During our stay in Oxford, we ended up taking the train down to London again, as we had the opportunity to visit Canada House, part of the High Commission of Canada in London. As it was located right in Trafalgar Square, it was a great opportunity for us to visit attractions that we’d missed out on during our stay in London. We visited the National Portrait Gallery, which houses the portraits of what seems like every notable British person ever. It’s an interesting lens through which to view British history, and like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, admission is free.
Before all this, though, we stopped by Wagamama for a quick lunch. I was wary of Wagamama, as I had been of most Asian restaurants in London. Wagamama reminded me of The Noodle Box in Vancouver, a very Westernized “Asian” restaurant serving a mix of dishes from different Asian cuisines.
I had the Cha Han (£7.80), fried rice with chicken and prawns, mangetout (snow peas), mushrooms, sweetcorn and spring onions, served with a side of miso soup and pickles. The miso soup was the usual predictably salty fare, with tiny tofu cubes and some seaweed. The rice itself was, strangely enough, too oily yet too dry at the same time, but also a tiny bit undercooked. I added some soy sauce to moisten it, which helped. I liked how the veggies were in smaller pieces, as it made them easier to eat, especially in the case of the snow peas. The chicken was sufficiently moist, and the prawns had a nice snap to them. Overall, though, it wasn’t a particularly memorable meal.
Dolph’s Chili Men (£10.95) included prawns, zucchini, red onions, peppers, mushrooms, and mangetout in a spicy tomato chili sauce, on soba noodles. With that variety of ingredients, it sounded delicious, but it fell short of the description. The noodles were quite limp and not chewy enough, while the sauce was one-dimensional, simply being spicy with no other real flavours.
Shawarma opted for the Chili Ramen (£9.65), noodles in a spicy chicken soup topped with grilled chicken, red and spring onions, beansprouts and chilies, garnished with coriander and lime. Like Dolph’s noodles above, Shawarma found her ramen lacking, as there was not much in the way of flavour. While the chilies added some spice, the broth was mostly thin and bland. The noodles were disappointingly mushy, not chewy as ramen should be. She also thought that the dish was quite overpriced, as it really was nothing special.
Pickles had the Pad Thai (£9.55), with egg, beansprouts, leek, red and spring onions, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger and chilies, fried shallots, and peanuts. Despite the plethora of ingredients, she wasn’t very impressed, having had many a good pad thai in her day. She commented that this version lacked flavour, and that it would have benefitted from more sauce.
Overall, we were underwhelmed by our lunch at Wagamama. Hailing from Vancouver, where there are so many excellent examples of Asian cuisine, I suppose I had some unrealistically high standards when it comes to Asian food, especially since I was lucky enough to grow up with my mother’s cooking. Wagamama is fine for a quick lunch, but it’s nothing I would heartily recommend to someone.
After lunch, our group ventured to Canada House, where we were given a tour of the rooms and provided with a quick history of the building. Following this, we ventured across Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery. Trafalgar Square was even more packed than usual, due to a Scotland vs. England soccer (or, as the British say, football) game taking place that day. Scotsmen in kilts filled the square, downing countless beers (and leaving ten thousand empty cans to be disposed of the next day). Before I visited the U.K., I’d always thought of “British” as more or less a single identity, but now I realize how wrong that is. I learned to clearly distinguish between “English” and “British”, as the latter includes the Scottish and the Welsh in addition to the English. One regret I have about my trip was that I didn’t get to spend much time in the English countryside other than passing through it on my way to and from London.
In any case, I suppose lunch at Wagamama was a fond memory for us, but it definitely paled in comparison to more exciting aspects of the day, including experiencing firsthand the boisterousness of drunken Scotsmen. Ah, London.
14 Irving Street
London, United Kingdom WC2H 7AF
After our 4-day stay in Dublin, Pickles, Dolph and I returned to London and settled into our accommodations for the next three weeks. Since our breakfasts were included in the costs of the program, we only had to take care of our lunches and dinners. For me, this inevitably lead to overconsumption of my favourite Starbucks drink (the iced chai latte), as well as some cold ready-to-eat items from M&S Simply Food. London was abnormally warm during our stay, often going over 30° Celsius (or 86° Fahrenheit if you’re Celsius-illiterate like I am). Cold pasta salads from M&S were my saviour when I wasn’t in the mood for a hot meal, which was often.
Still, once in a while, you’re just in the mood for a warm dinner, so the three of us decided to go eat at Misato, a Japanese restaurant in London’s Chinatown, which Dolph had visited earlier in the week. After consuming so many prepackaged sandwiches and pasta salads, I was excited to have some warm steamed rice and yummy Japanese food.
