Kalvin’s – Vancouver, BC


Kalvin’s Szechuan
5225 Victoria Dr
Vancouver, BC
(604) 321-2888

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.

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Fragrant Wonton – Hualien, TW


Fragrant Wonton (Yishang Bienshi)
42 Sinyi Street
Hualien, Taiwan

(03) 832-6761

Hualien is a small city on the coast of Taiwan, known for some beautiful mountain scenery, and coastal waters. Nearby Taroko Gorge is a burgeoning tourist attraction, and with the completion of the gao-zi – the high speed rail connection, tourists are flooding in from Taipei on a near daily basis. However, scenery aside, culinarily they are famous for two very different dishes – fragrant wontons, and muaji, glutinous rice cakes.  Two must tries when you are in Hualien.

It’s interesting how celebrity endorsement can affect the image of a restaurant. There are two very well known wonton houses in Hualien. The aforementioned Fragrant Wonton, that have been in business for over 70 years, and Dai’s Bienshi, a 3rd generation wonton maker making bienshi (mandarin for wonton) since the Japanese occupation. Dai’s, as a result of being the favorite of a former President, is extremely well known. Foodies generally agree that Fragrant Wonton is better, but it doesn’t have the name recognition and insane lineups.

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The decor inside neither looks like it’s 70 years old, nor like it’s a top wonton place. Channeling the entire cafeteria vibe, you generally order first, grab a table, and sit and wait at one of many clean tables. Napkins are dispensed on the wall (took me a while to find this), and things are kept quite clean. Not surprisingly, it’s almost always busy.

When you go to order, you generally order a number. This represents the number of bowls of wontons you want. One order is pretty substantial for most people, but if you’re a wonton/bienshi  fiend like i am, i suggest two bowls.

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Fragrant wontons are renown for their skins, which are silky smooth, yet strong enough to hold in the succulent juices from the meat. Does 70 years teach you anything? Absolutely. The skins are silky, and wonderfully soft without breaking at all – a big no no and a trick i wish i knew. The pork filling is good – filling the mouth with a blast of warm pork flavour.They are generally filled with the meat from the legs – trotters and shank. This is because the leg meat is generally a bit firmer, leading to a nice texture with some bite without being rubbery, while staying lean. The stock they serve the wontons in are also made of pork bones, spare ribs, and pigs legs, a rich stock that is skimmed repeatedly to get rid of an oiliness. Served with celery leaves and fried onion tops, the result is a nice balance of fragrant, yet slightly neutral soup with a fantastic wonton flavour.

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Overall, these are some really nice wontons.  The cardboard serving vessels and plastic spoons feel a bit off, as i would prefer porcelain – it’s amazing what a difference in texture you feel using a plastic utensil, but that’s a very small quibble.  Im not sure they are good enough to make a special trip to Hualien for, but if you love wontons/bienshi, and you happen to be in the area, don’t leave town without trying Fragrant Wonton.

Soon Yee Bak Kut Teh – Bugis, SG


Soon Yee Bak Kut Teh
No. 29/31 Sultan Gate
Singapore 198477
+65 6298 8538

If I had to choose among beef, chicken and pork, unquestionably the latter would be my most favorite animal protein. The diversity of cuts, textures, flavors, and the many ways it can be prepared, I feel is unsurpassed by the other two. “Just wrap it in bacon”, which could be dubbed the ‘Jeffrey Steingarten Porkosophy’, is used by many to explain how pork can add so much to the taste of any ingredient or dish. I must say I am an avid card carrying member of this Cult of Bacon.

Having spent some time in southern Alberta where I visited and toured countless times some of the province’s massive pork producing farms and slaughtering plants, I have had a good opportunity to learn about the whole gate-to-plate system that hogs go through in the mass commercial food production industry. It’s a marvel really, how such a disgusting beast that spends most of its life wallowing around in its own bodily messes, can taste so good when cooked. Even after seeing with my own eyes how they are brought to an abattoir, put to sleep, sliced open, broken down and boxed, I could not turn down offers to have a seat in a slaughterhouse test kitchen and be served various cuts of pork by the in-house chefs. Yes, I became quite immune to the whole ordeal, with my love for pork at the heart of it all.

My eating interests with pork though are limited mainly to the muscle meats. All of the other offal are something that I am not a huge fan of. But given the opportunity to try some Bak Kut Teh (translated literally as “meat bone tea”), a Chinese-origin soup that is popular in parts of the Mainland as well as southeast Asia and that I knew included some of the pig intestines, I knew that I had to be flexible. After all, I am always open to trying something that I’ve never had before, especially when I am traveling abroad. So this impromptu visit to Soon Yee, an average looking establishment built inside a concrete building near Sultan Gate Place in the Arab Street district (not far from the Bugis MRT station), led me to try those usually avoided pork innards.

Served in a clay pot, a single serving could be had for just four Singapore dollars. I chose to have a side of steamed white rice with it, as I understood it, you could also get some noodles instead as well. Visually, its not the most appetizing dish for obvious reasons. Pieces of the tenderized pork ribs, pig stomach, intestines, skin, along with other ingredients such as tau kee (which I know better as yuba in Japanese cuisine, albeit this one was a thicker wafer) and mushrooms that could all be seen inside the rich colored broth.

But when its brought to your table, the scent is quite appetizing with it being very fragrant with strong herbal tones (anise, ginseng and cloves being the most prominent) and some sharpness from the pepper. The soup itself (this type being of the Hokkien variety which is darker due to the inclusion of more soy sauce than other variants), was pipping hot and the pepper that I smelled was clearly picked up by my taste buds as well, making for a salty and fiery mixture. Each piece of ingredient had been well tenderized through the cooking process, which I assume is done over a long period of time to get it to this stage, though I must say that the meat off the ribs were my most preferred part. I guess some things never change.

My friend had a much more simplier dish, a similarly richly flavored soup filled with a bunch of greeny leafy vegetables, that looked like a type of lettuce/spinach. Unfortunately, I failed to catch the name of this offering, so this visual is all I can provide at this time.  As I was, he was also given a bowl of rice to go along with the dish.