Monday, April 25, 2005

Grandma's Dumplings

I was thinking about my grandma (Mom's Mom) today. She died nearly a year ago (and her birthday was two weeks ago), and I have many fond food memories associated with her. I bought a big coffee table type cookbook today called The Food of China, and something in there reminded me of her teaching me how to roll little round dumplings at her old house in East Van when I was a little girl. We sat together in her kitchen, dusted with flour, rolling a table-full of the little white balls with our hands. There's probably an equivalent food activity like that in every culture where little ones can sit down and learn and help in the kitchen. It's a very sweet memory. I also remember folding wun tun with my Mom and Dad all through my childhood and teen years. I remember going to my Grandma's house (which was just across the alley from the house I grew up in), which smelled distinctively of kitchen grease on those special occassion days when the whole extended family gathered there and she cooked for us all. Later in her life, we always gathered at her favourite Chinese restaurant (the upstairs No.1 Seafood Restaurant at 1st Avenue and Renfrew), where the staff all knew her and flirted and joked with her constantly. But when I was really little, I remember all the relatives from my Mom's side gathering at the old house with the worn, dark green carpet. Without my bounty of store-bought toys with me, I would play "restaurant" with what I could find, serving anyone who would humour me, plates of old string spaghetti, and using the broken black rotary phone to make all those important restauranteur phone calls I needed to make. The kitchen of my chef-owned restaurant was behind the beat-up recliner in the living room. Grandma would be in the real kitchen, making things like mountains of deep fried dumplings. She made round, dark brown ones decorated with a few sesame seeds, filled with sweet black paste, and chewy, flat white semi-circle ones with crimped edges, filled with bits of dried shrimp, meat, and vegetables. I have only eaten the ones made by my grandma, and in fact, have never seen them anywhere else. I think I would appreciate those white ones even more now, since I've finally aquired a taste for those dried shrimp, but I always liked the dumplings anyway, and always associated them with Grandma. I always think of her smiling and laughing too, both then and now. I miss her, and am thankful for my warm and distinct memories of her.

Incidentally, I found a great line in that cookbook I bought. For the dish, "Ants Climbing Trees" - a spicy Sichuan dish of bean thread noodles and ground pork - the authors caution "Make sure you separate all the ground meat as it cooks, or it will form large lumps and not resemble ants at all." Because, of course, everyone wants their food to resemble bugs whenever possible! Well, at least I do!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Banana Leaf, Downtown

Well, after Kam's Place Singaporean Restaurant, I thought it would be a good idea to visit the other side of the peninsula, culinarily speaking, and try some Malaysian food. Since my dining companion and I were interested in comparing the two restaurants and styles, we wanted an equivalent meal at Banana Leaf to allow for as direct a comparison as possible to the meal at Kam's. So, a shrimp curry with pineapple, and a green bean dish were in order. Yes, I do these things just for you, foodie citizens of Nancyland! I think my eating habits have been altered in many ways for the sake of the blog, in fact.

We arrived after 8 pm on a Monday night, and the little room on Denman St. was still almost full, with two little tables free. It was lovely to just walk right in, though, as there is often a line at the entrance to this restaurant. The tables are tightly packed, and there was quite a bit of energy there, so it's not the type of place to go for a private, quiet dinner. In fact, I almost felt like we were dining with the couple in the table next to us. If you enjoy eavesdropping, then here's your place.

We started with two pieces of their Roti Canai ($3 each), which is a wonderful, flaky, sweet bread served with a weighty and grainy curry sauce, that I absolutely must have any time I go to Banana Leaf. We could have shared one piece (they cut it up), but I really love it, so I wanted to make sure there was enough to go around. We also ordered ice coffees (ais kopis) which have sweetened condensed milk in them. Then we had their Abundance of Seafood in Spicy Gulai Sauce with Pineapple ($17) off their fresh sheet, and the Sambal Okra, Eggplant and Green Bean ($12) which was stir fried vegetables with small shrimps (actually they weren't that small, and there were plenty of them) and tomato in dry shrimp paste "Belecan" (the name for the shrimp paste). We ordered a bowl of rice too.

While I was all geared up for a pungent, rich sauce for the seafood curry, I found that it was actually flavoured quite subtly, with very little coconut milk flavour, and almost a broth-like consistency. This was all totally appropriate to show off the mixture of fresh seafood, and quite pleasant. I must point out that the comparison between the Banana Leaf dishes and Kam's Place dishes is a little unfair, as the Banana Leaf dish is priced at $17, while the Kam's dish is only $12.95. As well, of course a medley of seafood is naturally going to be somewhat more exciting than just prawns. And there's a house seafood combination available at Kam's Place for only $12.95 (with squid, prawns, mussels, and scallops). You can order the sauces on the regular menu at Banana Leaf for any combination of seafood that you would like. If you order just prawns, for example, then the dish is $15. I certainly enjoyed the mix of fresh clams, scallops, mussels, fish, and cuttlefish (and oysters? I don't remember eating one, but maybe my companion did), and I would order the dish again. The lightness of the sauce was quite a contrast to the veggie dish we chose.