Pickles decided to indulge in Japanese-style comfort food with the Chicken Katsu Curry with Rice (£6). She was more than pleased with her meal, which was a better value for its price than pretty much any other meal we’d had so far in London. The chicken was crispy and well-fried, but also moist on the inside, while the rice was warm and comforting. The curry tasted mildly salty as opposed to sweet, which I found different than the other Japanese curries I’ve tried, but we still enjoyed it nevertheless. The little salad accompanying her meal was fine, but nothing memorable, and honestly, the chicken and rice were more than what we’d expected for the price.
Meanwhile, Dolph ordered the Tempura Soba (£5.50). She regretted this afterwards, saying that she wished she’d gotten a tempura udon instead, but no matter. The three of us agreed that we all enjoyed soba served cold, as in zaru soba, but I guess that’s just personal preference. Since the tempura was served in the soup, it was naturally soggy, losing its crispiness. While the portion size was large, the broth was predominantly salty and had little else in the way of flavour. Out of the three dishes we ordered, I guess I would have to say that this was the least satisfying, although it might be just our personal preferences.
Lastly, I had the Grilled Mackerel with Rice (£4.50). Since about a week earlier, I’d had an intense craving for grilled mackerel, which my mom cooks up for me on a regular basis at home. I’ve noticed that a lot of people I know tend to shy away from mackerel, probably because of its intense fishiness, but that’s exactly what I love about mackerel–besides, why eat fish if you’re afraid of the fishiness? In any case, I had to order the mackerel once I saw it on the menu, and I was both pleased with the huge portion size as well as the price, which was only £1 more expensive than that Starbucks chai latte I mentioned earlier. In any case, the mackerel was obviously a bit oily, as it was fried, but it was both salty and satisfyingly fishy, as mackerel should be. It was also easy to eat, as there were no noticeable bones, and the lemon slice helped to alleviate some of the fishiness. The salad was more or less the same as the one included with the chicken katsu curry. Although this made me miss home more than ever, I still was comforted by the idea that I could find something similar to my mom’s home-cooked meals in London’s Chinatown, of all places.
Overall, I was really happy with our meal here. Out of the restaurants I ate at during my three week stay in London, I would have to say that the prices at Misato were the best fit for my broke-student/broke-tourist budget. I know that the cost of living in Vancouver is quite high and often a source of stress for me and my fellow Vancouverites, but sometimes the food prices in London just baffled me, especially once I learned to intuitively apply the correct conversion rate. Of course, London is a huge city with many different types of cuisine to offer, but if you’re on a budget and near Piccadilly Circus, I would highly recommend Misato, which is not only a frugal option but a tasty one as well.
11 Wardour Street
London W1D 6PG
Mid-April: that time of year when university students (in Vancouver, at least) are drowning in final papers and exams. Luckily enough for me, my exam schedule this year ended relatively early (although this resulted simply because I had all four of my exams within three days). SB’s last exam was on the day after mine ended, so we decided to celebrate by having dinner–and for this celebratory dinner, I chose Baan Wasana, recommended to me by my friend Chris.
Baan Wasana is located in this charmingly quaint area of Kerrisdale, across the street from Faubourg and just a few bus stops away from Oakridge Centre. Compared to other shops in the area, its storefront may appear a bit shoddy, but the inside is clean, pretty, and surprisingly upscale. However, the prices are still affordable (around the $10 mark), so we ordered our food without feeling too overwhelmed.
First, we shared the Satay ($8.75 for 4 pieces). We chose to have chicken, but pork and beef were also available. These skewers were served with Thai peanut sauce and cucumber relish. The peanut sauce was a bit thin and watery, and we would have preferred it to be thicker and more flavourful. The cucumber relish was vinegary and refreshing, especially in contrast with the chicken. Meanwhile, the chicken itself was quite moist, and while I’m not enough of an expert to identify the different spices used, I could still taste the different spices that the meat had been marinated in. The meat also came off the skewers quite easily, although we would have preferred to be given knives, as the only utensils provided were forks and spoons.
Moving onwards to the entrees, SB had the Raad Naa ($10.95), which was a stir-fried rice noodle dish in soya gravy, with Chinese broccoli and chicken (or pork). Neither of us had even heard of the dish before so we weren’t sure what to expect, but here goes. The gravy had a very strong savoury flavour that we guessed was due to the use of MSG. (And after the meal, both of us did get quite thirsty, which was also probably due to the use of MSG). The gravy was quite thick and gloopy, and would have probably congealed if left alone for a bit. The noodles themselves were very soft and not at all chewy, lacking what I love best about flat rice noodles. This was an acceptable dish considering that we randomly picked it from the menu, but we probably wouldn’t order this again.
