X.O. Vietnamese Style Food – Richmond, BC


X.O. Vietnamese Style Food
Yaohan Centre, 3700 #3 Road
Richmond, BC
(604) 231-9878

The food court in the Yaohan Centre is probably the first time I’ve ever experienced an Asian mall food court in the GVRD, thinking back on it now it probably goes back a good decade or so.  While my memories are somewhat faint, I recall the supermarket there (before the arrival of the T&T’s of the world), as the only place that had those distinctly Asian food products and ingredients all under one roof.  Strangely, I can also remember once upon a time, there being a ramen place in this exact food court and having it there are a youth.

Its pleasing to know this place is still around and seemingly prospering. I usually stick to one side of this area where the fast food chinese stalls are, and the noodle place on the corner.  And thus this time, I thought I’d venture to the opposite end and see if there was anything of interest.  After doing a walk-by of all the spots, passing on some barbecued duck, noodles, etc. the hot pans of simmering curry dishes at X.O. Vietnamese Style Food caught my eye.  Kind of an unusual combination I thought.  Though they did have the typical Vietnamese soup noodle item that I have way too much of these days.

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Island Freeze – Honolulu, HI


Island Freeze
International Market Place
2330 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii
Tel: (808) 971-2080
Open Daily 10:00am-10:30pm

Smack dab in the middle of the tourist and hotel district of Waikiki, is an outdoor shopping centre called the International Market Place that has its own little food court area.

It is a reprieve price-wise, from all of the other eateries and restaurants that market to out-of-towners milling around on the nearby streets.  This eating area is no different in setup from any standard food court you find in a North American mall – only that the food tenants are all mom-and-pop and represent a wide variety of cultures.  Surprisingly, no commercialized McDonald’s or Starbucks inside.  Just rattling a few off from memory, I recall seeing food offerings that were Chinese, Korean, Greek, Mexican, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Hawaiian, and a few others.

As reported earlier, I was already in the area and wanted something cool and refreshing as the summer heat was still bearing down hard and I needed to rehydrate some more after my quick meal at Ono. The photo above was taken after the sun went down, facing the main entrance of the International Market Place.

Now I’d heard of Hawaiian-style Shave Ice before coming to the islands (and got some recommendations from my Honolulu-based friends of some of the best ones to try during my stay – look for future posts), and I headed straight to the Island Freeze.  I wanted to get a quick introduction to the various types and flavours that are part of this ice cold treat.

Here is a bare bones shave ice, undecorated by any other ingredients aside from some liquid flavourings.  Island Freeze allows you to choose up to three flavours to add, and I went with strawberry, lychee and pineapple.  As you can see, it came served in this flower-shaped, light plastic cup container, with a spoon and straw to help you eat it.

Now I realize its just ice, but the texture of it was different from say a 7-11 Slurpee or if you were to slash off fine layers of ice with a sharp blade.  Its neither too flaky so the flavourings aren’t absorbed, or too soft such as in a Slurpee where the liquid dominates.  I think its a combination of the way its shaved and the temperature of the ice that keeps it just so.  The trio of tastes made eating this interesting, as you could just shuffle the cup around to another section and scoop up a new flavour sensation.

All in all, a very refreshing treat!

Island Freeze on Urbanspoon

Wah Yuen Noodle House – Richmond, BC


Wah Yuen Noodle House
1035-3700 No. 3 Road
Richmond, BC
(604) 231 9080‎

The Pre-Game. That’s what I like to call my personal process in preparing my appetite for an upcoming trip abroad. It usually involves some reading (books, magazines, internet), some tinkering with my camera equipment (cleaning, lens maintenance/acquisition), browsing of grocery stores catering to natives of those lands here in Canada, and most importantly, local sampling of some cuisine I can expect to see on my travels. For my latest 18-day journey in Asia, I knew I was in for a large quantity of Chinese food, being that each country I would be visiting has a large community. Unfortunately, with my busy schedule before I boarded my departing flight, this edition of my Pre-Game was quite limited in the eating component. Sadly so, as I could only recall this single outing to Wah Yuen Noodle House, in the week prior to my leaving Canada, and am embarrassed to say it was at a food court.

Located in the Yaohan Center in Richmond, it is one of my earliest experiences with a dominantly-Asian food court in Canada. I fondly recall there being a simple understated Japanese ramen spot here many years ago, but it has since disappeared. There is also a decent bubble tea place that I like getting my fix at. Near the main entrance is Wah Yuen. It stands out for its big bold Chinese lettering in the signage, and the cooking area that is enclosed in glass in one corner of the stall. Offering an assortment of noodle dishes, including wontons, beef balls/tendon/brisket/tripe, etc. Wah Yuen is a popular spot – judging from the constant lineup. They also offer up some congee, so with that, a sampling was done of both.

