Random Chinatown Chowing (June 2010) – Edmonton, AB

Its been said many times, but there is something special about the big blue skies of summer in Alberta.  On a recent visit to Edmonton, I had the pleasure of driving around a bit, seeing some rural and urban landscapes that reminded me of how great the scenery can be where there isn’t that abundance of grey clouds and gloomy rainy weather that dominates the west coast in June.  I guess that has something to do with the large quantities of great produce and livestock product that comes out of this oil-rich province.  Good eats under sunny skies, what could be better!

During my stay, I made a completely random jaunt to 97th street just north of the downtown core of Edmonton that resulted in a trio of stops all within the span of about an hour!  While the Alberta capital’s Chinatown isn’t as pronounced nor expansive of say Vancouver’s version, it does have some of the same classical appeal and is worth checking out.  Alas, this early Saturday morning resulted in stopovers at least than traditional Chinese places for the most part, but hope you can follow the story…

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Smoqe BBQ – Aptos, CA

Smoqe BBQ
10110 Soquel Dr
Aptos, CA 95003
(831) 662-2227

Sometimes, things are tougher than they seem.

At least, I figure it must be this way, since there are many things that should be pretty easy, and yet, are usually poorly executed. Hamburgers are a perfect example. It doesn’t take much to make a good hamburger. Some nice meat, decent bun, nice fresh condiments and cheese. Yet, so many places fail. It must be more complex than I make it out to be. I feel the same way about BBQ.

In the tiny village of Aptos, just outside Santa Cruz, CA, there already exists a BBQ shop, Aptos BBQ, that serves up good ol fashioned smoked BBQ. Yet, in an embarrassment of riches, on December 9, 2009, a second BBQ shop opened up. Smoqe BBQ.

The Smoqe BBQ philosophy is simple – cooked on 100% wood, dry rubbed and slow smoked for hours. Sounds simply perfect. They pride themselves on their pizza as well – time consuming dough, all organic ingredients, wood fired oven. They’ve taken some very simple dishes, and put in the time and effort to make them as perfect as possible.

When you first walk in, the order counter sits at the front. A fairly simple, yet extensive menu is available. Some fantastic selection of beers on tap, including Leffe, Black Butte Porter, and one of my favorite IPA’s ever, Racer 5 from Bear Republic. You order from the gentleman at the front, who may or may not greet you, grab a number, and take a seat.

In terms of the interior, everything is clean and minimalistic. There is quite a bit of distance between tables – which is usually nice for privacy, but definitely kills a bit of the atmosphere.

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BBQ Express Ltd. – Calgary, AB

BBQ Express
1403 Centre Street NW
Calgary, Alberta T2E 2R8
Open Wednesday-Mondays, 10am-7pm. Closed Tuesdays.

There are often sensitivities when it comes culture issues – and Chinese BBQ is no exception. With a contentious battle between T&T Supermarket and the CRHA over the proper storage temperature of BBQ meat, the entire culture of BBQ meat is being called into question in Calgary. The health authorities say keeping meat at lower than optimal temperatures contradicts food and safety guidelines, because of potential bacteria regrowth. Culturally, BBQ meat has always been stored at room temperature, or below the guideline of 140oF temperature. It tastes better that way. Bacteria!? Oh the horror!

Anyway BBQ in Calgary is available in many locations – but most familiar to me is BBQ Express. BBQ Express actually has a couple of locations – with another branch in Edmonton, but I do not consider them a chain. Family owned and run, they’re a Vietnamese family that has been serving up takeout-only BBQ for years.

Like most BBQ places, they serve the standard assortment of meat. BBQ pork, chicken, roast pork,duck, chinese sausage. There are also lots of other odds and ends that they sell – pig ears, feet, cartilage, etc. No piece of the animal goes wasted. However, while they mostly have a thriving business in selling lbs of meat, they also offer one of the best lunch specials available. The BBQ Express Lunch Box. For $6 (a much better deal when it was $4.50 just 18 months ago), you get a styrofoam box of rice, and your choice of two meats and sauce. It’s an extra 50 cents for BBQ duck. My typical order is BBQ pork, roast pork, and chicken. I add an extra meat for a couple bucks.

What is there to say. The BBQ is fresh. Comes out throughout the day. Their BBQ Pork has both fatty, and lean cuts. I prefer the fatty. It is a touch sweet, but tender, and moist. Much better than Gee Gong or Happy Valley, but not the best I have had in the city. The chicken is decent – but everywhere can do a decent chicken. The big difference maker? The roast pork. It needs to be tender, and succulent. With a super crispy skin, with great crunch and a well seasoned rind. It is. This is the meat i like best at BBQ Express.

Look, my thoughts are Chinese BBQ is darn good. As Almattone said, eating requires various levels of intestinal fortitude. And really, I have never gotten sick eating Chinese BBQ. Forget the meat storage controversy – Asians have been eating this way for thousands of years. Back when some of our ancestors hadn’t even discovered fire. I figure they probably know a few things we don’t. However, i am sure we can all agree – it is inexpensive and tasty stuff! And who doesn’t like that?

BBQ Express on Urbanspoon