And, of course, I had the requisite Pad Thai ($10.95), which came with a choice of either prawns, chicken, or veggies. You can also choose the level of spiciness that you would like. (Having been warned by Chris, I ordered it mild, and it stil had a strong spicy aftertaste after each bite). As you can see, I chose the prawns, of which there were four. These prawns were on the large size and had a nice snap to them. Although this dish looked promising, and I ate quite a bit of it, it was a bit lacking. The noodles could have been chewier, and the pressed tofu was served in tiny pieces that made it difficult to really taste anything. Moreover, this pad thai simply didn’t have the X factor. It lacked that tangy, sour taste that I strongly associate with pad thai, and in the end, it simply wasn’t memorable. It wasn’t a bad plate of noodles by any means, but it was not outstanding.
Would we visit Baan Wasana again? Perhaps. If we were in the neighbourhood and I didn’t feel like spending a lot of money, this would probably be a good option. Both of us were quite full at the end of our meal, and our bill totaled to less than $40 after tax and tip. Although the food was acceptable here, it didn’t completely satisfy my craving for Thai food.
Baan Wasana Thai
2143 West 41st Avenue
Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I make sure to go have congee and noodles for breakfast at least 3 times a week– there’s a little shop near my uncle’s apartment in Tsuen Wan, and my mom and I (sometimes joined by other relatives) would trek over there to feast before heading out on our day. Here, that’s a little difficult, since most places that do serve congee are too far away for me to get to on a regular basis.
In fact, I haven’t had congee in the morning since my visit over two years ago. So when my dad suggested he drive me down to Richmond for breakfast while we waited for my mom to finish up her badminton game, I jumped at the chance to have a Chinese breakfast.
We actually got to Michigan Noodle House on Alexandra Road a few minutes before opening. Funny thing was, if it weren’t for a huge traffic jam on the 91, we would have arrived far too early, and would have chosen some other place to eat. So you could say that it was destiny…
We were the first ones in the restaurant, so we had our pick of the tables. We chose a booth furthest from the kitchen so we (really, I) could watch the goings-on of the waiters and chefs. After checking to see if the congee I wanted was on the menu, we flagged them down to get our order in.
My absolute #1 favourite is the Pork Stomach Congee ($6). My other favourite is the century egg and lean pork congee, but when pork stomach is present on the menu, I always get it. This one was full of thick, chewy pieces of stomach that tasted clean and fresh– stomach, and other innards, are notoriously hard to clean out, but they did a great job here. The thin slivers of ginger and rings of green onion helped to add some crunch and flavour in the congee (think porridge, but with rice instead of oatmeal), which was lightly salted. I felt that the congee was a little too mushy, as the rice was too broken-down. Maybe it’s just me, but I like my congee a little grainier. I would also have liked them to add some black pepper in, but the white pepper at the table did the job.
It is my opinion that congee should never be served alone, and any Chinese restaurant (that serves congee) worth their salt should also have fantastic Chinese Donuts ($2). I really liked the one they had here, as it was fried up fresh (I saw them in the kitchen), so it was nice and hot when it arrived. It was also very light, crispy and chewy, and not overly greasy. Cut down to a good size, these were perfect for dipping into my congee, and I wanted to order another one just to munch on, but that would have been a little too indulgent.
My dad likes his noodles, so he ordered the Shrimp and Pork Dumpling Noodle Soup ($5.25), which looked pretty small in size, but ended up being quite the hefty bowl. The long, thin wonton noodles were the right texture, being slightly chewy, though they were a bit long. I understand that it’s tradition to leave the noodles uncut (they signify good luck), but that just makes it a lot more difficult to eat, and as you remember, my chopstick skills are not great, and don’t involve cutting chewy noodles (I left that for my dad to do). The four large dumplings had a thin, wrinkly skin, and hid some really well-made filling. The shrimp and pork were both appropriately bouncy and chewy, and the wood ear mushrooms provided that crunch needed to round out the dumpling. The soup was quite flavourful, but I didn’t detect too much MSG in it, which is always a plus.
I felt that our meal here was pretty standard, but definitely did the job in satisfying my 2-year-long craving. Prices are rather reasonable– one can get very full for less than $10– and the noodles were of especially good quality. I do wish that the congee was less goopy, but that is the way that some restaurants make it, so I can’t complain too much. There are many other restaurants like this in Richmond (and Vancouver), but if I were in the area and had a hankering for noodles and congee, Michigan Noodle would be on my list of restaurants to choose from.
