Saturday, July 31, 2010

Post 26.13: Vancouver - Final Day

It was the final day of my visit to Vancouver, and there was just one item left on my bucket list for Canada... poutine

Poutine is Canada's national dish (but this is debatable).  Poutine consists of French fries topped off with gravy and cheese curds (with variations).  Poutine is a fun to say on repeat.  Poutine looks absolutely horrific at first glance, but... poutine tastes like heaven.

On the way to the airport, Amanda took me to Belgian Fries on Commercial St., where the bar hoppin' happens.  This is where we found the most expensive poutine in all of Canada.  The cashier clerk at the shop ensured me that both the potatoes and cheese curds were shipped over from Quebec, where poutine originated.  However, the travel from Quebec was not the reason for its hefty price.  This was the most expensive poutine because...

... a parking citation and a tow-away fee came with it.

Yes, you heard right. 

Having forgotten that it was rush hour on a Monday, we parked just after 4:00 p.m. when, of course, Commercial St. becomes a tow-away zone.  (Looks like some things in Canada are the same as they are in America, eh?)

Since we were already running late, Amanda suggested that we order the poutine and eat it in the car as we rush to the airport... but as we were waiting for the Canadian deliciousness to finish frying to a golden crisp, I was relishing in a pint of ice cold, local Canadian brew.  (Sounds a bit strange hearing it as... ice cold, Canadian brew, doesn't it?)  And when heaven contained in a styrofoam box arrived, I couldn't wait to have some.  While Amanda reminded me, "You're going to miss your flight," I feverishly tore through the plastic bag and popped the top of the styrofoam box the same way a mechanic would pop the hood of a smoking car.

These fries were hot.  Like... literally steaming hot.  My first bite just about torched the nsides of my mouth.  It took 60 seconds to fully bite, chew, and engulf the ridiculously burning hot fry... just once.  Whew.

Where the fries had been fortunate to be graced by the gravy's golden touch, the potato was pillow soft.  Where the gravy had missed, the fries were still crisp.  It was easy to taste both the crispy portions of the fry and the tender soft areas too.  I really like how the freshly melted cheese curds burst with a bit of saltiness juxtaposed with the relatively sweet brown gravy.

I had three bites before I slammed the top back down on the box.  Just hearing the haunts of, "You're going to miss your flight..." was enough for me to get in gear for the race to the airport. 

Too bad... while I was enjoying this amazing-delicious poutine (merely three bites) and polishing off my glass of Granville Island honey blonde, Amanda's car was being towed away by parking enforcement.

Upon walking outside of the shop, I heard Amanda ask, "Wherrrre's... my... carrrr...?"

And though I was inclined to respond with "right there," I couldn't.  I suggested that we walk further down the street, but that suggestion was futile since there were no cars left on our side of Commercial St.  And that's when we saw... the tow truck.  And... the tow truck driver.

The driver with his new catch, seeing Amanda run towards his tow truck, slammed on the gas pedal and literally almost ran my now carless Canadian companion over.  Jackass!

Thankfully, though, Amanda's friend Allan saved the day.  He not only picked us up but helped us find the automobile prison and stayed with us until the car was released.  Super props to Allan.  (Thank you, sir.)

But now it was up to us to race to the airport in time to check in (my bag was full of maple syrup and every candy and cookie made from maple syrup imaginable), pass through security, and clear Customs and Immigration.  In the end, I made it.  But not after being (again) detained by security for suspicious items (maple syrup cookies?) and having my bag emptied and flipped through.  Daaamn yooou, Caanaadaaaaa!

But what's life without a little bit of drama and excitement, right?

Thanks to Amanda for being a wonderfully gracious hostess.  I learned quite a few things about Canada and its people (like how they stop talking to me after they find out I'm American) and its food.  I will be back.  For sure.  Until the next trip though, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20100811/20100705

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Post 26.12: Vancouver - Day 3 (Dinner/Post-dinner)

If there's one thing I miss about Taiwan, it's strolling through the night market.  Alright, it's never that easy to stroll through a night market in Taipei... getting stuck and possibly sandwiched is more like it.  But it's the energy of the night that I miss.  There is literally a buzz in the air... if not from the chatter of conversation in the local language then from the molecules flowing through the numerous neon tubes that bring light and warmth to the atmosphere.  Oh, Shilin, how I wish you weren't a 14-hour flight away...

