Everything Cafe – Vancouver, BC


Everything Cafe
75 East Pender Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-3115

Strolling around in Chinatown is an interesting activity.  I see many tourists doing it, with cameras slung from their necks, taking in all this part of Vancouver has to offer.  Not only visually but also the many places to eat.  After all, Chinese culture has a long culinary history and has pervaded its way into North American dining, and has a wide spread familiarity, albeit perhaps not always along the true lines of authentic and regional cuisine that the country has to offer and is yet under-explored by many.  I’d say stick around here on foodosophy, as one of our keen writers GastronomyDomine (aka fmed) is a knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this genre and has posted more than a few reports on places  you should try out.  And hopefully more to come.  (nudge, dudge, wink, wink)

Amid a mainly Asian collection of shops, eateries and other stores, you can find the slow spread of other kinds of places that are merging into this neighborhood.  You can notice is especially if you walk from Gastown towards the heart of Chinatown.  Now whether this is a good or bad thing, it surely is up for debate depending on your stance.  I applaud though from a business perspective to give new things a shot, and inject old areas with new life and different choices.  At least for me, coming across these on random strolls makes things interesting.  Enough so to entice me to stop and go inside.  The Everything Cafe was once such place.

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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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Gain Wah – Vancouver, BC


Gain Wah
218 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 684-1740

Do you ever have one of those weeks? A week that makes you want to just curl up into a fetal position for a while? What is your escape from such a week? Come Friday evening, some people may choose to drink – maybe a glass or two of scotch, some beer, perhaps. Not me. I go seek my comfort food at my usual spot: Chinese Roast Pork (sui yuk) and Won Ton soup at Gain Wah in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Gain Wah has been around forever. I don’t exactly know when the first time I ever ate here (that’s all part of my primordial memories now), but I have been coming here regularly for perhaps decades. I don’t come so often anymore, mainly because I don’t work so close nowadays. Whenever I walk in, the servers always smile and say “the usual?” It’s actually almost embarrassing. But why change? I have eaten most of the other dishes on the menu…but usually have those when I dine with others. When I am dining alone, it’s always “A Dish of Roast Pork on Rice and a Bowl of Wonton Soup please…”

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Phnom Penh – Vancouver, BC


Phnom Penh Restaurant
244 E Georgia St.
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604 682-5777

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon

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One restaurant that has never failed me is Phnom Penh – the Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown. I have yet to have a bad meal there…which is remarkable for such a busy place. I can always count on the cooks there to serve me food with big, bold yet balanced and nuanced flavours. I’m not one to hyperbolize about dining experiences, but I must say that I have taken many friends, colleagues, out-of-towners to this place and they have all invariably declared the meal as one of the best they have had. One particular food-loving colleague from Los Angeles  emails me regularly to tell me that he craves a couple of their signature dishes and is constantly looking for excuses to fly up to Vancouver.

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The restaurant describes itself as Cambodian-Vietnamese – two cuisines which will have much in common given the geographic proximity of the two countries. (The food from Laos and parts of Thailand are similar as well). The Khmer (Cambodian) and Vietnamese names of many dishes are often phonetically identical.

Much of the cuisine in this region all have certain elements in common – the use of souring ingredients (such as  tamarind, citrus); the use of strongly scented green herbs (cilantro, asian basils, lemongrass, kaffir, and so forth); fresh or pickled (instead of dried) pepper; the use of fermented fish sauces and pastes (nuoc nam, kapi); and the use of curry spices (turmeric, star anise, galangal, and so forth).

Also common to the cuisines is the general presentational philosophy of “fresh” balanced with “savory”. Pho, as an example, will always be presented to the diner with a plateful of herbs and greens as a counterpoint the savoriness of the broth. To indulge the diner further – a wedge of lime of almost always provided to allow for adjustment the sour note. This philosophy lends an appealing “brightness” to the cuisine. Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisine do diverge somewhat – for example, Cambodian cuisine tends to be more pungent with fermented fishy flavours and the use of ripe tamarind paste is more prevalent.

I tend to order from the “Cambodian” section of the menu with forays into the “Vietnamese” section for a couple of particular favorite dishes. The selection of dishes between the two sections of the menu are similar but distinct enough to highlight the unique aspects of each cuisine.

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My favorite dishes at Phnom Penh are their rightly famous garlic Chicken Wings (which comes with an lime juice and pepper dipping sauce), their Banh Xeo (their Vietnamese rice flour crepe filled with pork and sprouts), Black Pepper Squid (a wok-fried, tender and peppery concoction), Butter Beef (a superb dish of sliced rare beef with a good drizzle of a soy and nuoc nam based sauce), and their fried Frogs Legs (I didn’t have it today).
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I did find a new favorite on this visit: The Loc Lac which is the Khmer version of the Vietnamese dish Bo Luc Lac – more commonly known as “Shaking Beef” (due to the preparation method and not the on-plate antics of the beef slices).

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The meal was excellent yet again. The service was perfunctory yet prompt and efficient…which is all I really want in a place like this. Be forewarned about the long lunch hour lineups. It is a very popular place.

