Congee Noodle House – Vancouver, BC
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Congee Noodle House
141 East Broadway
This well known “Chinese greasy spoon” on East Broadway just off the connection to Main Street, was recommended to me by some locals a while back and this report is based on my second visit. Despite the word order of the restaurant’s name, I’ve tended to go with noodle options rather than the popular congee offerings – mainly because I just associate congee as something that I eat when I am very ill, not in the mood for chewing food and want something that’s very easy on the stomach.
It’s not that I think the congee here is poor or anything, on my first visit I did sample some from my dining companion’s bowl and thought it tasted okay. But, I guess congee is just something that does not excite me, what with it being in its simplest form, just really overcooked rice that has turned to a gooey slop. Even on past trips to places like Hong Kong where I saw many places serving this dish, I would pass, despite strong suggestions from native friends to give it a try.
With me, breakfast porridge is the same deal, I won’t go out of my way to have it, and just look at it like “why should I have to eat that stuff?!?!”. The Congee Noodle House is a place you might just drive by if you aren’t aware as there is a bus stop in front and usually causing a screen. It has a small parking space in the back, very important in this part of town when street parking is limited. They even have a security camera trained on the lot that you can see on a TV screen once inside the restaurant – that had to be a first for me, being able to see my car (not through a window) while I ate. The inside is spartan with several tables of various sizes spread about. Entering from the backside where the car lot is, brings you right by a part of the kitchen area enclosed by see-through partitions, and where servers come to pick up their food.
Don’t expect the best level of service, as clearly the waitresses are trained to get you in and out as soon as possible, especially when the place is busy – which is quite often depending on the time of day/night you arrive. Knowing the prices are very reasonable generally makes me accept the abruptness of service – like getting asked to give my order before I’ve even sat down, and having to wait a long time to get some tea after managing to flag another female server down.
The meal on this day split between three of us consisted of a trio of dishes. I’d enjoyed some barbequed duck on my first visit, so we chose a marinated duck version this time that was served in a bowl of rice. I kind of wish the kitchen would have drizzled some more sauce on top, as the dry rice was quite abundant vis-à-vis the duck and could have used some more taste being soaked in once you got towards the middle of the bowl. The skin was nice and crispy, just the way I like it, and the meat juicy, tender and flavorful.
The second dish that came to our table was a simple beef brisket and veggies on rice creation. No skimping on the volume here, as the chunks of beef were plentiful, though I could tell by finishing a third of this plate, I was getting tired of the taste. It was kind of bland, just all about beef and not exciting at all. Just filling, which I suppose is the point of a rich dish like this. I wouldn’t order this dish again, given the opportunity for a mulligan.
The pan-fried seafood noodles came last. Again, nothing to write home about, just good and simple hunger-satisfying food. As with the beef brisket dish, the bok choy appeared again, along with Chinese mushrooms, some squid and scallops. Was getting hints of MSG in this dish despite claims by the menu saying there was none of that used in this place. Never believe what you read I guess. I could see many other dishes were being ordered and taken to tables around us, many bowls of congee as well as things I didn’t even recognize. Some plates of deep fried chicken seemed to be a popular choice as well by the Chinese customers who greatly outnumbered the non-Chinese. It seems that always happens to be in well known Chinese restaurants, I know there are really good things on the menu but I have no clue what they are and most likely they are the ones written only in Chinese characters on the menu, if they even are on the menu.
To sum, the Congee Noodle House is good for what it is, and once you try it you know what to expect. No frills, straight up food offerings, with the need to fight for a parking spot as well as attention from servers. So will I give the congee a try in the future? Perhaps. But I’ll probably have to be in a sick, weary state and uable to physically keep anything down, to find that urge. I guess some things never change…