Bobby Chao’s Chinese Cuisine and Dim Sum
#18 – 34 Edgedale Drive NW
When you look at Chinese cuisine, I find it to be an interesting study in regionalism. While we often lump “Chinese” food together into one category, I can think of no other culture that has such a clear differentiation in ingredients, styles, and techniques between regions. Whether it’s four, eight, or ten defined regional styles (with thousands of provincial distinctions), the differences between regions can be as pronounced as the difference between most countries.
I think I sometimes forget just how big China really is – and that regional differences, climate, and local ingredients are bound to strongly impact how a cuisine develops. In fact, based on how old Chinese culture is, are we looking at the future of other large countries – say for example the US, and what lies in store thousands of years in the future? Very strong, independent culinary identity based on geography?
In Calgary, the lines between regions in Chinese cuisine are blurred- mostly because there aren’t a lot of restaurants that present “pure” cuisine. In fact, i’d argue that there are none, but the most predominant cuisine is almost always Cantonese. Not a huge surprise based on the makeup of the Chinese immigrants in Calgary itself.
While most Chinese restaurants are concentrated in a small area between 4th Ave and 16th Ave N, in the deep Northwest there are small enclaves of high quality Chinese restaurants. One of my favorites, Edgemont Palace, was a standard for years before a variety of unfortunate incidents removed it from the consideration. Bobby Chao’s is another of those establishments.
Located in a small strip mall just off of John Laurie Blvd, it would be easy to mistake Bobby Chao’s for another “Americanized” Chinese food take out place. From the exterior, there isn’t much that differentiates it. The only clue might be the overwhelming number of Honda’s, Toyota’s, Subaru’s, and Nissan’s in the parking lot.
Bobby Chao’s is primarily Cantonese cuisine – though the Cantonese trained chef integrates some other regional cuisines to present a diversified menu. Cantonese cuisine is characterized by light, subtle use of flavours, sauces and seasoning with a wide diversity of fresh ingredients. It is not my favorite regional cuisine, but I do love the seafood and dim sum. My most recent visit was for a friend’s birthday – we were craving Peking Duck (not a Cantonese dish), but it is the best, most consistent place in Calgary to get it.
The interior is pretty much as sparse as the exterior. Simple, clean interior with comfortable chairs. Seating is fairly limited as far as Chinese restaurants go, and they are almost always busy.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t explored a lot of the menu at Bobby Chao’s. Mostly because, for me, there is a dish that has to be ordered every time – Peking Duck. My ideal version of Peking Duck involves crispy skin with a nice layer of fat underneath that hasn’t been completely rendered by overcooking, and juicy, succulent meat. Bobby Chao’s gets it right everytime.
Sometimes I feel guilty loading this amazing duck into a pancake with hoisin, and spring onion, but that guilt doesn’t last long as I demolish every bite.
What kind of Chinese celebration would it be without seafood! We order the lotus leaf lobster rice – a whole lobster steamed with sticky rice, stock, scallions, and lotus leaf in a large bamboo steamer. The creamy texture of the rice reminds of risotto – and the lobster is sweet and perfectly cooked.
Another dish I will always order at pretty much any Chinese restaurant are sauteed pea shoots. There are actually two kinds of pea shoots served at Chinese restaurants – big, and small. I prefer the large pea shoots – they taste better. The Bobby Chao version is excellent – light and not too oily, with a nice crispy bite and loaded with sauteed garlic taste.
Overall, I am a big fan of Bobby Chao’s. They serve high quality food, with a level of consistency that is unmatched in Calgary. This consistency likely comes from the fact that Bobby is always in the kitchen – something that ensures that the food goes out as close to the same as possible each and every time. Price wise, they cost a small margin more than many of the more centrally located Chinese restaurants, but the quality and consistency are worth the price. While Bobby Chao’s isn’t pure Cantonese, it is pure goodness.