Thanh Xuan (Revisited) – Vancouver, BC


Thanh Xuan
2261 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 439-9696

When Goa Girl posted that she missed the banh cuon from the late lamented Northern Vietnamese restaurant Truong Thranh, I thought it was time to revisit Thanh Xuan, a Kingsway hole-in-the-wall that I knew specializes in this Vietnamese delicacy. I blogged about this place around the time I first encountered it, and I haven’t really been back for quite some time, so I finally found an excuse to return.

Banh cuon, a simple steamed rice flour crepe, is a common breakfast dish originating from Northern Vietnam. Like most of Vietnam’s indigenous food, however, banh cuon’s true origins are in Southern China – specifically from the familiar cheong fun, the rice roll you will find in all dim sum menus.  The methods of preparation are quite similar – rice starch batter (often augmented with wheat, tapioca or other starches) is steamed to form a thin sheet over boiling water. While cheong fun is steamed in shallow metal trays, bank cuon is steamed in a specially constructed pot which has a fine cloth tautly stretched over the opening.

Continue reading

88 Supermarket – Vancouver, BC


88 Supermarket
4801 Victoria Drive
Vancouver, BC
(604) 876-2128

88 Supermarket is one of the many reasons why I feel privileged living in the East Side.

As an avid cook and general enthusiast in all things pertaining food, I’m always on the lookout for great sources for ingredients. When I am cooking Southeast Asian food, I would usually head on over to stock up.

Continue reading

Pho Century – Burnaby, BC


Pho Century Fine Vietnamese Cuisine
6701 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 544-5028

Billed as a “Place for Noodle Lovers”, this second location of Pho Century recently popped up at the intersection of Kingsway and Sperling, basically directly across the way from the National Nikkei Heritage Centre where the beloved Hi Genki is located.  I’ve never visited their first outlet (which is also on Kingsway – at Willingdon), so have no point of reference to compare, but this just opened spot sure took me a bit by surprise.  While carved out inside a shabbier looking building that I think housed some kind of ESL/math school run by Chinese until recent times, they had really spruced up the tiny interior with a clean and fresh modern look.  Parking is brutal – limited to a few spots right in front – and street parking nearby is hampered by the ongoing construction of a tall condominium building right across the street, with all the trucks and machinery needing to get through.

As you can see from the signage, there is a grand opening going on, with special dine-in pricing of 10% off, which is slated to end January 15th.  So perhaps by the time you read this post, it could be over.  Nevertheless, the price point for their main dishes are reasonable – case in point, the small pho is $6, and the large bowl is $7.  Congees, and barbequed (insert any meat here) with rice dishes also fall in the $7~$8 range.  There were also some Viet Subs (chicken, meat ball, minced pork, Vietnamese ham) available priced $3.95 and up; apparently they are only here at this second location. Combo plates with rice or vermicelli run in the $7 to $11 zone; this “touch of everything” caught my attention for my lunch.

Continue reading

Mini Mango – Edmonton, AB


Mini Mango
1056 91 Street SW
Edmonton, AB
(780) 756-6464

True to its name, Mini Mango is a tidy little space set up within a strip mall (of which there are many in Edmonton) on the city’s southside.  But contrary to so many Vietnamese noodle joints that I’ve frequented, this establishment has applied some more modern touches, thus resulting in a chicer, compact environment that should appeal to those who are less inclined to visit more hole-in-the-wall type of restaurants.  Four and two-top seating arrangements, a corner booth, and even a special section with high stools for solo diners completes the picture here, though I imagine they do get their fare share of take away customers.  According to my local contact, the lunch hour here can get hectic, and seemingly a popular place for the stay-at-home moms who perhaps want to have a mid-day meal that is more on the “exotic” side.  Such is the life of Alberta suburbia I suppose…

The system in place was very much like Famoso, that I’d visited a few days earlier.  Step up to the front counter, place your order, pay there, and then go to your seat and your food would be brought out to you.  I don’t think I saw any menu cards or booklets at the tables themselves and my only reference of what there was to eat was the sign board pinned to the wall in the employee-only area connected to the kitchen.  Appetizers hitting on things like Vietnamese spring rolls and salads were interspersed with a few other Asian-themed dishes such as kimchi and “Thai” deep fried prawns in wonton wrappers.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

