“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” It’s one of my favourite lines. Spend very much time around me and I’ll say it at one time or another. It would also be a very good way to describe my last trip to Vancouver. I was part of the epic journey known as Dimsumcouver 3.0. Nine restaurants in about as many hours with my friends Naomi, Cameo, Rachel, and Frank, it was ad ode to gluttony and delicious differences between out native Seattle and the metropolis to the north.
We dashed north as quickly as possible in our quest for dim sum, dosas, izakaya, ramen, and whatever else caught our eyes. This is where I give a shout out to Naomi driving the other car. She drives like she means to get somewhere. A really refreshing change from most drivers in Seattle, thank Tod. Anyways, after a quick stop at duty free for some tax free booze – everything tastes better without tax, we made our first stop of the day at Sea Harbour.
A quick note on Vancouver dim sum, there are way more places there without carts, ordering from a menu is far more prevalent than in Seattle. I like carts but don’t care too much as long as it’s good. Pictures are a big help though and thankfully there were plenty of pictures. Someday I will actually learn how to read Chinese and shock the crap out of my parents, until then pictures will have to do.
We were good and limited ourselves to just nine items but man was it hard. The irony is that we were exercising restraint so we could be better gluttons for the rest of the day. The highlights for me were a salty pork bone and pickled veggie congee and fried fish cakes wrapped in rice noodles. The rice in the congee was properly pulverized, the salty pork bone having flavoured the broth wonderfully. We eagerly picked over the joint of swine flesh like brains craving zombies, the nuggets of meat we were able to extract just the right level of saltiness after having given up so much to the congee around it.
The fish cakes were a new twist on the Chinese long doughnut wrapped in rice noodles concept. The contrast in textures really came through and added to the dish.
We then moved on to Shanghai River, most especially for the soup dumplings. The endless frustration of soup dumplings is trying to strike the balance between a dough that’s thin enough to be light, but thick enough to hold in the eponymous soup without being a lump. I usually count myself fortunate to be able to get a hold of one per order that manages to hold together long enough for me to get that elusive bite where the broth explodes into your mouth as you pop the dumpling in. That hard to get bite is what drives everyone who craves these to distraction. Shanghai River executed them excellently, not just the normal pork ones, but also a crab and shrimp version that also burst perfectly in your mouth.
The surprise though was probably the beef sesame pancake sandwich. A great little bite, with a crisp sesame studded pancake that was just fluffy and crunchy enough, stuffed with slices of braised beef. There being just enough connective tissue still holding together in the beef to give it a bit of tooth to contrast with the pancake, a solid win by any definition.
After we walked out of Shanghai River we stopped by the trunk of my car for a quick shot of Underberg. Extolling the virtues of Underberg is a task better left to this man, suffice it to say, it provided us with the ability to bounce back from the edge of a food coma magically made us look forward to our next stop.
Himalaya, in the Punjabi Market area of Vancouver, we really held back here. Not without scoring a win here as well. My apologies for the terrible picture, but the appearance cannot detract from the awesomeness that was this bowl of mulligatawny. (I am amazed that mulligatawny is in Word’s vocabulary, who’d’ve thought that would be in there. Thank you, armies of Indian programmers.) Soup is probably my favourite food group, more on my definition of food groups in another post. I love soup out of all proportion. I would be happy to eat soup at every meal, and I usually do at least once a day. This mulligatawny was perfectly spiced, balancing textures and aromas like none other before it. This was mulligatawny like the Soup Nazi must have served.
Our first impromptu stop of the day then ensued, we hiked the long and arduous four storefronts to the Indian Sweet Shop, pretty self explanatory I think. We were greeted by a brilliant and colourful case of sweets and somehow a bunch of your mom jokes ensued. I abstained but my companions were of weaker wills and all of them walked out with boxes under their arms.
On our way to our next stop, I saw two things that really made me want to pull over, one was a Church’s Fried Chicken, if you need to ask then you don’t get it, the other was Duffin’s Donuts. The sign set off all of my morbid curiosity alarms with the attendant hope that it could be gloriously wonderfully incongruous. It read, donuts, tortas, Vietnamese subs, Chinese food, donuts, and burgers, all available 24 hours a day. Tell me that does not cause your breath to catch just a bit. If it doesn’t you might be reading the wrong blog. I am so putting it on the list for next time. Schedule be damned.
