OOTA: Nanaimo, BC

Y and I spent 10 days in the Beautiful British Columbia last August. Known for its charming wilderness and splendid cities, we dedicated the first half of the vacation to the Vancouver Islands.

For 5 days, we were able to lightly explore Nanaimo, Ucluelet and Tofino. Random food adventures in Ucluelet & Tofino to come in the next entry!

It was easy to get to the islands from the airport – just a bus and ferry ride away.

I used to think that Nanaimo has some sort of Japanese history based on how it rhymes with other Japanese words. Ignorant I know, b-b-but… Imo in Japanese means potato, so Nanaimo rhymes with Jagaimo, Satoimo and Yamaimo! Anyhow, Nanaimo really has no Japanese history/connections. Silly me.

Nanaimo is the only all-purpose port city on Vancouver Island, with every facility required to serve both the commercial and recreational needs of business and tourism. Once the location of five separate native villages, its name derives from a Coast Salish word, Snuneymuxw, “a great and mighty people” – a perfect description of the rapidly-growing harbour community at the centre of Vancouver Island’s highway and ferry system. Incorporated in 1874, Nanaimo is the third oldest city in British Columbia and the second largest on Vancouver Island, located on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island, 70 miles (112 km) north of Victoria.

Most people are probably familiar with Nanaimo bars. It seemed as though all tales and fables on Wikipedia might not be the truth, according to Nanaimo’s official website.

Y & I were so excited to taste the fresh seafood of BC that we wasted no time and immediately headed over to Nori Japanese Restaurant for dinner after arrival in Nanaimo.

First Impression:

Located in a small plaza, Nori exudes the atmosphere of a typical Japanese restaurant.

Since it was not busy, our server kindly seated us in a nice little corner. Glancing around, I noted how spaciously each table was arranged from the other. A little privacy during the meal is always greatly appreciated, and goes a long way in ensuring a pleasant quiet experience.

Elegant tableware is a refreshing change from the standard ones used in KW.

On the Table for Maple:

  1. Gomae ($3.99)
  2. Korroke ($5.99)
  3. Wakame Salad ($3.99)
  4. California roll combo ($10.99)
  5. Toro Sashimi ($12.99)
  6. Wild Salmon Sashimi ($10.99)

Gomae is a sweet spinach appetizer, typically prepared using sesame seeds, sugar and soy sauce. However, Nori’s version included a rich peanut dressing. The fresh spinach, tangled in luscious sweet-yet-savoury sauce, started the meal with a bang.

Though California rolls are not exactly “authentic” Japanese rolls, I adore them. The cucumber-avocado combination delivers a simple and refreshing taste. Nori serves their California rolls with real crab meat rather than imitation crab! I think crab sticks taste as good as pizza pockets. The Cali Combo includes 6 pieces of Cali rolls and 6 pieces of random sushi.

Our first question when the plate of salmon sashimi was served –

Why is the salmon so bloody red!?

We poor souls in Ontario have been feasting on pink salmon sashimi all our lives. Those pink sashimi are actually Atlantic salmon – mostly farmed. In BC, most Japanese restaurants allow for a choice of Atlantic (pink) or Pacific (red) salmon. Who needs those pasty pink farmed salmon when you can have the dynamic red wild salmon!?

One way to tell farmed and wild caught salmon meat apart is the color. Healthy wild caught salmon has a deep orange red color, while farmed salmon has a very orange or light pink color. Farmed fish do not get the right pigments from the meal they are fed, so farmers add unnatural pigment to the food as most people do not want to eat white salmon. 

The generous serving of smooth succulent fish compensated for the sushi chef’s poor knife skill – thick and uneven cuts.

Toro means fatty blue fin tuna belly. It is one of the highest grade/type of tuna sashimi, and typically VERY expensive. We were stunned at the slight price difference – only $2 more expensive than salmon sashimi! Typically, I would choose salmon over tuna – Ontario’s tuna sashimi seem to taste a tad sour compared to the sweet sweeeet salmon. However, the chilled toro was so fresh and extremely creamy, gliding down my throat effortlessly. Think avocado combined with butter. Of course, this scrumptious piece of sashimi is so rich that you can only eat a few pieces at a time.

It was hands-down the best Japanese meal I have ever had. Due to the geographical advantage, I doubt Ontario will have a better value-for-money sushi place than BC.

If you ever visit Nanaimo, please please please have Nori in your itinerary.


1) $$ – totaled to $55, but each dish hovers around $11
2) Nicely spaced tables, bright decor
3) Prompt service, staff is knowledgeable in recommendations for fresh fish
4) So fresh, so delicious, best Japanese I have ever had

Nori Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Breakfast at Nanaimo was Java Expressions.

Mug of coffee with piping hot savory cheesy egg on English muffin. Simply delicious.

Java Expressions on Urbanspoon

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