Well, I was in luck because Vancouver has its very own annual summer night market.  And I happened to be right in the midst of the commotion.  I can't believe I even told Amanda that it was alright if we never made it to the night market.  I'm really glad she responded with, "Man, if people found out that I didn't take you to the night market..."

I'm not sure if she ever finished that sentence or if I tuned it out because I didn't want to know the consequences. Either way, I'm glad I made it to the craziness that was the night market. (Thanks, Amanda.) Stands stood next to stand... it was hard to see the gap where one stand ended and the next began. Endless rows of stands served snacks and traditional delicacies from all over the Asian continent... I was enthused to see the different foods represented from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines...

Of course, my stomach had a field day.  We started off with a crepe that was filled with strawberries, Nutella, vanilla ice cream, and a good helping of whipped cream.

Watching the crepe master make it was a bit of fun in itself.  The crepe creator solidified the crepe batter, laid the strawberries out one by one, drizzled chocolate syrup, dropped vanilla ice cream, and folded the crepe all in less than five minutes.

Right next to the crepe stand was a skewer stand that offered everything from grilled lamb skewers to barbecued ice cream on a stick.  Whoooa... BBQ ice cream? Curious much? I asked the cashier what exactly BBQ ice cream was, and she replied, "Look.  Picture." 

Hah.  I guess her answer meant that it was time to fully satisfy our sweet tooths.

It was so obvious which order was ours.  There were just three little spheres of ice cream smoking next to a dozen or so lamb skewers on the grill.  The poor little ice cream balls looked so out of place that I couldn't stop laughing.

They topped it off by drizzling the ice cream with a bit of condensed milk and Hershey's chocolate syrup.  One bite, and Ian exclaimed, "Man! These are cream puffs!"

Oh, and how right he was.  They really tasted simply like frozen cream puffs that had a smoky essence.  I was disappointed by the advertising... but delighted by what I tasted.

My sweet tooth was satisfied... overly so.  I wanted just some plain water to get the potential tooth decay taste out of my mouth, but I came across a Japanese stand with a fresh ginger cooler.  It was sweet but sharp and biting at the same time... all the characteristics of fresh, raw ginger... and none of the characteristics of ginger ale.  Amanda took a sip of it, and she made the same face that a child would make upon tasting chopped liver for the first time.  I don't think either of us appreciated the little bits and pieces of fresh ginger floating around inside the drink.  Perhaps onto something else...?

At the same stand I ordered the Japanese-style burger with an extra helping of kimchi in the middle.  At that time I think I was attempting to fill my void of Taiwan's Mos Burger, a hamburger chain that specializes in Japanese-style hamburgers, many of which have sticky rice in place of the typical bread bun.  Each time I took a bite, the pressure from the chomp squeezed the center of the burger, which caused teriyaki sauce to oooooze out of the middle... it dripped onto the rice bun... the napkin... my hand... mmmmm...

We got some Japanese takoyaki too.  Half a dozen spheres of octopus were covered with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed confetti, and of course, the flakes of bonito that wisp with the heat of the takoyaki.  I love watching the bonito flakes writhe in the heat, especially on okonomiyaki.

We saved the one item we were all waiting for last. Although we went straight for the Hong Kong style egg waffles when we first walked into the night market, the line was so long that we decided to come back later. And even when we returned, the line was just as long... the only difference was that our craving for the waffle increased ten-fold.

I snuck a little peak behind the stand's plastic curtains to see the waffle machines at full capacity.  Each time the waffle iron clamped down to close, the batter would seep out and leave a trail of batter droplets on the iron.  After hundreds of times of closing the waffle iron, more and more trails of batter accumulated onto the iron's surface, leaving an unconsumed little hill of semi-cooked waffle behind.

