing-up progress, as well as our hopes and fears as we move towards the task of finding a job after we graduate. I made new friends and forged new networks.  The evening finished with a cultural recital from Ruth Rosen in the Lodge drawing room. Among others, she read Shakespeare, Kipling and Chaucer, all of which seemed particularly evocative given the historical conference venue.

Day two. As a conference requirement, each student had to give a ten minute research presentation to other non-specialist PhD researchers. Due to the size of our cohort, we were broken into smaller groups (12 students each) and I spent the day listening to fascinating talks about other research projects. In my group, research topics were fascinatingly diverse. There were projects on Dyslexia in adults, German literature, seismicity on Mars, bone marrow, law in the Middle Ages and music in film.  The exercise was helpful in forcing us to concisely summerise our projects and in presenting to an interdisciplinary, non-specialist audience.

Day three. On the final morning, the conference was broken into a series of workshops: CV writing and Interview techniques, Public engagement and ‘How to stand, breathe, speak and Listen’ . First up, the very lively and practical session on how personal presentation. I have to say, I was a little dubious, given the 9am start/lack of morning coffee/instructions to wear comfortable clothes. Despite my reservations, however, I ended up really enjoying the session. I learnt that it’s not just what you know, but its how you put it across; how my actual physical presence affects my presentation. I learnt useful skills for interviews, meetings, conference presentations and teaching. After a quick coffee break, the second workshop focused on CV writing.  We spent time analyzing job descriptions  and discussing CV’s and interview techniques. I learnt the importance of tailoring job applications to specific jobs. Our session chair (a careers advisor) told me the number one failure during an interview is when employers ask something along the lines of “Why do you want this lectureship at X University?” 99% of people respond with a carefully planned response about why they would be an excellent lecturer. All very well, but that’s not the question they asked. Why this lectureship, at this university, in this department. Specifics are crucial. Being vague will get you nowhere. Our final workshop focused on public engagement, providing an insight into strategies I can use to identify public audiences for my research, and how I can engage with them.

In sum, as I find myself hurtling (with alarming speed) towards the end of my PhD journey, this conference was well timed to offer me insight into life after my PhD. I often feel anxious about job hunting, and I’m sure my fellow PhD students can relate to this. I know that the job market remains tough and competition is fierce. Still, I am ready and excited for the next step. Taking advice from the past few days, I intend to follow my passion and remain confident that good things will happen. The support network established by the conference will be invaluable whatever the future holds.

– Stephanie Morrice, PhD Candidate