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On Menus (and more): in Vancouver

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in Canada

Spring Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(1) page(s): 31 and 32

Vancouver grows by leaps and bounds. It will continue to do so, and rapidly, at least until it hosts the Winter Olympics in 2010. The living is relaxed, even easy, and a mite chilly in winter. Visitors find this a small price to pay for terrific Asian food. Vancouver’s Chinese food satisfies the huge Chinese resident population and others not Chinese who just love their cuisine. Chinese and other visitors seek it out. Many find that eateries there compete keeps prices in check. The Chinese food is equivalent to places in Hong Kong, and somewhat less expensive. They adore eating it in this, North America’s third largest Chinatown. The city of Vancouver and its suburbs are both growing as they absorb the largest and fastest growing immigrant population in Canada. Who would not like a place, as attested to by its recent tie with Zurich in Switzerland, that tie’s for first place in the world for its quality of life. It also comes in first in the world, along with Copenhagen, Oslo, and Singapore, for the city with the best public transportation system. From our point of view, it beats every city for its great Chinese food. Visitors quickly learn that immigrants founded this city in 1887. That was thirty years after the Chinese first came to Canada to work on the Trans-Canada Railroad. Another fact they learn is that this city had the first passengers ever to disembark from the first trans-continental railroad journey. With all these firsts, Chinese, Canadians, and others have been disembarking, landing, and arriving here ever since.

On a recent visit, we head first for Chinatown and note it had a facelift. With the suggestion of a local Chinese resident, we tour the Chinese Cultural Center Museum and Archives; 555 Columbia Street. Another suggested, and we comply and take a walk around the SUN YAT SEN CLASSICAL CHINESE GARDEN at 578 Carrell Street. This first Ming Dynasty-style garden built outside of China is gorgeous. Both sites are worth perusing. We wander some streets and are shown some buildings we never noticed before; they are on East Pendar Street and have half-height floors. Their odd construction is to avoid taxes that are based upon numbers of full floors in a building. Check them aout and do visit MING WO'S COOKWARE STORE at number 23. We go in and browse their large collection of Chinese vegetable cutters, among other things. We nab some monkey, dragon, rabbit, and butterfly cutters before going to eat, but where?

Years ago we did dine at PINK PEARL at 1132 East Hastings Street; phone: (604) 253-43160. It is still touted as: The Institute of Dim Sum in Vancouver. On one trip we began at BEIJING HOUSE; 865 Hornby Street; phone: (604) 688-7788. Another we went to IMPERIAL CHINESE SEAFOOD; between Hastings and Condor Streets; phone: (604) 688-8191. All three are good starting points for tasting Vancouver’s beloved Chinese food. We adore the royal harbor and mountain view from The Imperial, but swallow hard and go elsewhere this time because we want to eat like thousands of locals.

Therefore, we go to HON'S at 108-268 Keefer Street; phone: (604) 668-0871. Hon has many locations, four downtown and three in nearby surrounding towns. The downtown hub attracts us; it is open long hours seven days a week. It has been serving wonderful food, our hostess and tour guide tell us, since 1972. The menu touts three hundred thirty-four different dishes. More are featured on papers taped to walls and counters; most in Chinese. Available, are many kinds of congee, varieties of pot stickers, lots of barbequed meats, and oodles of noodle and rice dishes. Voted 'Best Chinese Food' in 2002 in the Greater Vancouver Directory, Hon's has won many awards before and since including a recent ‘Golden Plate’ recognition.

Managers of local hostels, upscale hotel concierges, and everyone in between recommend this no-frills place. Elders, teens, tiny tots, and tourists fill its tables. Everyone seems to delight and devour their food. No doubt they appreciate it and the unbeatable prices. While some just marvel at the shiny meats, many more chow them down. While enjoying all that we order, we chat with a young German couple about to return to their hostel to tell that manager, 'thanks for the great tip.'

A few hours later we go to a pasta perfect place outside of Chinatown. This 'must go' spot is for every day but Tuesday when it is shut tight. Called SHALIN and at 548 West Broadway; phone: (604) 873-1816. This home-made noodle house is a place to be mesmerized as you watch them roll, cut, push, and pull different batches of dough. They make them into some of China's best staple food. We are entranced by the huge v-shaped metal knife ballet. There is a photo in the hard copy of this isue, but it does not do justice to a knife in constant motion. We watch it dance inside a glass-enclosed prep area and see dough fly into a large cauldron-type pot. It is hard to eat and observe dozens of noodle dances.

We turn eyes away long enough to watch a waiter pour Eight Treasure Tea into a tiny cup. This artful display, from a long-handled Tibetan-style teapot, is done from about a yard away. Amazing, and he never misses. We drink his ‘throat relieving’ tea and agree that it is wonderful.