The Noodles with Beef Brisket came in a smallish Styrofoam bowl, with cheap chopsticks and a limp plastic spoon. The noodles were that skinny but really chewy variety, and the broth was light, perhaps a tad salty but still flavorful with essence of seafood. There were no other toppings, but at this price of about five dollars, I figure I couldn’t be too picky. On its own, it certainly couldn’t fill you up.

I’d heard some good things about the congee here. So a Seafood Congee was selected, more for sampling as truthfully I am not a big congee connoisseur. Hidden under the gooey, soupy rice were some pieces of squid, fish and shrimp. No doubt just some frozen pieces thrown into the pot and cooked. After a few spoonfuls, I must say I still don’t know the appeal of congee, as it just tastes chalky to me and lacks any significant flavor. As I’ve said before, its “sick food” for those days when other things don’t go down and your taste buds are out of commission.

Based on this meal alone, it did make me realize that I could look forward to better offerings abroad.

Wah Yuen Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Margarita’s Dishes (CFM) – Calgary, AB


Margarita’s Dishes @ Calgary Farmers Market
Quesnay Wood Drive Southwest
Calgary, AB
(403) 244-4548

Home cooking. Something about those two simple words evokes a lot of thoughts and feelings. It’s a funny term in the world of food. Simple, unadorned fare made with care and attention. Served in the trappings of a fine dining restaurant, it would be boring, uninspired, and disappointing. But serve it in a rustic kitchen, with a smiling mother in an apron, and you have comfort, soothing, and tasty fare.

Margarita’s Dishes is one of several “food court” options at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, serving what I would classify as home cooking. In their location, you definitely have a rustic kitchen. Instead of a smiling mother in an apron, you have the smiling proprietor, Danny, in an apron. His friendly demeanor, razor sharp memory, and enthusiasm make you feel instantly comfortable. And don’t underestimate it, it’s an important part of the charm.

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Margarita’s Dishes serves Ukrainian and German fare – but really, in Alberta, the food it serves mostly just qualifies as home cooking. Good gut sticking fare like blintzes, pyrohy, cabbage rolls, bratwurst, and stuffed peppers. As the sign clearly states, they sell fresh and frozen products. I’ve only ever had their fresh – preferring to eat whatever they’ve made that day.

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The lineups at Margarita’s are always long, yet, they efficiently deliver food to hundreds of customers each day. A steam table under heat lamps keeps the food warm – i’d obviously prefer these cooked to order, but the turnover is high enough, and the food that is being made doesn’t seem to suffer, it’s a reasonable way to handle the volume. After the steam table is a tray of their popular freshly squeezed juices. These are a nice, cost effective way to get your vitamins. Your mother would approve!

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My go-to order here is a blintz.  These come in sweet and savory versions, but at Margarita’s, it’s generally just the savory. A crepe made with a yeasted/risen batter, stuffed with some precooked filling, and pan fried.

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The best i’ve had there is the spinach and feta. For the price (either $2.50 or $3.00), it is a great deal. A great, soft blin that has been sauteed to crispy, with a warm, gooey, heart-warming filling of cheese and spinach. It is rich, yet not heavy all at the same time. The ladle of sour cream is a nice Ukrainian touch, lending a touch of calm – cool and sour – to a warm and rich bite.

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The bratwurst and sauerkraut is another popular item. Served on a baguette. a warm, juicy bratwurst is generously covered in sauerkraut. Try one of their fridge pickles if they have them – the crunchy sourness goes great with the hot grease of the bratwurst.

Margarita’s Dishes is neither fancy, nor inspired. It is good solid home cooking, and im just fine with that. Their soul-satisfying food really warms a place in the stomach, reminding you of some of the simple foods from days gone by. Before things like molecular gastronomy, locavore, GMO, and other modern day labels and trappings existed, meals like Margarita’s were just food, or Sunday lunch. For me, it’s important to remember these times – because back then, all that mattered when it came right down to it was that you were happy and satisfied. The essence of what home cooking is all about.

Food Junction – Singapore


Food Junction
5th Floor, Funan DigitalLife Mall
109 North Bridge Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6336 8327 (Mall Customer Service)

Whenever I am in Singapore, as I am this week, eating and shopping tend to be my favorite off-time activities.  Where else can you get such an abundance of both, and at such a great level (in terms of quality and price) that is the envy of the world.  Granted, there are some places where this bar does come down a notch or two, but still thinking in terms of what you get in North America for almost the same thing and the large drop off in price found here, you are still getting away with a fantastic deal.  And for anyone that knows me, high tech gadgets and electronic goods are some of my most favorite things, and here in Singapore, they make sure to also have a well stocked food court in the IT-dedicated shopping centres.  What more could you ask for?