Pho Thai Hoa – Vancouver, BC


Pho Thai Hoa
1625 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 873-2348

Pho Thai Hoa is one of the best and most well known Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. It has a lot of competition along Kingsway – Vancouver’s version of little Saigon. Pho Thai Hoa differentiates itself from most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area with its clean premises, extensive (and nicely photographed) menu, and generally good food. It is known for its good pho and other Vietnamese classics. Now it is doing something new for this town: a hot banh mi with grilled meats.

Now, I am perhaps presumptuous in my pronouncement that hot banh mi is a recent phenomenon here in Vancouver. After all, I have certainly not eaten at all the Vietnamese places in town. However, in my explorations along Kingsway, known to be on a cutting edge of authentic Vietnamese food, this is the first I have seen this. More recent second-hand reports from others indicate that there are a few places that serve a grilled meat banh mi – but none seem to be attempting it to this scale. Is it perhaps grilled fillings are really only possible in a full kitchen – something a typical banh mi joint does not usually have? Also it is somewhat unusual for the pho-centric restaurant to be serving banh mi.

Continue reading

Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House – Burnaby, BC


Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House
8681 10th Ave
Burnaby, BC
(604) 527-8138

Branching out and exploring new cuisines and ingredients I believe is part of the appeal of doing what we do, as I’m sure other regular food bloggers will attest.  Vegetarian cooking is one that I’m not wildly enthusiastic about, because let’s face it, carnivorous dining is where it’s at.

So you can imagine the hesitation or perhaps curiosity that was swirling around in my mind, when I decided to drop into a visibly named vegetarian establishment that served up Vietnamese food.  Would it be a new found paradise for me, as their namesake showed, I just had to find out for myself.

With blinds obstructing the view inside, as well as the sun’s glare off the front windows, I wasn’t sure what waited for me inside the Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House.  Upon entering, I found several tables already occupied.  By what looked like a middle aged man and his elderly father, another had a trio of big young gents dressed in utilities worker overalls, and then a group of four office workers.  And everyone was being attended to by this petite smiling woman, who was hustling back and forth from the kitchen.

Continue reading

Pho Maxima – New Westminster, BC


Pho Maxima Restaurant
822 Twentieth Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 759-3669

This non-flashy restaurant, nestled in a very average-looking commercial building fits the common definition of a hole-in-the-wall eatery.  Slightly indented from the street itself, it would be quite easy to miss passing by, unless you were deliberately turning into the front side-facing parking lot, which is also home to a couple other places to get a quick meal. I’ve already written about one of them here.

Despite its subdued appearance, Pho Maxima seemingly gets a lot of love from the locals, judging from a couple of occupied tables as I walked in alone, as well as the phone ringing with delivery orders.  A pleasant man was working the front of house alone and I could hear a few voices coming from the back kitchen.  Receiving a pot of hot tea to start while I perused the menu booklet, I debated going with the namesake pho but instead opted for another edition of meat-on-rice.

Continue reading

Foodosophy of Banh Mi (in Vancouver)


There are three names that usually come up when Vancouverites talk about their favourite banh mi: Au Petit Cafe, Ba Le, and Tung Hing . I needed to grab a quick lunch from my kids and their friends one day after school. I was going to drive right past these three restaurants so I thought I would take this opportunity to do a side-by-side photo-essay.

I ordered the “Special” at each place to set a base-line comparison. Having ordered the Specials at all three spots over the years, I know how consistent they all are with their production – in other words, what you see here is what you would typically get.

From the left to right: Au Petit Cafe, Ba Le (Kingsway), Tung Hing.

As you can see, Tung Hing’s banh mi is at least 2″ longer than the other two – 10″ vs 8″. Au Petit Cafe has their bread specially made by La Baguette et L’echalotte which has a storefront on Granville Island. Ba Le currently sources from Empress Bakery (I incorrectly attributed their source as Paris Bakery in my earlier post here), but are about to embark on their own baking operation in-house with the installation of some new ovens at the Kingsway location.

