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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Pad Thai – Edmonton, AB


Pad Thai Cuisine of Thailand
10159 – 82 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
(780) 437-4858

I have driven past this location on Whyte avenue (just east of the train tracks), a countless number of times in my lifetime.  On a quest to try somewhere new – we stopped in for lunch.

There was a solid lunch crowd already seated in this small little restaurant, so we ordered a couple appetizers right away fearing a slow lunch service.  I was proven wrong – as the food quickly started arriving at the table.  Starting off with an order of spring rolls and satay skewers – the skewers win the appetizer battle.  Spring rolls & sauce were good, but not memorable; however the sweet chili sauce with the satay was a definite winner.  Nothing against the peanut sauce, but it looked unlike any peanut sauce I’ve ever seen and tasted like every other peanut sauce I’ve ever had.

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Hawker’s Delight – Vancouver, BC


Hawker’s Delight
4127 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 709 8188

With all the talk about doing what’s best for the people on “Main Street” amid the financial meltdown and stump speeches in the American election, it stuck me that I rarely visit the road with the same name on Vancouver’s east side.  Neither living nor working in that part of the city, nor having any friends with residences there that I would ever visit, Main Street really is an afterthought for me.  However, I did know it is home to many off-the-beaten-track, hole-in-the-wall, beloved restaurants with the locals, and it deserved a thorough investigation.  For this, I decided to walk up from the intersection at Broadway and Main, all the way up to 49th Avenue – and on both sides of the street.

It certainly was an education in the range of eating choices available on one single road.  Some places peaked my interest, others were not open yet on this late-morning Saturday, and others I just simple brushed off as not worthwhile in my mind after just looking inside the window.  Fortunately, Hawker’s Delight was not one of the latter, as the minute I strode past the big open windows and could see into the kitchen in the back of the space full of activity before the doors opened for business, I knew I was to go inside.

Apparently a re-creation of a hawker style spot that one would find in places like Singapore and Malaysia (yes, I am headed there on a trip next month!), this cramped cafeteria-like restaurant is a popular place for locals who have a craving for the taste bud tingling flavors of Southeast Asia.  On this day, I was the first customer through the doors before a handful of others followed behind me (for both dine-in and take out).  As I stepped to the counter to give my order after scanning the menus on the walls, I noticed how frenetic the pace was inside the cooking area where three people were busy getting ready for the lunch rush.  On the immediate right, I spotted this large pot that was bubbling over and giving off an intense spicy aroma – I enquired about it and was told it was a veggie curry.  On the grill top was one of my favorite food sights, meat on a stick.  This made my opening volley an easy decision, and I asked for a quintuplet of Beef Satay.

The sweet and savory flavors coming from the chewy meat and the accompanying dip of garlic infused oil, reminded me of why I love street food from this part of the world.  With just the right amount of charbroiled parts as well, the smoky properties added to the richness of the overall taste.  It’s hard to do this kind of thing badly, and Hawker’s Delight obviously did not fail in this regard.

As it was still morning, and given my unfortunate weak stomach for spicy food before the noon hour, I settled on a more milder tasting dish to help fill me up after my long walk down Main Street.  Figuring it would be a good test of how well they do a staple of Singaporean cuisine, I elected to go with the Hainanese Chicken Rice.   I will never forget the first time I had this in Singapore and ever since then its been hard to compete with that memory, no matter where I have eaten it since that fateful first plate.

Many people have their personal preferences for how they like the meat, but generally I feel its best when its of that silky soft consistency, with just a small amount of gelatinous texture from the skin, which is all jacked up with the trio of dipping sauces such as the powerful dark soya, chili and of course ginger.  In fact here at Hawker’s Delight, they mixed the potent chili and ginger together to form one single dip, but lacked the soya much to my disappointment. Back to the meat, it did have a pleasant texture and was not stringy at all, and the poaching liquid it was cooked in had infused some addtional flavors into the chicken.  No complaints here, but again, not blow-your-mind outstanding either.  The side rice was not as fragrant as I would have hoped and frankly halfway through I was just fine not to eat much more of it at all.  This is a stark change to the same rice I’ve had in Singapore/Malaysia in the past, where I could not get enough of the stuff.

Where Hawker’s Delight really did stand out was on the price performance.  I do not think I saw anything on the menu that was over six dollars as a main dish.  Frankly, I am sure you cannot get a better deal in town for this level of authentic ethnic food.  Don’t expect much for service, as its more a case of one of the kitchen workers simply dropping it off at your table once its ready, and water/hot tea is all self service from the station set up near the front counter as well.  But all is well, as this is the kind of environment one would expect from a hawker-style setup and one that I will no doubt return to again to try out the other offerings.  This is of course, if I am not tired of this food after my travels next month – ooh, what a delight!

Hawker's Delight on Urbanspoon

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!