The Funan DigitalLife Mall (sometimes referred to as the Funan Centre, or Funan IT Mall) is a popular place for both locals and tourists alike, especially those looking to purchase a new laptop computer.  Frankly, I don’t know how one can differentiate between one store and another that is carrying the same product.  Price negotiation skills are paramount, in order to get the best deal in the house.  And after all that back-and-forth with salespeople, you tend to get hungry.  And after spending a small fortune on a new electronic toy, well perhaps your budget for your post-purchase meal needs to take a hit. No need to fret, as the Food Junction comes to the rescue!

This food court located on the fifth floor of the mall, is quite generic.  By this I mean, each station is not a separate tenant with their own restaurant/brand name.  Rather, the stalls are segregated by type of cuisine, and named as such (eg. Chinese food, Indian food, Korean food, etc.).  As you can see from the image, a simple, understated plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice.  Served with a bowl of steaming chicken stock soup, and a sampling of the dipping sauces one usually requires.  All this for SGD 3.80 (equivalent to 3 Canadian dollars at today’s rate).  Throw in the air conditioning in the seating area, and the fellows around who are quickly cleaning up tables and clearing away trays, and it makes the amount I paid feel even better.

For this quantity and cost, you are getting what you pay for.  It comes out quick, slapped down on your cafeteria plate by some young kids behind the counter.  For the dipping sauces, you pour what you want from the bottles into a small dish, and taking everything away on your tray to an available table on the floor.  The slices of chicken breast meat are thin, with the gelatinous skin on top very limited.  The rice was surprisingly good though, very fragrant and not over/under cooked.  The accompanying bowl of soup was very pedestrian.  But when you think about how much I paid for it, and the equivalent of what I could have gotten at say McDonald’s (yes, located down on the main floor of this mall), I’d say I made out well with a conservative sized meal that did put a dent into my hunger, after an hour of so of patrolling all the floors in this building looking at expensive toys.

Food Republic – SG and Kuala Lumpur, MY


Food Republic
@ Wisma Atria, 4th Floor                  @ The Pavilion, 1st Floor
435 Orchard Road                             168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Singapore                                         Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +65 6235 8177                         Tel: +603 2118 8833

As interesting and refreshing a change that food courts in Asian shopping complexes are in the lower mainland, they still pale in comparison to the variety and options that exist in lands across the Pacific. As I’ve just found out that I need to travel again to Southeast Asia next month (the second time in six months), I thought I’d get into the right frame of mind as I prepare to hit the city state of Singapore and neighboring Malaysia, both of which have a diverse range of food offerings that I am looking forward to exploring again. The following is a recollection of some simple meals that I had this past spring in the Food Republic food courts, that are located in two of the largest shopping complexes in both countries.

While sweating in the humid weather of Singapore, despite it being the later evening, my friend and I were looking for a quick meal after a busy day of shopping. We settled on the Wisma Atria shopping centre, which houses the Food Republic food court on its top floor, as it was close to the Orchard MRT station that he was going to use to return home. The Food Republic is a mix of about ten hawker-style stalls, including some pushcarts, that sell an assortment of Singaporean/Chinese/Malaysian dishes. Seating is arranged throughout the space, but when it is busy, you will have a long wait in trying to get an empty seat. Each mini restaurant operates as a stand alone enterprise, so you pay at each stall for your choices – no messy ticket system here as you might find in similar open concept food courts.

After doing a few laps scouting out the edible delights, as well as trying to find an empty table to save, I finally settled on some hand cut noodles paired with some pan fried dumplings. It was the show that grabbed my attention, as I spotted the man behind a panel of glass in his small booth, rythmically hacking off slivers with a steel blade from a large brick of dough held in his other hand, shooting them directly into a massive wok filled with hot water to cook them. Nearby, a woman was busy prepping the bowls with a hearty chicken-based soup and assorted toppings – a crunchy and salty flavored mound of little dried fish was my favorite! The dumplings were made of a slightly thicker wrap, making for a very crispy but chewy covering, though the ball of meat inside was perhaps a little less flavorful than I would have hoped. I assumed these were not being freshly made in the back and were of the restaurant supply, frozen variety.

My Singaporean host finished off his meal by saying he was getting a “dessert”. He tried describing it to me as a vegetable and fruit concoction making it a unique combination of flavors in one single bowl. Now I love the combination of peanuts and sweet sauce, so upon first glance, it looked really appealing. I just had it in the back of my mind though, that there was no way it was a dessert. I think my friend was just trying to trick me into having another unique dish called Rojak, while we were hanging out together that night. I’m not sure that I fully enjoyed this dish, as the mix of ingredients seemed a bit odd to me even for a salad. Perhaps its an acquired taste, so I am open to having it again on my upcoming trip.

The same week that I was in Singapore, I spent time in Kuala Lumpur as well – a short 45 minute plane ride away. My accommodations were located directly across the street from the relatively still brand new, shopping complex known as The Pavilion. This was indeed a high end mall, filled with all of the top brands you could imagine, as well as a massive food court that occupied most of the first floor of the building. Here, the Singaporean Food Republic conglomerate had created another food carnival for busy shoppers (locals and tourists alike) much to my delight.