Michigan Noodle Restaurant
8580 Alexandra Rd
So, Mui Garden closed down, leaving my family in despair. Maybe despair is a strong term, but my family is picky about what we eat, and when it comes to Chinese food, there are many restaurants we can’t dine at due to our aversion to MSG. I’d heard great things about No. 1 Chinese Restaurant on the corner of Hastings and Boundary, so my family drove out there for dinner one night. We arrived early and were seated promptly, but the restaurant quickly filled up, which is always a good sign.
The interior of the restaurant is a bit odd. Beside me there was a mural of a landscape that vaguely reminded me of an amalgamation of Switzerland and Greece. Apparently the spot was formerly occupied by a European restaurant, and the new owners opted not to paint over the themed mural. I personally hate murals (the minimalist in me prefers a plain wall), but a restaurant should be judged primarily on its food.
Apparently the dish to get here is the Deep Fried Tofu with Golden Garlic ($8.50). I had no idea what to expect from this. After all, what’s so special about tofu, right? But we all fell in love within a couple bites. The outside layer is a bit salty and crunchy, but the tofu inside is incredibly smooth and silky. My mom has sensitive teeth and often has to be careful about what she eats, but this was perfect for her. This came out piping hot, so keep that in mind before you take a bite. All the dishes we tried were delicious, but this was the most memorable for me.
The dish I was least satisfied with was the Wonton Noodle Soup ($4.95). The main reason is that I’m not a huge fan of MSG, and I could taste it in the soup, plus I was terribly thirsty and headachey afterwards. Other than that, I found the noodles a bit tough, and thought that they could have been cooked a bit longer. The wontons consisted of a pork and prawn filling and a smooth, slippery skin. The skin was also quite thin, which I liked. I’m not sure I would order this again, though, since I have a low tolerance for MSG.
Next up is the Spicy Szechuan Fried Beans ($8.95). The green beans were fresh and actually tasted like real vegetables, which was nice. I often find that fried veggies lose their crispness, but not here. I also liked how the accompanying pork was julienned, which made it easy to pick up and eat, unlike the ground version found at other restaurants. Also, the beans weren’t saturated in sauce, which was great, and in reality the flavour was quite mild, although there was some heat. I really appreciated how this wasn’t too salty, which made it an enjoyable dish for all of us.
We usually make an effort to order a dish with prawns, since my mom really likes them, and here we ordered the Pan Fried Prawns with Peanuts in Chili Sauce ($12.95). They were fine, but didn’t stand out in comparison with the other dishes at the table. The prawns had a nice snap and retained their natural sweetness, while the veggies tasted crisp and natural. I actually expected these to be spicy, but I didn’t think that they exhibited any real heat. This dish was more than fine, but I didn’t end up eating much of it, since we had a lot of other great dishes at the table.
Next up, we have the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles ($7.75), with a vermicelli version also offered on their menu. If given the choice, I always choose rice noodles–I much prefer the broad, chewy noodles to the thinner ones. In addition to the huge heap of noodles, the dish included some bean sprouts and bits of fried egg. The curry sauce was subtle and not too overwhelming, and the prawns were once again satisfying. This was a great portion size, especially considering the price, and easily fulfilled my carb quotient for the meal.
The last item we ordered was the Rock Cod and Tofu with Pork Hot Pot ($9.95). Doesn’t it look delicious in the photo? Well, looks don’t lie, because this was a solid dish, to say the least. I loved how the fish was just a little bit crispy on the outside, and flaky and moist on the inside. The tofu was a bit sweet from having soaked up the broth, but was both chewy on the outside and smooth on the inside. We’d ordered a couple sides of rice, and eating these hot, steaming pieces of tofu and fish alongside the warm, white rice was heaven. This was also a great value for the price, and we would definitely order this again on another visit.
Overall, I have nothing but great things to say about my family’s experience here. The food was well-executed and served in sizeable portions, and the prices were quite reasonable. As far as service goes, it wasn’t exceptional, but the servers were friendly enough and always made sure that our cups were full. I would definitely recommend that you pay a visit–and make sure to order the tofu when you’re there!
No. 1 Chinese Restaurant
102A-3701 Hastings Street
My family and I have exhausted most of the Korean eating options around North Road, the boundary between Burnaby and Coquitlam. Despite being Vancouver’s unofficial Koreatown, there actually aren’t that many great Korean restaurants to eat at. Then again, I don’t enjoy eating out for Korean food when I have such an excellent chef at home (my mother, not me). Once again, my parents wanted to try something new, so we decided to lunch at the North Road location of Mui Garden.
The restaurant is very spacious, but was mostly empty when we wandered in. One of the servers was incredibly friendly and helped us navigate the menu, making suggestions and even overriding some of our choices. Still, we trusted her, figuring that she knew better, especially after our not-so-successful venture at New Szechuan. The other servers were indifferent at best, tossing menus onto our table in a mostly gruff manner, but ah well. I’m used to that kind of service.