After waiting for what only seemed like an eternity, we picked up our double order of original egg flavored waffle and chocolate flavored waffle. And I'll be the first one to say... it was worth the wait. I was already stuffed to the brim with crepe, ice cream, ginger water, rice and meat, and takoyaki, but it was so hard to stay away from these waffles. Each sphere (we had a lot of spherical-shaped food at the night market) was crispy and warm... and I tore each section off one at a time and popped each one. With each bite I broke the crust and allowed the steam to escape (the waffles are hallow) from the waffle's insides to the insides of my mouth. Ooooh... it's like a reminder that the waffles just came right off the iron. FRESH. That waffle was FRESH.

Mmmm... fresh waffle.  Fresh crepe.  Fresh okonomiyaki.  Fresh everything.  I inhaled a bit of faux Taiwanese atmosphere while inhaling carbs galore from around the world.  Man, this night market was amazing-awesome.  That's one thing I'll say that has USA beat.  Night markets in Taipei, Keelung, and Kaohsiung? Oh yeah, there are plenty.  Night markets in LA? You'd think there would be.  But night markets in Vancouver? I didn't think so, but I'm sure as hell glad that there are.  (Take out the horrid manure scent from the Home Depot across the street, and you've got an even better night market.)

Hey SoCal, I say we have some night markets at the Pomona Fairgrounds, OC Fair, and Del Mar Fair whenever the fairs aren't around.

Next post: The most expensive poutine ever

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Post 26.11: Vancouver - Day 3 (Lunch)

After relishing in hot bowls of congee, we retreated back to some very comfortable couches to watch a certain favorite comedy of mine.  Hint: it involves a giant purple plane on hydraulics, Snoop Dogg as Capt. Mack... and M'onique terrorizing travelers at the metal detector of Terminal Malcolm X.  If you know this movie and can recite lines from it like I can, I think we can be very good friends.

But as soon as the plot (is there even a plot to this movie?) unfolded, my stomach started growling again.  No, congee is not a very sustaining kind of food... so it was time for a rejuvenation of protein and carbohydrates in the form of pho. 

Afterwards, Amanda took me to Burnaby Mountain for some beautiful sights, fresh smells, and entertaining stories about the history of the Canadian natives.  (Amanda, you're welcome to leave a comment to let everyone know about the natives of Canada.)

The sun had been out earlier in the weekend.  If the sun wasn't so shy, the views would extend to the far reaches of British Columbia's lower mainland.  Too bad!

And we paid a little visit to the massive totem poles.  Well, I paid a visit to the totem poles while Amanda scrambled to take pictures before the battery ran out... and before water started falling from the sky.  How quickly it turned from sunny to gloomy to raindrops... it must be because I was heading back home the next day.  Hah.

If it wasn't so gloomy, I would spend hours here just soaking up the peace and calm (just tune out the dozens of tourists) and perhaps bring up a special someone... but it was gloomy, and I didn't hear anything but families with screaming babies in strollers... DTP! Time to go!

Next post: Vancouver's annual Summer Night Market

ML - 20100803/20100704

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Post 26.10: Vancouver - Day 3 (Breakfast)

Twas my third day in Vancouver, and throughout the weekend Amanda had been talking about heading to this popular congee house for some Cantonese homestyle porridge.  Everytime she mentioned it I secretly kept thinking to myself that congee is food that you eat only when you have a cold, flu, or hangover... it's the last item you order at dim sum (if you even remember to order it) to fill you up.  Some people haaaaate congee with a passion.  It's rice + water + gag-inducing items like thousand-year-old egg. 

Okay, so that's what I used to think about congee...

After a quick meal with Amanda and her friend Ian, I have officially changed my policy on congee.  The congee at Congee Noodle King in Vancouver has the best congee/porridge/rice soup I have ever had in my life... way, way, way better than anything I've ever had in America.  And I wasn't even in Hong Kong.  (Those Yelpers are nuts for giving it just three stars.)

The congee I've had in dim sum restaurants are usually served runny.  Water or broth overrun the bowl, and it almost drowns the rice.  Here, though, the congee was thick.  The pureed rice wasn't overtaken by broth or water.  The grains of rice were uniform throughout the porridge, and the porridge, at first glance, even looked... beautiful.  The porcelain bowl arrived with the porcelain-hued porridge, and it almost felt... refined.