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon

Gee Gong Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Gee Gong Restaurant
206 Centre Street SE
Calgary, AB T2G 2B6
(403) 264-1533

Normally I love hole in the wall kinds of places. Small, low prices, occasionally dirty places, with an authentic vibe and a hodge podge of interesting characters for clientele. Something about them just feels…real. But rather than get caught up in the idea of the hole in the wall, it’s important to judge them based on the food.

I have some friends who love these kinds of places – and have been visiting the same ones for years. They like the way they are treated, they like how the establishment knows their order, and they like how comfortable things have become. However, when they brought me to their favorite hole, what mattered most to me was the food, and it was terrible. I couldn’t taste the kind treatment and the years of emotional investment, but what i could taste wasn’t for me. Gee Gong reminds me of one of these places.

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Gee Gong serves Cantonese cuisine, and has been located in Chinatown in downtown Calgary for a very long time now. Well regarded by many foodies as a classic hole in the wall choice for Chinese cuisine, it has many of the hallmarks of one. Small, slightly dirty location, with fairly inexpensive prices. At any given point, it could be empty, or full, with people enjoying the things they are best known for – Hot and Sour Soup, BBQ, noodles, and hotpot. Touting itself as “Authentic Chinese Cuisine”, i’ve never found that slogan to be all that inspiring.

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With respect to the food, I’ve never had the hot and sour soup, so I can’t comment on that. The hotpot and noodles are both reasonable, but there is nothing special nor remarkable about them. The noodles are a bit greasy, and the hotpots fairly sparse, but they are certainly edible, and for the price (which has gone up in the past couple years), are quite reasonable.

When discussing Gee Gong, most people talk about one thing and one thing only – the BBQ. Like most Chinese BBQ, they offer the standards of roast duck, roasted pork, bbq pork, sausage, and chicken. A lot of BBQ really comes down to personal flavour preference, but all Chinese BBQ should be the same. Moist, flavourful, and well balanced – salty and sweet, crisp and soft.

The BBQ at Gee Gong does not suit my preferences. A little bit dry from over-exposure to heatlamps, it is nonetheless flavourful, yet quite greasy. My biggest issue is the bbq flavour –  overly sweet and sticky, it lacks the depth of flavour and balance i prefer in my BBQ. There are better choices for BBQ both in Chinatown, and outside of it.

Overall, I know it seems odd, but I don’t have too much criticism for Gee Gong. The food is edible, and reasonably priced. It certainly is nothing special, but i wouldn’t complain if i had to eat here either. My issue is, as a hole in the wall, with no decor, and no real redeeming qualities other than the food, the food falls flat. It is bland, uninteresting, and I expect better. After all, when you’re not there for the service, or the decor, you better do a darn good job with the food. And they don’t.

Gee Gong on Urbanspoon

Delicious Country – Calgary, AB


Delicious Country
1325 1 Street SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 514-0555

Sometimes in life, you’re faced with the prospect of a long night with your can of Chunky Soup, or wandering out into the city and dining alone. Shokutsu is a big proponent of dining alone. I am a bit less enthused about it, but do so anyway – that can of Chunky can live to see another day.

On a weekday, when it’s late, there are generally very few options for food. With the exception of many of the diners in town (Denny’s, Blackfoot Diner, etc..), your general choices are Chinese, Chinese, and Chinese. The higest concentration of these restaurants is Chinatown. And lately, there has been a lot of turnover in several locations.

Delicious Country is in a location that used to be any number of iterations of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. A location that has consistently failed,  their focus on Chinese (by way of Fujian Province) has the potential to generate a lot of business. Good Chinese restaurants are not generally lacking for business.

Inside, the decor itself has been cleaned up a lot. A very simple black and white decor, with condiments on the table, and some jade and sculptured pieces on the walls, they’ve done a great job of cleaning up what used to be a tacky, questionably clean location.

The menu is Chinese Heinz – 57 flavours with a variety of types of food ranging from Cantonese, Sichuan, Peking, Shanghai. There’s generally something for everyone on the menu, including one of my favorite comfort foods Mapo Tofu. Mapo Tofu is a popular Sichuan dish that combines meat, tofu, wok-fried in a spicy bean sauce. Chen Kenichi, from the original Iron Chef, has this as his signature Sichuan dish. On a cold day, nothing is more comforting and warming than Mapo Tofu. While the spice is often tamed down here in North America, it typically has a strong heat, with a big kick from all the Sichuang peppercorns.

Delicious Country does a very interesting rendition of Mapo Tofu. First off, it is a HUGE portion. This is definitely a meal for two. They use fresh tofu, which is a bit of a departure from the standard packaged tofu. The meat is well fried, and the spice – a small notch above your typical level of heat. Lots of chili oil, which is a bit different. This is slightly radioactive. I’m used to a bit more corn starch. But it’s tasty. Rice is ordered separately, making for one heck of a meal for one.

Dining alone is generally an accepted thing at most Asian restaurants. You won’t be asked if someone is joining you, and you don’t be stared at and treated like a second class citizen sitting at a table for 2. So the next time you’re craving some food, save that can of Chunky, and head down to Chinatown. If you happen across Delicious Country, give the tofu a try. It’s “Delicious”.

Delicious Country on Urbanspoon