Again, our veggie choice included a more varied mix of ingredients than our selection at Kam's. We chose a dish with green beans, eggplant, okra and shrimp. And again, it cost a little more than our long bean beef dish at Kam's ($12 versus $9.95). The okra was a real treat, as I so rarely eat that vegetable here in Vancouver, and because it was cooked just to a tender crisp state, as one might expect in any Asian restaurant. I found the okra to be really tasty that way. This is compared to the soft dishes of okra I've had in the American deep south. This was a really delightful dish, especially since I have developed a deep affection for Japanese eggplant stirfries in the last couple of years. The flavours were robust and spicy. I've decided that it must be the shrimp paste that is the source of the delectable depth of flavour that I am associating with a certain "authenticity" and feels (to me) almost lacking in what I previously refered to as "westernized" flavours or that I might think of as mild-mannered or "safe for western palates." There is, as I've mentioned before in my sweet 'n sour confessions, nothing wrong with enjoying "westernized" cuisine. By the way, when I visited Singapore, the predominant use of English there made the city/country seem a bit western in a way, so it's interesting to me how cuisine can reflect other components of culture. A little bit of history for you - Singapore became independent from Malaysia in 1965. Anyway, back to the food! While the comparisons between the two meals at the two restaurants are a bit unfair, I think what is fair to say is that the Banana Leaf menu is really fun, with a great variety of dishes that have interesting combinations of ingredients. I do find this restaurant provides a little more excitement, and a more memorable dining experience than Kam's (for my taste), but it comes at a price. You're likely to spend a little more money, it may be more crowded, and it's a little more trouble to get a table. I think it's well worth it though. Try the original location too, on Broadway. The specials list is different, and includes a crab special on Mondays and Thursdays that sounds appetizing!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Kam's Place, Downtown

I went to Kam's Place (1043 Davie St., close to Burrard) Singaporean Cuisine with a fan of the establishment who referred to their goong as "the goong by which all others are measured." We had a pleasant and simple meal of goong, $12.95 (stir fried prawns with fresh pineapple and Singaporean red curry); long bean spicy beef, $9.95 (pan fried beef with chili, garlic and long bean); and two packets of coconut rice, attractively wrapped in leaves. The food, the room, the pretty china (including a cute tea set), and the service were all pleasant. The dishes were enjoyable. In fact, I found it all to be quite boring. Boringly pleasant, if that makes sense to you. Almost not post-worthy. But since this place squeaks by and makes it onto my list of restaurants I would return to, it is worth mentioning. The flavours aren't terribly complex, but it does the job if you are looking for something tasty and you're in the area. The beef was very tender, and the curry was nice. The coconut rice really did taste like coconut. It all came out very quickly after we ordered too. I'm almost wanting to say that the food is a bit "westernized," but I think it might actually be just the Singaporean style, which I'm perceiving as being a bit on the flat and mild-mannered side. Kind of like Singapore itself? Not necessarily a bad thing (don't write me angry letters, I enjoyed visiting Singapore, and I'm sure there's more bubbling under its surface that I didn't see). Go to Kam's, eat yummy things, get full, and don't think too much about it. Then go to Banana Leaf (on Denman or Broadway) for Malaysian food another night, but be prepared to wait for a table. I have a vague impression of more intense flavour experiences there. I'll visit soon, and let you know if that holds true.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Korean Restaurant

Apparently this Korean restaurant is great! In fact, they're beating the door down to get in. Moral of the story? Always feed your pack of elephants before a big parade. Always. Details here. My favourite part? Five elephants followed the first elephant, because "they have a tendency to do that." Also, notice at the end of the video - what are they doing feeding the elephant with a big bowl of INSIDE the restaurant? Don't those crazy, pastel print-covered parade cowboys know about positive reinforcement? That's it. Those elephants are going to start eating out more often than me!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gigi's Pizza and Spaghetti House, Downtown