Our first dish, recommended by the server, was the Pan-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork ($10.95). To be honest, I’m not much a vegetable person, so I was unsure about green beans, but this was a winner. The pork was a bit too salty from having soaked up the sauce, but the beans themselves were crisp and tasty. I liked how they had a slight taste of the sauce while still retaining the crispness of the vegetables. I suppose that it might seem too bland for some people, but we enjoyed it. The portion size was also great, as we ended up packing some for home. (We had ordered three dishes between the three of us).
Due to my dad’s somewhat restrictive diet, my parents have been opting for a lot of fish and tofu recently, so they were happy when the server also recommended the Braised Rock Cod with Roasted Pork and Deep Fried Tofu Hot Pot ($14.50). Although it was a little pricey for lunch, this dish was well worth it, and well-executed. As a whole, the ingredients were all soft, smooth, and silky, especially the fish. The pork was roasted in small cubes that simply tasted like regular ham. It was a mild broth with cabbage underneath that tasted great with rice.
I ordered the Boneless Chicken Curry ($10). I guess the server approved of my choice as she didn’t offer a better alternative as she did with some other dishes we wanted to try. This curry was mostly sweet and coconutty, and not at all spicy, and quite unlike an Indian curry, which I expected considering the venue. Although it was a tad watery, I still enjoyed eating it with the provided rice. Besides the chicken, the bowl of curry also included potatoes and onions. The coconut flavour was very strong, which I personally love, but if you’re expecting a spicy curry, I wouldn’t recommend this.
After this successful first visit, we returned with my brother near the end of 2012. Out of curiosity, my brother ordered the Half Hainan Chicken ($12). Hainan chicken is simply chicken boiled in a chicken bone stock, served cold. This was our first time having hainan chicken. And to be perfectly honest, we didn’t enjoy it. It’s mostly because we were unfamiliar with this dish, and to someone unfamiliar with the dish, it looks less than appetizing. This particular version was also quite bland, even when paired with the provided chili sauce and ginger oil. We ended up leaving most of this dish untouched. Although we tried to like it, we ultimately couldn’t. I suppose that’s more personal preference than anything else, however, and our opinion is meaningless when evaluating Mui Garden’s hainan chicken compared to other restaurants.
We were served by the same lady on this night, and this time, she recommended the Pork Chop with Spicy Salt and Hot Pepper ($11.50). Although this was a good portion size, the pork itself was a little too tough to eat, and nothing special. Overall, it was an acceptable dish, but not amazing. The pork was quite dry, and although it was well-seasoned, I found it to be a tad too salty for my tastes. Although the menu warned that this was a spicy dish, my primary impression was the saltiness.
For our carb quotient, we ordered the Special Fried Rice Noodles (Singapore Style) ($9.50). I personally was looking forward to this dish since I’ve always loved rice noodles. These didn’t disappoint, with the noodles being perfectly chewy. The bean sprouts were crispy, and there was a good assortment of ingredients, with plenty of vegetables and shrimp. Surprisingly, there was a spicy aftertaste to the noodles, which added another dimension of flavour to what could have been a simple, boring plate of noodles. One complaint I had was that the noodle to ingredient ratio seemed a bit off, as I would have appreciated even more noodles.
My family really enjoyed both of our visits at Mui Garden. Although some of the waitstaff were surly and silent, one server really went out of her way to make us feel at home, which we appreciated, since this isn’t our native cuisine. The food, in general, was well-prepared, and although the prices are a little higher than I’d prefer, it was still an enjoyable experience. One thing though: they are cash only, so remember to go to the ATM if you’re dependent on plastic like I am. I definitely will be going back though, especially for those green beans!
4327 North Road
The best thing about food is that it is such a universal topic. Everyone has a favourite restaurant, and I love to be given recommendations that I can add to my list. Sometime after September, I ran into my friend Justin on the bus, and inevitably we talked about food, with Justin suggesting that I try out Santouka, since I’d never been. Well, a few days before Christmas, we ended up going for dinner there, with SB and Dolph in tow, to have a goodbye meal of sorts before Justin left town.
Regarded as one of Vancouver’s best ramen shops, Santouka sits right beside Guu Garlic on the western end of Robson Street. I’d been looking for a new favourite ramen place to replace Kintaro, where I’d noticed a declining quality of ingredients despite the huge portion sizes. Eating a bowl of ramen at Kintaro always left me feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Upon being seated at Santouka, I immediately took a lining to the ambiance, which is much more polished and modern in comparison to Kintaro. The restaurant still feels very crowded and bustling, but I personally enjoyed the atmosphere. Now, onto the food!