Continue reading

Cuu Long – Vancouver, BC


Cuu Long
3911 Knight Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 873-6926

This marks the beginning of a new series, which I am dubbing “Tasting with Tee“.  It will involve various outings and eating/drinking experiences with the man known as Tee.

Who’s Tee you ask?  Well, he’s a regular reader of Foodosophy, who’s been gracious enough to show me some new spots out of my usual range when it comes to Vancouver proper.  We all have our haunts and neighborhoods of comfort, and for me that means that I’m willing and able to go as “distant” as Main Street.  Anything beyond that towards the boundary of Burnaby has been a truly foreign territory for me.  Plus, I hate the drive.  Even the names of the intersecting roads along East Broadway and/or Kingsway are a mystery.  Tee’s been gracious to be my guide to the “far east”…

So with that, Tee suggested an outing for “meat on rice”.   Saying, “let’s go to Knight”, that instruction basically meant nothing to me.  It wasn’t until I saw a previously visited place nearby, that I sort of knew where I was.  Cuu Long (minus the funky accent mark) is a Vietnamese restaurant that is nothing flashy from the outside.  Parking right in front is limited to a precious few spots, otherwise its best to find a place in the side street just up the block.

Continue reading

Au Petit Cafe – Vancouver, BC


Au Petit Cafe
4851 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3R9
(604) 873-3328

The Vietnamese subs (Banh Mi) of my youth were all fairly consistent – crunchy, mouth sawing bread, nuoc cham, mystery meat, cilantro, pickled carrots, onion, cucumber, and hot peppers. And they were cheap. Dirt cheap.

Phase 2 came about with the Americanization of the Banh Mi – Sate Beef and Chicken, Curry Chicken, things like this. The extra sauce made the bread a little soggy, but made it less painful to put down. I liked the new flavors, but the original sub was still  my favorite.

Then a trip to Vietnam redefined what a great Banh Mi could be. Great fresh bread, wonderfully flavoured house made meat, different sauces, pate, butter(!!), fresh veg. These deli sandwiches were so much better than what you could get on the street, which were, in turn, so much better than the Banh Mi of my youth.

Enter Au Petit Cafe – Vancouver’s best known Vietnamese Sub restaurant. Already extensively covered by other bloggers (like our friend’s at Chow Times, Vancouver Slop, and Sherman’s Food Adventures), I will try not to duplicate everything they’ve said. But as they’ve pointed out, the location is in a tiny space on Main.

They have some fairly sparse seating for inside – so most people get their Vietnamese subs to go. If there’s space, the owners always encourage you to stay. I suggest calling ahead – they are often sold out (they run out of bread).

Continue reading

Angkor Restaurant – Vancouver, BC


Angkor Restaurant
4884 Victoria Drive
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-0770

[shokutsu] After hearing through the local foodie grapevine that a new Cambodian restaurant was open on the city’s east side, I knew I had to make a stopover.  Not surprisingly, GastronomyDomine had reached this place before me, and thus I’ve asked him to collaborate with me on this piece on Angkor Restaurant.  Our thoughts our interspersed below…

[GastronomyDomine] Like Phnom Penh’s food, I would describe the food here as “Chinese-Cambonian” – the cuisine that evolved from the Chinese diaspora throught Cambodia. (Specifically the Chiu Chow (Toechow) Chinese who intermarried and became “Khmer-Chen”).

As an aside, Vietnamese cuisine evolved in a similar way from this migration (which also naturally occurred in Vietnam given the geographic proximity). Food we now associated with “Vietnamese” is quite often of Chinese origin – eg the noodle dishes like Pho, and Dry Egg Noodles, etc.

Pure Khmer cuisine is quite different. It is similar to some of the foods we associate as Thai. You can see the influences of Khmer cuisine in the use of curry spices, fermented fish products, and the like.

I noted that the proprietors (who are Cambodian) – decided to use the Vietnamese names for the dishes – obviously to appeal to the large Viet community here. Cambodian food is “ethnic” food in Vietnam.