The first item on the menu, strangely, is ostrich congee.  There were three simple reasons to order ostrich congee at Congee Noodle King:

(1) The first item on the menu is usually (repeat... usually) the house specialty;
(2) When have you ever come across ostrich meat in your rice porridge?
(3) My manager at work mentioned ostriches last week; it was a sign...

So we ordered it. 

And how does a native African bird taste in traditional Chinese breakfast porridge?


The ostrich meat looks like beef at first glance.  If you didn't know someone ordered the ostrich congee, you'd probably think the meat floating atop your bowl was beef.  But once you take a bite, you'd change your tune just a bit... you'd probably think it was lamb.  The gamey taste of the ostrich is similar to that from lamb.  And though the scent lingers in your mouth a little bit, it's not anything too insanely pungent.  The roasted peanuts and strings of green onion do a satisfactory job of holding the gamey taste back.

It's something you have to experience at least once in your life.  Not your favorite? At least try it once.   And move onto the house special seafood congee with prawns, scallops, squid, and pieces of fish.  THIS is what I'm talkin' about.  It's got a beautiful, delicate porcelain look... and the same beautiful, delicate porcelain taste.

I really enjoyed all the combination of the ocean's lighter fare.  No rubbery clams, no mushy oysters, no thousand. year. old. egg. to ruin the delicate flavors.

We ordered a wonton soup and the Chinese doughnut wrapped in steamed rice roll too.  I have no idea where my picture of the wonton soup went though... we might've eaten it a bit too fast for my Canon to catch it.

For something that is considered soupy, congee fills you up pretty fast.  But that congee dissipates as quickly as it enters your stomach... it was lunch time before I knew it.

Here is a post on Congee Noodle King from the noshwell duo.

Next post: Some pho and some fun

ML - 20100802/20100704

Friday, July 23, 2010

Post 26.9: Vancouver - Night 2

Earlier in the day Amanda and I attended the Taiwanese Film Festival that happened to be in town.  The TWFF organization set up shop at Vancouver's International Film Centre.  It was really heart-warming to see a significant Taiwanese population supporting the push to have more representation in the film industry.


We watched No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Cannot Live Without You), a film about a father's struggle to hold onto his daughter while the pressures of society's laws and bureaucracy pull in the opposite way.  (Wow, can I be more general?) It's a definitely heart-wrenching, tear-inducing film... more than half the theatre audience was sniffling and wiping away tears by the end of the film.  It didn't help that it was based off a true story.  No worries if you have trouble with Mandarin, Taiwanese, or Hakka (all three are spoken in the film)... that's what the subtitles are for! See the trailer here and the other films here.

To close off our fun-filled day of everything Japanese (and a little Taiwanese), Amanda took me to a Japanese snack and candy shop to explore my favorite tooth-decaying treat of all time... Kit Kat! Niiiiice.  See what I found:

Japanese matcha green tea flavor and cherry blossom with matcha green tea.

Framboise flavor and raspberry & passion fruit flavored Kit Kat.

Canada's hazlenut-infused Kit Kat flavor.

And I couldn't resist these little maple creams that I found.  Gahhh... the maple syrup cream literally bursts with each bite.  I planned to bring these back to the States as gifts, but... I ate them all even before we got back on the metro.  Fail.

These little sugary treats and our pit-stop at Urban Fare definitely lifted our spirits.  Woot for an awesome day of food and film in Vancouver.  Can't wait for tomorrow!

Next spot: Ostrich congee

ML - 20100802/20100703

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Post 26.8: Vancouver - Day 2 (Dinner)

So after a breakfast of sushi rolls and a lunch of Japanese-American hot dog fusion, Amanda said it was time for her to show me her favorite Japanese izakaya in town.  And who was I to refuse? This girl knows where to eat!

Guu is guud.  It really is.  It even says so on the chopsticks wrapper.  And everyone knows that if it's in writing, it must be true.  Hah.

We sat at the bar, and although there's not as much elbow room at the bar as there is at a table, the bar offers a great view of the chefs hard at work.  Substitute elbow room for a glimpse into the fast-paced chaos of an izakaya's kitchen? Count me in!