The House of Dosas was our next destination. In addition to the dosas, it just happened to be hopper night. We learned that a hopper is made from the same batter but cooked into a bowl shape with an egg in the middle as an option. Into this magical vessel we spooned our goat curry. The perfect vehicle for sauce, light, crisp, and more than up to the task of moving the fantastic goat curry to our mouths. Edible utensils are the way to go!
The dosa itself was also excellent. We got the gunpowder dosa, with plenty of kick to it but not at all overpowering. Again, nice and crisp exterior, holding in the filling without giving you a mouthful of batter. Hey, all you wrap selling, burrito wannabe fast food joints. Take one of these and shove it up your intercom!
We needed a slight break after this, so we headed to Granville Island Market. One of the great public markets in North America, the dizzying array of vendors, produce, and food stalls makes for an experience oh so familiar to Pike Place Market but with a whole new set of sights.
It really boils down to two things for me at Granville though. One is the Stock Market, a stall where you can buy soup, salads, dressings, and all that jazz, but more importantly where I can buy cryovacced bags of stock of all sorts and demi-glace. I have to admit that I’m too lazy to make my own veal stock any more. The other place near to my heart here is Oyama. A tumultuous temple of all things cured, encased, terrined, charcuterie, salumi, and confited. A vegetarians nightmare and a meat eaters delight, there is simply no matching it anywhere. The cacophony of languages from all over Europe and Asia, spoken by the staff and its hordes of customers attests to the global appeal of delicious tasty meat products.
All good intentions aside, I did break down and get some very decent pierogies from a stand at the market. Light, and with an excellent potato filling, not exactly something I really had to have, but hey, see the first sentence.
Leaving Granville Island we stopped by a liquor so I could get more booze. Mostly Giffard liqueurs and Nikka whiskey, things we simply can’t get back in the US, so I was determined to load up. Another shot of Underberg and off to Kintaro we went.
Hand in hand with my love of soup goes my love of ramen. A good ramen, with a rich, and most importantly, balanced broth, nice al dente noodles, and a slice of roasted pork is right up there on my list of things close to nirvana. The fact that it is easier to find a good steak in a hospital cafeteria than good ramen in Seattle – not impossible; just very unlikely, makes it all the more bittersweet to go to Kintaro. The ramen there is more than good, it is sublime. It’s all that I can ask for in ramen, and true to the archetype, it’s inexpensive, comes really fast, and takes me back to my childhood visiting stalls in the alleys of Osaka, where shitty or even indifferent ramen just can’t survive.
After Kintaro we walked back up Robson Street and popped into Hapa Izakaya. Ther service was great, but the food just wasn’t very exciting for the most part. There were a couple things that were really well executed though. One was beef tendon stew, and the other was a spot prawn sashimi. The sashimi, were sweet and clean, just the way it should be.
The stew was comforting and as the night was getting colder it was a welcome warming dish with the tendons braised to melting softness.
Our last stop on the day was Gyoza King. We dived into a tuna tartare, takoyaki, and of course gyoza. The tuna was presented oh so beautifully and the nori was probably one of the best vehicles for tartare I’ve come across. The briny notes of the kelp adding a subtle reminder of where the fish had come from.
The takoyaki was perfect, crisp and piping hot, cooked to a fluffy moistness inside. You may think that octopus fritters may be an odd combo, but a well made takoyaki will have you jonesing for it all the time.
We wrapped up the day with some shrimp gyoza that were just the right way to end the eating extravaganza, not at all oily and crunchy on one side and stuffed with a really tasty filling, it sent us off back to our cars and one last hit of Underberg to make the drive home.
It’s a tough life, and you probably think I’m crazy, but let me remind you I had four other compatriots who obviously didn’t think so. It was definitely a day where nothing succeeded like excess.
More pictures of the gluttony are available on my Flickr page.