Justin ordered one of the more interesting items on the menu, being the Tokusen Toroniku Ramen. This is Santouka’s signature ramen, where the toppings are served separately from the noodles and broth. Justin chose to have his ramen with the Shio broth, which is a mild and creamy broth seasoned with salt. The included toppings were pork, seaweed, a fish cake, bamboo shoots, green onions, and a Japanese pickled plum. Dolph ordered a regular Shio Ramen and received the same bowl of noodles, albeit with the toppings on top.
The difference between the regular ramen and the above is that the above is served with pork cheek rather than regular chashu, which is usually pork belly. Pork cheek is, obviously, a much rarer portion of pork, and considered more tender and juicy than regular chashu. Justin and Dolph both enjoyed their noodles, and they were quite satisfied. The noodles had great bite, and the pork was tender and fatty. The bamboo shoots were fragrant as usual, being more crunchy than soft. This was a solid bowl of noodles, and I could understand why people stand in line for Santouka even in the cold.
SB ordered the Ramen Ikura Combo (~$18), which is simply a bowl of your choice of broth (he chose Miso) and a small ikura don. First, his ramen. The broth was very fatty, and had an intense, concentrated miso flavour, which I quite liked. Like the broth, the chashu was quite fatty. SB’s bowl included the same toppings as above, but without the pickled plum. The noodles weren’t extraordinary, but definitely didn’t pale in comparison to other similar ramen joints.
But for SB, the real highlight of his meal was the ikura don. It sounds simple: a bowl of white rice, some egg, alfalfa sprouts, with salmon roe sitting on top. But sometimes, simple is the most satisfying. The ikura itself was fresh, tangy and quite fishy, with the egg slices adding a refreshing element to the bowl. SB also found the rice the perfect consistency–having been steamed well, it was neither too chewy nor too soggy. He liked the addition of the alfalfa sprouts as they were quite fresh. Overall, it was great to see that they excelled in something other than just ramen, even if it was just a small dish.
As for me, I opted for the Shoyu Ramen ($9.95). The broth was primarily salty, but that’s to be expected from shoyu, which is a mixture of pork broth and soy sauce. As a result, the broth tasted both deep and rich, and my chashu was a good balance of fatty and non-fatty portions. The noodles also had good bite, as did the bamboo shoots. Only the shoyu ramen is served with dried seaweed, which Santouka claims brings out the flavours in the broth. Where the dried seaweed really adds to that, I’m not sure, but it was tasty.
Overall, we were all quite impressed by our experience at Santouka. Kintaro and Santouka are often described as the top two places for ramen in Vancouver, but in my mind, Santouka is the clear winner. While the portions at Santouka are noticeably smaller, each bowl of ramen we had was simply perfect. The waitresses were friendly and efficient, and the ambiance was clearly superior to that of Kintaro as well. Although seating was crowded (as with most ramen shops), it was overall a cozy and inviting place. I’m so glad Justin recommended Santouka, as it ended up being my to-go place for ramen.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka 山頭火
1690 Robson Street
Before we embark on this food adventure, let me first say this: Chinese food is not really within my comfort zone. Well, first of all, “Chinese” food is an umbrella term for so many different cuisines, many of which are available to us in Vancouver. Generally, my knowledge of Chinese food extends to a very minimal understanding of Hong Kong cafes, dimsum, and Taiwanese beef noodles. Even at these restaurants, I depend on someone (usually SB) to help me navigate the menu.
That being said, my family’s trip to New Szechuan Restaurant was kind of a failure. We really should have asked the waitress for recommendations (she was super friendly and probably would have been happy to oblige). Please keep the above in mind as you read my review, which is, after all, from the perspective of an amateur food blogger and not an experienced food connoisseur.
New Szechuan is a small restaurant in a somewhat abandoned looking area, and not the kind of place you’d notice if you were driving by. It looks more like someone’s dining room than an actual restaurant, and the tables are covered with layers of plastic wrap, with each layer removed to create a clean dining space for the next customer. Despite being in a secluded area, there was a solid number of customers in the restaurant throughout our stay, and the service was efficient and friendly.
We started with our customary order of the Hot and Sour Soup ($6.95). This was a nicely sized portion for the price, and chock full of ingredients. The soup itself was of a good consistency, not too thick or watered down. My mom usually doesn’t have any of this even if we order it, saying that the sour taste is too overpowering for her. However, she liked the version here, where the sourness was nicely offset by the spicy aftertaste. The soup had very soft, tasty morsels of tofu, pork, mushroom, and shrimp, and we could detect a bit of sesame oil as well.
