5225 Victoria Dr
As far as Food Trends go, Pork is an odd duck. After many years (even decades) of virtual banishment from many restaurant menus, this “other white meat” has surged with a vengeance. Pork Belly Anything, Pulled Pork on Anything, and Bacon Anything is all the rage in restaurants from casual breakfast joints, all the way to fine dining establishments. It is getting quite tiresome to be honest. The Chinese diner, insulated and bemused by these strange Western trends, have never shied away from this beautiful meat. Kalvin’s – a relatively unsung Chinese restaurant on the East Side of Vancouver serves two of the finest examples of Pork dishes in town.
Kalvin’s Szechuan, is a Taiwanese-run restaurant that specializes in Sichuan cuisine by way of Taiwan. Taiwan became an incubator for Sichuan-Taiwanese cuisine when the civil war forced the defeated Chinese nationalists to retreat to the island of Taiwan and declare the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a sole governing authority over all of China. The connection to Sichuan (and thus its cuisine) is a primarily symbolic and spiritual one as Sichuan province was the last stronghold of the Republican forces and the last to fall to the Communist troops. Chongqing (in Sichuan province) was also the home base of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Republic for many years. The two dishes examined here, however, are not Sichuan in nature – they both probably originate from other parts of China. We will have a look at the Sichuan inspired dishes here in a later post.
Kalvin’s deep fried pork in red fermented bean paste is perhaps their most well-known dish. You will find many references to this dish in much online food commentary about this restaurant. Indeed it is a wonderful dish. Slices of pork shoulder are first marinated in a mixture of red fermented bean curd (tinted by the addition of red rice) and the lees – a byproduct of rice wine production. The result is then battered and deepfried. The meat is tender and the batter is crispy. The lees imparts a slightly wine-y/beer-y flavour to the dish. Overall effect is subtle and not at all salty (which surprises many since the fermented bean curd is quite a salty condiment).
I have ordered the red fermented pork dish numerous times over the last number of years here at Kalvin’s. In fact, I usually dine alone or with one other friend here and the pork dish is a standing order. However, in a recent dinner with a large group, I was able to explore more of their banquet sized dishes. One dish in particular is their braised pork hock. Food historians have traced its origins back to a small shop in Beijing nearly 300 years ago.
Kalvin’s braised pork hock is a thing of beauty. Despite the near one-inch thick layer of skin and fat, the hock is not at all greasy – a sign of a well executed braise. It is so soft and tender that can cut right through it with a spoon. The braising liquid is a common mixture used for Chinese “red cooking” whose main components are soya, ricewine, sesame oil and five-spice. A word 0f warning: you must pre-order this dish.