On my recent visit there I found out that the proprietors are blood-related to the owner of Phnom Penh – a good pedigree.

[shokutsu] After sharing a meal earlier this summer at Chinatown’s Phnom Penh, I enlisted the company of a foodosopher associate to join me for a Saturday lunch here – mainly to do a comparison of the chicken wings.

Continue reading

Phobulous – Edmonton, AB


Phobulous
8701 109 Street
Edmonton, AB
(780) 988-2696

As you leave the U of A campus headed towards 109th street, staring directly in front of you is a restaurant with signage reading, Phobulous Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine.

phobulous_interior

This may sound odd – but I found my first experience here to be unusual, only because I had never eaten Pho in a nice looking establishment with clean chairs, tables and stain-free walls.  This is a tiny little restaurant, walls adorned with some interesting art and a large menu full of options.

I am not a huge coffee connoisseur, but I do enjoy  Vietnamese style iced coffee.  Individually brewed in a Vietnamese phin filter over a cup containing sweetened condensed milk – waiting for this to finish brewing can be excruciating.  Once it has finished – stir in as much of the sweetened condensed milk to suit your personal taste, before pouring over the tall glass filled with ice.

phobulous_weasel_coffee

Phobulous serves a unique brand of coffee – known as Weasel Coffee.  Coffee starts its life growing on shrubs or bushes as a fruit, which is then harvested, the outer fruit separated from the bean, dried, roasted, ground and is then finally ready for use.  In some South Asian countries, they use a civet or weasel, which gladly goes to work eating only the ripest berries from the crop, digesting the outer fruit, while simultaneously chemically altering the beans characteristics removing the bitter notes.  Eventually it “discards” the coffee beans, which are then painstakingly collected by hand, and further processed.

If you ever watched the Flintstones cartoons, you may remember the clever uses the animals played in their daily lives.  (i.e. Octopus dishwashers, Pelican garbage can, bird-beak record player).  Harvesting of Kopi Luak/Civet/weasel coffee reminds me of this. Picture if you will – a weasel perched on the kitchen window, with its head outside munching on coffee berries. Wilma walks into the kitchen,  lifts the weasel tail – and out comes some freshly picked coffee beans…  🙂

I read an article about this a few years ago, when a friend of mine was describing something he called “cat poo coffee”.  Kopi Luwak was being toted as the worlds most expensive brew (some even offering a certificate of authenticity), but as popularity grew – oddly, prices seemed to drop.  Thus, it was not a surprise to find that an artificial process has been developed to simulate the weasel’s gastric effect on the beans, which is commonly being sold as the real thing.  Regardless of the type of coffee – when mixed with sweetened condensed milk, it’s all good.

Maybe it’s just the establishments I tend to go to – but this is the first time I’ve ever found more than one option for goi cuon (salad rolls).  Available are the classic shrimp and pork, vegetarian, grilled chicken or grilled la lop – wrapped together with rice noodles, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and garnished with chives.

phobulous_goi_cuon

Photographed above are both the grilled chicken and the shrimp/pork.  Both were very good and prepared perfectly – the rice paper wrapper keeping its integrity and the fillings evenly balanced.  The dipping sauce is a thinned hoisin with crushed peanuts – providing a nice sweetness to roll.

In my past visits to this restaurant – I usually choose to go with the Pho dac Biet or humerously named Mother Pho. This is their fully-loaded Pho – served with rare steak, brisket, flank, tendon, beef balls, and tripe for $9.95 where the basic Pho Tai, named Pho Real is $7.95. For those who don’t quite get the joke – Pho is pronouced ‘fuh’ or as foot (without the ‘t’).

phobulous_motherpho

The broth is clear, with a great depth of flavour.  Noodles maintained a good bite, and quantity of toppings is fair.  The standard complement of bean sprouts, thai basil, lime, hoisin and sriracha were delivered as expected.