Gigi's (1047 Davie St.) is one of the few places that I absolutely love while at the same time admitting that the food is really not that great. Mind you, I love their lasagne with meat balls. You can't go wrong with that. And I haven't really had anything there that has been really unpleasant. But the chicken wings were a little odd once (they are not deep fried or grilled, so they weren't crisp and I found them a bit greasy), and their ribs didn't really melt in my mouth like I wanted them to. But let me reiterate - I just love this little restaurant! It's comfy, the service is always fantastic (I've never seen the place full though, but they are always super friendly), and they play the best music - jazz. The pizza is very nice. It's all very relaxing. I wonder sometimes how big a part the music plays in my positive impressions of this place. I've never been there during any live jazz, though there's a baby grand in the corner, and a waiter mentioned they have it in the summertime. It's a great quiet space to go have a good long rant about your day with someone, and have a drink and a filling meal of lasagne or spaghetti (good meat sauce). I've done this, but I also noticed other customers there doing exactly the same thing. A lot of the time, the restaurant experience is all about that; in other words, being taken care of. Yup, that's it in a nutshell.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sick Picks

There isn't going to be any vigorous blogging around here in the next couple of days. I'm just taking it easy, getting over a cold. But since I've been going on about comfort food lately, here's another comfort food topic: What do you like to eat and drink when you're sick? For me, I revert right back to Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, preferably accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich (yes, shoot me, I eat processed cheese in those). Something from childhood. Congee is good too, because for that, all I need is enough energy to answer the door and pay the delivery guy. And I drink peppermint tea, with sugar and milk. Well, that, and Neo Citran. Neo Citran is my friend.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Secret Underground Restaurants Among Us!

The latest issue of Vancouver Magazine has an article titled Chefs Without Borders, Underground Dining in Vancouver, describing underground and illegal "restaurants" around Vancouver. One of the restaurants described presented an eight course tasting menu, charging about $60, no tax, obviously. This idea of an illicit, only for those in the know, fine dining experience appeals so much to me! Unfortunately, I'm not one of those in the know (yet?). I've also never been invited to an after-hours club, either. Someone out there, please get me on the list for one of these secret restaurants. If you do, I'll make sure to review it in detail here (while protecting the identities and locations of all involved, of course).

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Is It Veal-ly That Bad?

I have generally avoided eating veal for years, so as not to support inhumane farming practices, but I eat other meats, while knowing that those animals aren't treated that well either. Are calves destined for veal (the male calves of dairy cows) treated worse than chickens, pigs, lamb, and turkeys that are slaughtered for meat? A quick internet search only yields highly-biased propoganda on both sides of the fence. What are the thoughts of all the foodies out there? Veal is easily found in the fine restaurants of Vancouver. Parkside even specified "milk-fed veal" unabashedly on their menu. These are calves that have been fed a low-iron milk substitute rather than their mother's milk, so that their flesh is lighter in colour and more tender. In other words, they are made to be almost anemic so that they taste better. Who eats veal out there, and who doesn't? And can anyone direct me to a balanced and reputable discussion of the issue?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bad Foodie News

Since Eat! Vancouver is coming up Apr 22 -24 at BC Place, I thought I would see when Taste of the Nation is scheduled for this year, and I just found out that it's not happening! "The 15th Annual Taste of the Nation will not be occurring in Vancouver, 2005, due to lack of appropriate venue availability." I've been to the last 3 years of this event, at the Hyatt, where restaurants, and wineries and beverage companies donate their time and materials, setting up booths, so that foodies can graze all evening long. The restaurants really put together fabulous hors d'oeuvres, and 100% of the ticket sales go to hunger-fighting charities such as the Food Bank, A Loving Spoonful, and hot lunch programs for school kids. I think it is my all-time favourite Vancouver annual event. Hopefully it will come back in 2006. Looking on the bright side, perhaps this is a good excuse for a road trip to the Seattle or Calgary Taste of the Nation events.

Friday, April 01, 2005

La Petite France

Pastries at La Petite France Posted by Hello

Do you have an afternoon to pamper yourself and a loved one? Go to La Petite France on Arbutus (at 10th Ave), order a coffee and choose an exquisite pastry from their showcase for each of you. Sit down and admire yours, admire them all, savour them slowly. Bac'n Girl once gave me a birthday cake from this place, and I still think of it as the best cake I have ever had (not counting the homemade ones, for anyone who may be reading this who has made me a cake. Of course those are special on an entirely different plane). It was one of their "Delice" which is chocolate cake, covered in chocolate, and has a layer of crispy praline. It was incredible, and you can experience this too! I had a miniature one this week in the bakery ($5.00), and there is a spectacular array of desserts to choose from, each one a work of art. Bac'n Girl had the fraise pistache, an intensely flavoured creamy cloud of pistachio on top of a strawberry one, all wrapped in a beautiful, colour-splattered white chocolate blankie (yummy abstract expressionism). Thanks to Van Eats ( for reminding me of this wonderful patisserie.

Delice (left), Pistachio and Strawberry Mousse Wrapped in White Chocolate (right) Posted by Hello

Tub-O-Duck-Fat, aka duck confit Posted by Hello