Golden Spring Restaurant
4200 No. 3 Rd
Sichuan food is a bit of an obsession for me. My introduction to this cuisine was not in China, but here in Vancouver at a popular restaurant on the East Side called Szechuan Chongqing many years ago. The first time my parents took us to this restaurant’s original location, I instantly fell in love with the robust flavours and the fierce heat of the food they served. Over the years, this place became a regular spot for our family. We would meet there at least once a month when we were attending university.
It was not until much later when I came to realize that the food I had been enjoying at Szechuan Chongqing bore only a passing resemblance to the cuisine of Sichuan Province in China. What we have been eating was Sichuan food that evolved in a parallel universe far from its roots. It is a hybrid of the common “Chinese-Canadian” cuisine with some sort of distant interpretation of Sichuan cuisine. The “Szechuan” dishes that we are most familiar (for example, Orange Peel Beef, Ginger Beef, etc) are very different or is non-existent back in China.
For many years, the real deal was hard to come by in the Vancouver area where the Chinese food was dominated by Cantonese – and to a much lesser extent – Shanghainese cuisine. Trudeau-era immigration policies and Expo 86 were largely responsible for this predominance. This second-wave influx of Chinese immigrants (mainly from Hong Kong) elevated the level of Chinese-Cantonese cuisine here. This area has been long famous for having some of the best Cantonese-Chinese food in North America (and some say the world).
As Chinese immigration patterns changed over the last decade, the prospects for Chinese cuisine from other parts of China improved. In Richmond BC, Vancouver’s Chinese ethno-burb, the changes became slowly apparent. More and more, you started to hear Mandarin and other Chinese dialects being spoken by restaurant staff (instead of the ubiquitous Cantonese). Nowadays this area is blessed with some of the best Regional Chinese food anywhere.
Golden Spring Restaurant in in the epicenter of one of the best areas to eat in the Lower Mainland – just off the soon to be completed Aberdeen Centre Skytrain Station. I have dined here a number of times now, and I still have barely touched the surface of its extensive and uncompromisingly Sichuan menu. Its menu has many of the Sichuan region’s favourite dishes and a number of unusual sounding dishes that use ingredients unfamiliar to me.
Today, I ordered fairly conservatively as I was feeling considerate for my rather unadventurous dining companion. We had the Tofu and Century Egg appetizer which not necessarily a Sichuan dish, but I thought it would act as a nice mild counterpart for the more spicy dishes up ahead. It was drizzled with a pleasant, subtly-sweet sesame-oil and chili-oil dressing.
Century Egg is one of my favourite ingredients (I have it often with congee) so I thought I’d post a gratuitous macro closeup here.
The Water Convulvus stir fry was simply prepared with dried Sichuan chilies. It was not as spicy as I have had it in the past (dried chili is notoriously unpredictable that way).
The Twice-Cooked Pork is a dish I often order at Sichuan restaurants. The Twice-Cooking technique involves slow poaching of pork belly or ribs in a flavoured broth. The resultant poached meat is sliced thinly and then wok fried with vegetables and aromatics — fermented Broad Bean Paste, Chile, and Sichuan peppercorn. This was a very good rendition which included Chinese Leek and firm Tofu.
I had ordered a Smoked Pork with Garlic Shoots, but we were presented with Slivered Pork with Garlic Shoots instead. No worries, it was good, but I was really looking forward to the other dish. I will make sure to point to the right item on the menu next time. This was not the first time I had experienced a miscommunication due to the language barrier here.
Finally, Dan Dan Mian (or “Tan Tan Noodles”). The menu listed two types for Dan Dan Mian…one is labeled “Authentic Dan Dan Mian.” Once again, I believe there was a misunderstanding. The last time I was here, I recall that their “Authentic” version is dressed in a “proper” Chili-oil and Sichuan peppercorn-based dressing. This one uses dark sesame paste in its sauce with peanuts and the requisite ground Sichuan peppercorn (an elemental ingredient in Sichuan cuisine.)
This particular rendition is a common preparation in Sichuan Province (in Chengdu in particular). It is not the most common preparation type of Dan Dan (the version with the Chili-oil dressing is the most common). It was good, so I’m not really complaining.
Despite the recurring language-based service issues I experience on this day (and on previous visits), I will continue to patronize this restaurant. The food is good and authentic and its menu still still an unexplored frontier to me. This place seems to fly under the radar for some reason….but if you are ever in Richmond and you like Sichuan cuisine, give this place a shot.