Hu Tieu Love? (The menu is full of this type of humor).
This Southern Vietnamese concoction is definitely worth another visit for me.  Pork-stock based broth, topped with chopped fried shallots and Chinese chives – delivers a sweeter, more complex broth as compared with the Northern Vietnam Pho.  Served with rice noodles, shrimp and plenty of thinly sliced pork – this was absolutely delicious.  I wish I could provide more commentary – but it was difficult trying to steal spoonfuls of soup without having my hand slapped away by my wife…

phobulous_hu_tieu

Located on the menu page labeled ‘Phobulous Introduces’ are a few interesting choices recommended by the server.  Ca-ri Ga (Chicken Curry Noodle Soup), Banh Mi Sate (Sate Sub), Bo Kho (Beef Stew) and Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Hue Noodle Soup).

The Ca-ri Ga, carried a mildly spicy broth of curry and coconut milk, served with large chunks of stewed carrots, potatoes, and tender chicken served over rice noodles.  Great flavours, very rich, and very good.

phobulous_cari_ga

The Bo Kho was fantastic.  The menu reads “A fragrant blend of star anise, lemongrass, carrots and tender beef brisket in a rich tomato broth served with rice noodles”.  Everything delivered as promised – and was good to the last drop. Anyone lacking solid chopstick skills will probably want to be extra careful, as the beef portions are rather large – and makes a big splash when dropped…

phobulous_bo_kho

Overall, I am very impressed with this restaurant.  I get the sense that the chef cares about the food being served both in presentation and in quality, service is attentive, and the atmosphere is great.  I will definitely be back again.

Phobulous on Urbanspoon

Truong Tranh – Vancouver, BC


Truong Tranh
Kingsway and Victoria Dr
Vancouver, BC

Truong Tranh on Urbanspoon

DSCF8153 copy

It is heartening to see the signs of a maturing ethnic restaurant scene. To me, one of the first real indications of maturity is the emergence of regional cuisines within a dominant national cuisine. Vancouver has been experiencing this type of emergence in its Chinese scene for quite a while. Restaurants that serve Hunan, Sichuan, Hakka, amongst others having been coming out of the woodwork over the last decade. Much more recently we have been seeing regional Italian – wooing diners from the typical “red-sauce” joint.

Vietnamese regional cuisine isn’t very common here in Vancouver. Here, this cuisine has been defined (and caricatured) by pho joints. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find these little places that serve regional specialties front and center in their menu. Truong Tranh is such a place. Here, pho takes a back seat to Northern specialties such as banh cuon, xoi, bun rieu cua, and bun oc.

DSCF8232 copy

Truong Tranh has a section of their menu reserved for xoi – Vietnamese sticky rice. My particular favorite dish here is their xoi thit – or — to use the more familiar Colonial name — Porc au Caramel. The pork (belly in this case) is tender, deliciously fatty (“unctuous” would be the ideal description here), and the sauce is an intensely flavoured concoction of fish sauce, black pepper, garlic, and caramel sauce – nuoc mau. This caramel sauce imparts a sweet and pleasant bitter undertone to the dish. It is a great accompaniment to the xoi.

DSCF8233 copy

Banh cuon is a common breakfast dish in Northern Vietnam. I reported about another restaurant — Trahn Xuan that serves an authentic example of this dish. Like at Trahn Xuan, the banh cuon‘s rice wrapper is made fresh to order here. Most Vietnamese restaurants are content to serve this dish using store-bought Chinese-style rice rolls.

DSCF8155 copy

The banh cuon pictured here comes with cha lua (pork loaf)  and pork floss (looking a lot like burlap). It always comes with an herb plate and nuoc cham.

DSCF8157 copy

Bun oc (fresh water snail soup) is a dish that is difficult to find in Vancouver (and in most cities in North America). The examples of this dish that you do find are often made with canned snails (Truong Tranh is no different). This particular example is strongly flavoured with pickled bamboo shoots – very tasty to those who are accustomed to it – but oddly medicinal to first timers.

DSCF8154 copy

There are so many Vietnamese restaurants out here in this city. I’m sure that there are a number that have surprisingly regional menus.  I am hoping that these places are just the tip of the iceberg. This refrain rings familiar — Vietnamese is so much more than pho — (remember when we used to say Chinese restaurants are more than just chow mein and sweet and sour pork?).

Truong Tranh on Urbanspoon