The menu at Guu is quite extensive.  Not only does the food menu come in a laminated, ring-bound, mini-Rolodex-like, school-report format, it comes in the forms of paper (the chef's specials of the day) and wood too.  (The entire menu can be viewed from a podium-like fixture by the front door.)  From sashimi to salad, from hot oden to cold dishes, from fried to grilled... Guu has it all.  I wanted to order everything.  But I called upon Asahi-san first, as he, Sapporo-san, and Kirin-san are my very good buddies.  Amanda chose to have a Ramune mojito, which substituted Japanese marble soda pop for the mojito's traditional fizz. Cheers!

Based on Amanda's recommendation, the first item we ordered was the daikon salad.  At first I thought, "How can you possibly make a salad out of radish and have it taste good too?" Well, just throw in silky strands of shark fin, gleaming noodles of jellyfish, and curls of fried onions, and you've got yourself a salad.  Mmm... the combination of different textures blend well together... and the delicate flavors from the sea create a salad that is not too strong or overpowering.  Cobb salad, this is not.  A light and refreshing Asian-style salad, this is.

The next item that we selected was the salmon yukke.  I've only ever had tuna yukke before, so this was one of my rare encounters with salmon yukke.  And this rare encounter was almost magical.  The salmon had a gorgeous, glowing, radiant color... but I'm sure that the dark teriyaki sauce in the background helped to bring out the glow too.  What struck me  most was not the color but, once again, the combination of textures.  There was the tender and fleshy-sweet salmon sashimi that contrasted with the smooth saltiness of the teriyaki sauce... and then the slight, crackling crunch of the shrimp chips against the firm resilience from the pine nuts.  Wow, Guu... this really was guuuuud.

Beef sashimi was next.  We moved on from a red-fleshed fish to a red-fleshed mammal.  And oh, the red flesh of this cow was oh, so tender.  I wish I could say tell you how raw beef is supposed to taste, but honestly, I can't.  I only know if beef is good or bad when it's cooked.  The best bovine expertise I can provide is that the meat didn't smell like past-the-date beef from Vons, and it tasted pretty similar to the rare cut of prime rib at Lawry's.  The paper-thin slices of beef were surrounded by a ginger tomato sauce, a drizzle of mustard mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of chopped basil and green onion.  Okay, I rescind my comment.  I know how raw beef is supposed to taste.

My favorite item was the ebimayo, a signature item at Guu's Thurlow location.  The ebimayo was also Amanda's recommendation, and I know exactly why Amanda (or any Guu regular for that matter) would swoon over it.  Shrimp and potatoes are baked together in a gratin-style dish, mixed into and blanketed by cod roe, cheese, and Japanese mayonnaise...  Seeing it made me hot and bothered.  Tasting it made me melt like cheeeese.  Ahhhhhhh... and the best part was that the curled-up shrimp and the spherical potatoes were the same shape and size.  Covered under the layer of cheese and cod roe mayonnaise helped disguise the sea critter and the land veggie... I was in for a surprise everytime I forked this into my mouth.  Really though, it's easy to distinguish shrimp from potato, but... I was eating with my eyes closed.

I ordered a fifth item... the butabara skewers.  Cannot. stay. away. from. pork. belly.  If pork belly is in front of me, I will eat it.  If pork belly is on the menu, I will order it.  If there is no pork belly in sight, I will crave it.  Sweet garlic cloves separated strips of my favorite meat, and sesame seeds somehow held it all together.  Mmmm... say no more.  PORK BELLY was here.

Four dishes for two people is usually quite the meal in itself.  But I... well, if it's good, I can eat.  And if I don't destruct what's in front of me, I'd be happy to let it destruct me.  So five.  Five dishes.  Two and a half stomachs.  Countless times I heard Amanda exclaim, "How can you be hungry right now? I'm still FULL!"

Poor Amanda.  Look at the hell I put her through with my attempt to eat my way through Vancouver.  And we had yet to hit up Vancouver's annual Summer Night Market.  If that's not culinary masochism, I don't know what is.  But for now... some more digestion via walking? You betcha. 

Next post: Some more Japanese... and little bit of Taiwanese

ML - 20100729/20100703