I had my heart set on the wet Tan Tan Noodles ($5.50). This was my first time having tan tan noodles, and it was an interesting experience. The noodles were served in a spicy sauce with preserved vegetables and pork, as well as chopped peanuts, which helped add some texture. The taste reminded me of Korean traditional herbal medicines, and although I didn’t particularly enjoy my first taste, I somehow ended up finishing the whole bowl. The sauce was at once sweet, tart, salty, bitter, and strangely addicting. The noodles themselves were cooked perfectly. This was my favourite dish of the night by far.
We also had the Sliced Pork with Chili and Garlic Sauce ($10.95). Instead of being somewhat peppery like we expected, this tasted mostly sweet and sour. Our table was divided on this–my mom and I really enjoyed this dish while my brother couldn’t stand the tartness. In addition to the tartness and sweetness, it was also salty, making it perfect to eat with the bucket of rice we ordered as well. The pieces of pork were tender, with some pieces having a bit of fat that made them extra delicious.
Next, we had the Diced Chicken with Black Bean Sauce ($9.50) (not pictured). We were expecting the famous heat level of Szechuan cuisine, but it was more salty than anything else. Still, it was fine when paired with rice (which we ordered a bucketful of). This wasn’t a particularly memorable dish, and I could taste very little of the black bean in the sauce, to be honest. The vegetables were crisp and the chicken was juicy, but ultimately, it wasn’t a dish I would order again.
And onwards we go to the Szechuan Style Spicy Prawns ($12.95). This was a dish of pan-fried prawns with green pepper, onions, and chili peppers. With all those ingredients, you can probably tell this was spicy, although my family still managed to polish it off. The sauce was unevenly distributed, leaving some of the prawns much too salty and some much too bland. My mom also wasn’t too impressed by the aesthetics of this dish. Flavourwise, everything became a little too repetitive, although that probably has to do with the dishes we ordered. Nothing stuck out as being perfectly memorable for me, except the tan tan noodles.
Each member of my family had a different favourite dish from this meal (ie. the tan tan noodles for me, the pork for my mom), with the Minced Beef and Tofu with Chili and Garlic Sauce ($9.50) being my brother’s. Although this was tasty and savoury, once again, I found the flavours rather repetitive. Rather than being simply peppery, however, this had more of a lingering aftertaste, and was perfect to eat with the small bucket of rice we ordered. The tofu was, once again, soft and in perfectly sized morsels to eat, while the beef was somewhat of an afterthought. The sauce for this one was a little oily, but still fine.
Maybe the lesson here is to definitely ask the server for recommendations when charting unfamiliar territory. We didn’t particularly enjoy our meal here, but perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes. (We definitely forgot about including some sort of veggies, carnivores that we are…). But based on what we ordered, the food here was fine but not memorable, with the flavours all being quite similar. At least I discovered my inexplicable love for tan tan noodles…
New Szechuan Restaurant 新四川飯店
1-511 Cottonwood Avenue
More Thai food, you ask? After our lovely dinner at Bob Likes Thai Food, my dad insisted we try another Thai restaurant a bit closer to home. So on a rainy Saturday night all four of us (sans uncle this time) drove out to Go Thai with open minds. It’s a smaller, much less stylish operation than Bob Likes Thai Food, and even at first glance you can tell that the restaurant itself is quite old. The paint is scratched in places, and the water glasses, although clean, are noticeably scratched up as well. Despite this, the restaurant looked relatively clean and well-operated, and the kitchen floors (which we could see easily from our seats) were spotless.
We started off with the Tom Yum Gai ($7.95), hot and sour soup with exotic Thai herbs, sliced button mushrooms, and chicken. When the waitress first brought this over to our table, we smelled it before we saw it. For all of us, it strangely reminded us of the smell of Korean fermented bean paste (not a pleasant smell, in case you’re wondering). At first sip, it tasted strongly of lemongrass, and had an almost poisonously spicy aftertaste. Maybe it would be more accurate to describe as “hot” rather than “spicy”, as it left a burning sensation on my lips long after I took several sips of cold water. I personally have a high tolerance for spicy foods, but if you do not, I wouldn’t recommend this.
Go Thai also offers a varieties of curries, which you can choose to have either with beef, pork, chicken, tofu, or prawns. We opted for the Green Curry ($11.95) with chicken. This was a disappointment. The curry was very thin and watered down. We also felt that the ingredients weren’t integrated properly with the curry itself, as they felt like two separate components. The flavours were noticeably muted, with the only strong flavour being the coconut milk. Besides the chicken, there were also some green peppers and eggplant included.