Shalin serves a hundred-plus noodle variations, all made to order six days each week. They also take a break between lunch and dinner so arrive an hour before noon up until 3:00 pm or from 5:00 to 9:30 pm. Enjoy their nifty noodles; they have origins in the Xinjiang province. This issue has an article about other Xinjiang foods; it is on page 9.

On another day, we opt for food from China’s southwest on the way to S. Burnaby. We eat at CHONGQING RESTAURANT at 2808 Commercial Drive; phone: (604) 254-7434. This local eatery gets your attention with its glass-etched chili pepper and garlic emblems. Many neighborhood folk join those who come from afar to enjoy this dining destination.

The dim sum here has lots of taste. Superior Dumpling in Soup is divine and loaded with shrimp, scallops, black mushrooms, scallions, and surimi. A bowl of Marinated Beef Stomach and Tendon is appropriately piquant, and we devour it. Tan Tan Noodles, an item at virtually every Sichuan restaurant, is wonderful. Only Lo Han Vegetable Steamed Dumpling disappoints. It has little character. Not so the Hot Peppers Wonton Soup that comes filled with meat dumplings on piles of Chinese spinach. The red-sauced broth has but a few minced scallions and a goodly amount of preserved cabbage. We woof it down. The Three Kinds Mushroom Rice Roll is a fine foil for flavor balance.

Later, we walk off some calories going through the Crystal Mall and get rid of many more at SOUTH BARNABY'S METROPOLITAN MALL. Both have many Chinese venders selling things for in and out of stomach. We are bowled over by the Metropolitan Mall with its five hundred stores and huge multi-Asian food court. Were that not enough, here is a super-sized Asian supermarket loaded with Chinese ingredients. Exhaustion rules after going down every aisle. Roller skates would help or a skateboard; but alas, they are forbidden.

Not too far away, but not within walking distance, is one of the several SUN SIU WAH restaurants. The New York Times touts and Zagat gives them a 25 (out of 30) for food but only a 15 for decor. We find the food faded and matching the decor. Priced high, this place drags itself down with paper napkins at dinner and a less than caring staff at any time. Pan Fried Prawns with Fresh Mango drags it down, too. It has all too many red and green peppers and almost no mango. Sea Cucumber with Chives is colorful, the contents plentiful, but it is chewy.

Rock Cod Braised with Deep Fried Bean Curd and Vegetables is the best dish among many. Our party finds the fish lightly battered, gently fried, and phenomenal. Its tofu, scallions, mushrooms, and sliced pork make a heavenly marriage with the cod. Stewed Oxtail in Red Wine Sauce tastes French and oceans away from Chinese food. The staff seems far away, too, except when they enjoy each other’s conversation.

One outstanding dining recommendation is a trip to KIRIN at 7900 Westminster Highway at No 3 Road; phone: (604) 303-8833. This four-restaurant chain deserves many awards and has quite a few. We would like to add our kudos to the many who already appreciate the place. We ate at the one we found in the West Centre complex in Richmond. We find the food terrific, tasty, and to be touted. Service matches. They have a devoted staff that we appreciate with their fantastic food and many extra's. For example, every teapot comes with a label circling the knob on the cover. What a clever way to identify the tea within when some at your table prefer another kind of tea and there are two pots to choose from. And, select you must, as Kirin offers many good ones.

There are many 'musts' at Kirin. The most critical is that you make a reservation. This place has been discovered. Their devoted clientele waits and waits and waits to garner table and taste. Another 'must' is to recognize that though the name sounds like a Japanese beer, Kirin is one hundred percent Chinese, named after a dragon-like monster who visited the mother of Confucius in a dream to tell her that a wonderful experience lies ahead. When you go to Kirin, her dream can be your wonderful experience!

Try the Braised Beef Tripe and Tendon, it is superb with sauce superior and savory. Another 'must' is to order at least two of these delightful dishes. Deep-fried Chicken Joint was excellent, too. My husband chews every bone to extract all the taste each one offers. Prawn and Mango Roll, also deep-fried, is loaded with water chestnuts and strips of bamboo. Two of these can be another ‘must.’

Beef and Selected Vegetables arrive with flat rice noodles on Chinese spinach. The beef tastes pleasantly pickled, every bean sprout comes with head and tail removed. It tantalizes. What a terrific marriage of texture and taste. The Chef’s Special Chicken Feet are just that; especially delicious in their luscious lascivious red hot sauce. Steamed Bai Ling Mushroom and Bamboo Pith Rice Roll comes loaded with mushrooms, scallions, and headless and tailless bean sprouts. The beef loin is genuinely juicy, almost another 'must.' Every dish in this dream of a place comes with artfully designed vegetable accompaniments, not overkill only to look at, but items to taste and be treated.

Kirin opened in downtown Vancouver back in 1987. Since then, it has newer places in Cambie, Richmond and Coquitlam. We hope they will open another restaurant soon so that no one needs to wait long for the opportunity to taste their food. We also hope they call us when they do, that is a 'must' or us to come a-running.

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