There were a lot more choices at this Pavilion edition though, simply due to greater available floor space. A few times for lunch, I stopped by to grab an easy meal again, as the more proper restaurants in the complex were a little out of my daily budget range, and when I didn’t have much time to explore further geographically from where I was for work purposes. I had to sample another basic soup noodle dish, which I did, but the noodles in this case were of a more skinnier variety.  It was what it was, simple in flavor with its thin broth for a low price.

On another occasion, I had it in my mind that I needed to sample some satay while I was in Malaysia. The basic plate of three skewers (your choice of beef or chicken) came with a generous portion of fried rice, and a fried egg. As this was going to be nowhere enough for my hungry appetite on this day, I ordered another batch. I found it interesting that much like places in Vancouver that serve satay, they require you to order a certain number when placing an order, a minimum of five in most cases.

There were other food and restaurant tenants not associated with the Food Republic as well, sharing the same area. My Malaysian friends suggested we do a small stop at Madam Kwan’s. Here we had a Cendol dessert, essentially made up of a scoop of shaved ice that is mixed with these green colored noodles and sweetened with coconut milk and sugar. One of my hosts told me a story of how he had this virtually every day as a child when he came home from school, as he’d get a free bowl of it from an Indian street vendor in his neighborhood who would start giving it away as the ice started to melt faster than he could maintain it towards the end of each day. He also remarked that those making it on the streets are declining in number.

Without a doubt, there are a lot of excellent and very reasonably priced restaurants offering the best of cuisine found in Singapore in Malaysia – some of which I’ve had the pleasure of dining in and could potentially write about in the future here on Foodosophy. But for some reason, I am drawn to the street food vendors risking my well being in the process, as well as the more comfortable airconditioned and low priced environments that food courts have to offer. As I noted at the beginning, these food courts are amazing – with the range and quality of food found in these places easily beating those in many ethnic restaurants back home in Canada, and for a fraction of the price.  I can’t wait to get back!

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town] – Vancouver, BC


To recognize the return of university students to the campus at UBC this week, I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the eating options for these youth at the University Village, as they begin or continue their journey in nourishing their minds through academia…

First off, Leona Mediterranean.  Here they serve mainly curries and simple wraps, as well as some platted offerings.  I ordered the special of the day, a chicken leg stewed in a tomato-base, served with a side of cooked vegetables, rice and choice of one salad (I chose the Greek).  The chicken had been marinated okay, and the sauce had both a sweet and sour flavor, not surprising since it was coming from tomatoes.  The rice, a long grain, was a little dry which made me wish more of the sauce that chicken was stewed in had been provided.  The carrot, green bean, potato mixture was decent, with flavor properties like the chicken.  The salad was fresh, nice crisp cucumber and green peppers.  All in all, an adequate and filling meal, which felt healthy.

Next, the Curry Point.  Its located in the far end of the hall, so difficult to spot when you come down the stairs.  It’s part of a chain comprised of three outlets in BC.  The others being in North Vancouver and one on the Island in Nanaimo.  Here you can choose from various curries, getting as little or as much variety as you wish.  The non-veg curries included some Murg Makhani (aka Butter Chicken), the veg ones had among others, Chana Masala.  I elected a non-veg and a veg to complete my pairing, that came with some rice as well as a piece of naan (which was too soggy).  The Gosht Masala (beef curry) had boneless beef, all in the garlicy, tomato paste gravy – but lacking any spicy heat.  The daal (lentil curry) suffered from the heating pan system, as they were breaking down much more than they should, and at the end tasted really chalky.  Again, not much spice at all in the flavoring here, probably “dumbed down” for the local crowd.  I’d pass on this joint, even if it is fast food Indian.

Curry Point (UBC) on Urbanspoon

Finally, Donair Town.  The surprise of the lot, as I was pleased with the tasty package I received, a pita filled shawarma, and I chose a mixture of beef and chicken (both soft and crispier bits).  Stuffed with some fresh lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, and generous dollops of Tzatziki and garlic paste.  The regular size ($5.99) was my order and it turned out to be a fully stuffed package, not sure if I could have eaten the super size offering.

I liked how they wrapped it all up tightly, completely enclosed so nothing could slip out until the moment it was consumed.  Less of a mess, and was appreciated as I took it back to my car.  I could see a few kids carrying this out on my way down to the food court here, so know its a popular choice.

So there you have it, a trio of samplings for the back to school crowd.  Back in my days of school, they had nothing like these ethnic offerings, so am quiet envious about the choice today’s students have in their basic on-campus food zones.

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town]
B1, 5728 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC

Donair Town on Urbanspoon