And of course we had to have an order of the Pad Thai ($9.95). Added to the usual sweet and sour taste of pad thai was a strangely bitter aftertaste. It was also a little too wet, with the noodles getting lost a bit in the sauce, which was a bit too cold to be enjoyable. The noodles themselves were forgettable, not having enough bite to stand up to the other ingredients. As with the curry, we felt that the ingredients had been rather randomly thrown together. Although the peanuts and bean sprouts added some much needed textural contrast, I would say that this dish was a definite flop.
We deviated a bit from our usual favourite items and tried the Phad King ($9.95), which you can also try with the same proteins as above. As with the curry, we decided on chicken. This dish was mostly for my dad, as the menu description of sautéed ginger, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms sounded quite healthy. Sadly, though, my dad didn’t enjoy it, as the sauce was much too watered down. Although the taste of ginger was quite prominent, this was a mediocre, unmemorable dish.
Next up is the Go Thai Fried Rice ($8.95), with chicken, BBQ pork, egg, tomatoes, onions, and peas. When this first arrived, I felt suspicious: it looked awfully like any old fried rice you can get at your neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. And sad to say, it tasted exactly like your average Chinese fried rice. To their credit, though, the rice wasn’t overly oily or wet, and I would gladly have eaten this in any other circumstance, except that I had expected some bolder flavours.
As you can see, we weren’t too impressed by the dishes we sampled at Go Thai, which were all unmemorable. I found that the bold flavours found in Thai food were all muted, most likely to appeal to the clientele, but the food was simply too bland to enjoy. It’s not like Go Thai has much competition with its location in New West, but, to be honest, I would rather drive out somewhere further for more authentic Thai food rather than eat here again. It wasn’t that Go Thai is necessarily bad, it’s just that there is much better elsewhere.
502 East Columbia Street
New Westminster, BC
In the last week of November, my uncle decided to visit from Korea–for something like five days. That sounds short (and it was), but maybe you’ll see it in a different light once I reveal that he’s a flight attendant. The life of a flight attendant is quite tiring, as you can imagine, and he really just came to get some rest. Still, since it’s not like we see him everyday, we wanted to take him somewhere nice for dinner, although it wasn’t like we could introduce him to some brand new cuisine, since he’s travelled most of the world already. I did have a coupon for Tropika from ChineseBites, but my parents weren’t convinced when I mentioned Tropika is Chinese-run. Still, it got us thinking about the possibility of Southeast Asian food, and we ended up driving out to Bob Likes Thai Food, serving up (relatively) authentic Thai food on Main Street.
In comparison to Korean and Japanese food, I don’t have as tight a grasp on Thai food, and I was glad to have my uncle with us. Bangkok is one of his favourite cities to visit, and he became the unofficial judge of authenticity and taste that night. It was also my brother’s first time trying Thai food, so it was a special night in more ways than one.
First up, we had the Chicken Satay ($4.50 for 2 skewers). We had 2 orders. (I was hoping they’d add an extra skewer for free considering we were a party of five, but oh well). This was the requisite chicken marinated in a blend of spices and coconut milk, served with a peanut dipping sauce. Out of all the dishes we sampled, I felt the least enthusiastic about this one. The chicken was surprisingly tough and dry, and it was too salty for my tastes. I did like the peanut sauce though, which was quite thick and flavourful. Still, it wasn’t enough to liven up the dryness of the chicken.
My uncle insisted we order the Tom Yum Koong ($5 for a small, $10 for a large), so we decided on a small. The broth tasted strongly of lemongrass, and the soup included prawns and button mushrooms. We thought it would have tasted better if it came out a bit hotter, but it was good nevertheless. My brother, having never had tom yum koong before, was a bit put off by the taste of lemongrass at first, but he grew to really enjoy it, saying that it complemented the curry very well. Although I thought the lemongrass flavour was strong, my uncle insisted that it was quite mild compared to what he’d actually enjoyed in Thailand, so I suppose they are catering to Vancouver tastebuds a bit.
Speaking of that curry, we had the Green Curry Chicken ($11.50), a coconut milk-based green curry with chicken, basil, eggplant and bamboo shoots. It was coconutty and gingery, and tasted much better than it looked. The chicken and eggplant were in large slices, although we would have preferred thinner slices in hindsight. Although the curry itself was thick and tasted mostly of coconut, the aftertaste was surprisingly spicy, and eating it together with our jasmine rice and the tom yum koong was perfect. This was probably one of our favourite dishes of the night.
The five of us were very impressed by this dinner at Bob Likes Thai Food. The washrooms were clean, and the waitresses were attentive, filling the water regularly without being obtrusive. Despite my limited knowledge of Thai cuisine, I found the flavours satisfyingly bold. Still, I saw a lack of seafood on the menu, which would be my one complaint. But still, my final verdict is: In Hye likes Bob Likes Thai Food.