In an out-of-character turn of events, I’ve racked up some meals east of my abode in east Vancouver. It’s been quite fun and soooo much more affordable.
Since we didn’t make it to Duotian that day we went to Sun Yee, it was one of the choices I gave NPY on Sunday for lunch along with Red Wagon, also in his hood. It was a no-brainer for him to choose the Chinese cuisine and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was a modern diner interior with sleek curved white bowls and nice tea cups.
The menu was information packed and presented a bit like a research poster. We were given an order form and pencil to mark our selection ourselves. I could see that they had reused their order form, erasing the previous order but not completely. I penciled our order with dark strokes sad only that we couldn’t try a congee as well.
I ordered a create-your-own soup noodles with pumpkin and tomato fish as the broth, rice sticks as the noodle, and beef balls and seasonal vegetables as the two toppings. I was floored with how colourful the selection turned out to be and the taste matched the appearance. The beef balls were evidently fresh and chewy as were the rest of the ingredients. I also ordered the create-your-own rice claypot with pork belly and chicken with mushrooms as the two toppings. I thought the chicken was lacking a little and the pork belly was the cured and dried kind–I should have ordered the assorted Chinese sausage–but the rice cooked in clay pot was perfect and fragrant.
As we sped along Powell from downtown to NPY’s east Vancouver abode, we tossed around ideas for where to eat. Congee Noodle wasn’t quite on the way. Luda would have been okay but we couldn’t really enthusiastically recommend it. I reminded them of the “clay pot rice” restaurant (Duotian, above). But we ended up at Sun Yee Cafe which is as famous for it’s cheap prices as being one foot into being a total dive.
Even during the dinner hour, they offered on the order of 30 full size dishes for $8.50 or $9.50. Each order of a main dish comes with a bowl of rice, soup, and Chinese dessert. For soup, our choice was mogua soup or cream of chicken corn. I opted for the former and it was nice and sweet, whetting the appetite for the meal.
We ordered the beef brisket hot pot which was the first to arrive and part of the reason we polished off all of it. The flavour was deep and the brisket cuts varied from lean to fatty. I liked the tender tofu sheets and underneath there were nappa leaves which delightfully cut the sauce’s powerful flavour. One of the last dishes to make it onto our order was XO sauce pork toro and sing-gua. I was intrigued and looking forward to “pork belly” but it was a different cut from what I expected. I was also reminded that sing-gua is the bitter-tasting melon that I used to think was zucchini and thus hated zucchini for a time. They did not peel the sing-gua very well making it even more bitter. The cloud ear was nice to have but was not cut into remotely bite-size pieces. We also ordered spare ribs and bitter melon in black bean sauce, one of the family’s favourites. The melon was bitter as promised and the ribs smelled very good but did not deliver on taste. It seems they were blanched before cooking and really did not have enough flavour.
We weren’t entirely sure if our second tofu dish (The first one was a seafood tofu hot pot.) would arrive but it did and it was fairly obvious the egg tofu was freshly fried, very hot. The dish advertised “vegetarian ham” but the only ham I tasted seemed to contain meat. It was a nice dish overall with thick beans, julienned red pepper, and sliced oyster (or king) mushrooms.
For dessert, we had a choice between standard red bean dessert soup, mango pudding, and taro tapioca. Of course I went for the last option and it was the perfect end to a really decent meal.
Near my grandmother’s condo, there’s a couple of dim sum options. Sometimes we shy away from Pelican in favour of “International” (it has changed names several times) because of Pelican’s long waits we were seated immediately, our party of 2, because we arrived before 11:30. Of course, the Nature Channel was on and grandmother had already taken the seat leaving me with the eat facing the television screen. In my peripheral vision, I could see elongated forms wriggling across earth-toned terrains. Eww.
I tried to make a point of ordering “different” dim sum items when I’m in control of the order. Translated into English, I ordered spicy chicken broth egg tofu which was just fried egg tofu with some bottled chili sauce applied to the top. For an infusion of nutrients and greenery to the meal, I ordered the gai lan with oyster sauce. While we don’t order plain vegetables for dinner, it is a decent deal and great filler at dim sum. Then, for the dumpling I strayed very far from the usual shrimp and pork filling by ordering the pine nuts pumpkin dumpling. One bite revealed that there was unadvertised cilantro–it was not overpowering and I otherwise really liked the dumpling. There was also small taro cubes which has similar texture to the mashed pumpkin. It tasted very healthy and the meal was off to a good start.
With fond memories of tea-smoked duck, I ordered the homestyle roasted duck which looked like a good deal. When it arrived, grandmother was not at all impressed with some “hair” still being on the skin making her think it was not clean. She fussed about it but I thought it was alright when the skin is removed. It’s not like tea-smoked at all and is just salty. It was really good to take home and shred to add to a different meal. Finally, I ordered the pan-fried chive dumplings. Again, a filling was not advertised and that was shrimp, but it wasn’t too bad. A dim sum meal is not complete until there is shrimp!
For all the years I’ve lived in Vancouver (almost 7 now), I have not been to the little Chinatown gem, Phnom Penh. NPY goes with his family at times and after work meetings in the area. I’ve never really hankered to go but NPY’s been on a fit of letting me try new things. I was completely surprised–it’s further off Main Street than I thought, the kind of hole-in-a-wall (and I don’t use that term very lightly) that is “elegant” with bright possibly chandelier lighting and carpeting. For the ten or fifteen minutes we waited, I observed the clientele. Young and old, birthday celebrations, pre-clubbing.
We didn’t really know what to order outside of the famous chicken wings. Their butter beef sounds amazing but when I learned what it was (kind of like beef tataki with a sauce made from fish sauce and big cilantro garnish), I’m glad we did not order it.
In addition to the wings, I ordered the first soup noodle special and a lemongrass chicken rice meal. The fried chicken wings were really great, very crispy and a decent deal. It came with a bowl of tangy and peppery dipping sauce that made the wings even better. The lemongrass chicken and shredded pork on rice dish came first. The chicken was tender and tart, marinated well. The shredded pork was another matter with an extremely dry texture from the seasoning that I found so difficult to describe. I could not identify the spicy that made it taste quite Cambodian and definitely not Vietnamese from anything I’ve ever tasted. We let the special noodle soup sit for too long and it got absorbed by the noodles which then broke very easily–so we learned to eat it immediately. The broth was also distinctively sweet. I did not really like the assortment of meats which included raw beef flank, beef balls, and brisket–the quality of the meat just didn’t seem that high.