The Fabled 4-Day Chinese Food Orgy in Richmond and Vancouver, British Columbia

Just spent a long weekend in the Greater Vancouver area indulging in some of the great Chinese y’all have to offer. It was pretty overwhelming, and we could have used an extra week…just to skim the surface. There is just way to much to explore, and 4 days are just not enough.

My old high school bud Jim Scheppke was driving his son Daniel back to his third year at the University of British Columbia and invited me to go along for the ride…and for the food. I was not sure I wanted to invest the long drive for only a few days of eating, but finally said I would join in on the fun. So on a Wednesday afternoon, we all piled in to Jim’s loaded-down-with-college-kid-supplies Honda Fit (not a very large car) and off we went. We spent the night in Seattle (actually Des Moines) at Jim’s mother’s house…I’ve known these folks since I was 15, and I always considered Dorothy to be about the best of my friends’ moms, and she’s still very spry, and very, very involved in Democratic politics.

Early on Thursday, we were off for Vancouver, Jim drove, I played DJ and Daniel slept and listened to his iPod in the backseat. As soon as we arrived, we started eating, and we didn’t stop until Sunday afternoon with one quick dip into the lamb kebabs of the Xi’an Cuisine food stall of the Richmond Public Market. By then, I was ready to avoid Chinese food for a long time! Yeah, we had burgers in the other Vancouver, just north of Portland, Sunday night. Nice change of pace.

So, what did we eat? Won’t get into deep details on any particular meals, but here are some highlights. We hit, among others, the following: Richmond Public Market (Xi’an Cuisine, Xin Jiang Delicious Food), Crystal Mall (Northern Meixi Fast Food, Wang’s Shanghai Cuisine and Want Want Hot & Spicy House), Nine Dishes, Bushuair (Hunan) “O’Tray Noodles, Chuan Xiang Ge (Sichuan).

We agreed that the best overall meal was the mostly Hunan stuff we had at Bushuair Restaurant, though negotiating that weird menu is truly a challenge for those who do not speak or read Chinese. But we did ok and really enjoyed the smoked pork belly dish, some great pickled long beans with pork, the Mao’s Favorite braised pork belly and a great rendition of the Sichuan chicken dish variously called ChongQing or 1000-chile Chicken. The prickly ash/sichuan peppercorns they used were the most pungent numbing examples I’ve ever had (and the next night, we had the same peppercorns at Nine Dishes…they are covered with little white spots, unlike any I’ve seen before…anyone have any idea where to get those? If at Nine Dishes sent us to Rice World, but I don’t think we found those specific buds…though they were included in an impulse-buy bag of spicy peanuts, obviously from Sichuan, I picked up at the cash register…help!!!).

Had the Jian Bing at O’Tray Noodles, President Plaza, and that was nice, but actually, one of the highlights of the whole trip was the bowl of “tofu pudding” I got to fill out my breakfast menu. It was savory, deeply flavored, complex and just plain yummy. Not totally sure what was in it, but chile oil and sesame oil or paste seemed to be part of the mix. So simple, yet so complex! Get this!!!

Xi’an Cuisine was nice, but, honestly, and I can say this generally speaking about most of what we had on this trip, that there were few WOW!!! moments of transcendent food. In NYC/Flushing, I have many of these “Holy Crap! I want more of that” sort of experiences…the now famous Xi’an place in Flushing is a good example: his cold noodle dish is far more interesting, more flavorful, more satisfying to the palate, and he includes some house-made gluten cubes in the mix. And his lamb and pork burgers are better than any we had on this trip, except maybe the lamb version at Want Want Hot & Spicy House at the Crystal Mall…those were superb, the bread was absolutely fresh, the lamb perfectly cooked and seasoned. The Sichuan stalls and restaurants in Flushing (NY) seem to offer more vibrant flavors and renditions of all the stuff sampled on this pig-out. These are just my opinions and I don’t want to imply that the food in Vancouver was not amazing…it was. And the variety is astonishing. Just not enough wow-factor to my tastebuds.

Nine Dishes was a great experience. The food is ok, but it was fun just soaking up the scene there, and the charisma of the Big Boss Man, Mr. If. Very cool. the Sichuan sausage was fantastic, the water boiled fish was good, but was lacking any broth (water) and seemed to be 99% oil in which the fish and chiles were floating…still good though! And you can’t beat his $2 beers!

I would like to go back to Chuan Xiang Ge and sample more of their menu, the food was very good, but 3-4 dishes are not enough to get the total picture. Would also like to try other Sichuan-centric restaurants since that cuisine appeals to me, a displaced Texan, the most. The cold chicken with chile garlic sauce appetizer was my personal favorite here.

Went to several markets and grocery stores: Rice World, T&T, Big Crazy and an Indian place somewhere in east Richmond….all yielded some great finds. Vancouver folks are lucky to have such wonderful places to shop nearby. In Portland, Oregon where I currently reside, most markets are owned by SE Asians, and the selections are light on hard-core Chinese, especially Sichuan, ingredients. I now need more of those peanuts, so will have to drive back up just to get those!

I’m including a link to a little video tribute I shot during the trip. For the best resolution, change the 360p setting on the progress bar to 480p….

I’d like to thank my online Vancouver food gurus for their great tips, reviews and comments: Dylan, fmed and Ben (and his ChowTimes site); they lead us to all of these great places. Can’t imagine covering so much ground without their guidance….how did we do this in pre-Internet days???

Vancouver, I’ll be back soon! Save some food for me!

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