Friday, August 5, 2011

Apologies To Los Angeles--Vancouver Chinese Food Is Not So Superior Any More

For many years my dream vacation has been to go to Vancouver (specifically, the suburb of Richmond, B.C.) to partake of the wonderful Chinese food there. From our visits to Vancouver in 1993 and 2004, we learned that Vancouver Chinese food was far superior to that in Los Angeles. The fast food at any random food court stall in Richmond was head and shoulders better than what we were used to here at the best sit-down Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles. After our 2004 trip, my daughter expressed the sentiment that when she got married she wanted it to be in Vancouver, so she could throw her wedding banquet at a Vancouver Chinese restaurant. Consequently I have always been the first to extoll the virtues of Vancouver Chinese food and the comparative weakness of Los Angeles Chinese food.

I really thought I'd would have returned to Vancouver sooner than this year, but things never fell into place. So when this year's visit was finalized I was very happy to return to the land of milk and honey. However, there was one nagging thought in the back of my mind. Chinese food in Los Angeles had clearly improved since our 2004 visit to Vancouver. Was that improvement, obviously gradual over the years, so much that Vancouver wouldn't be the knock your socks off experience that it had been the last time?

In fact there were little clues that perhaps the gap had closed. My daughter visited Vancouver last year and reported that she wasn't blown away like in 2004. However, perhaps that was attributable to the fact that she did not have the guidance from Mrs. Chandavkl's third cousin who had shown us around 2004 and knew all the best dishes at all the best Vancouver Chinese restaurants. Also, one of my foodie friends who used to visit Vancouver frequently for Chinese food (but hadn't been there recently) indicated that there was no longer the influx of Hong Kong Chinese to Vancouver, which was the event that fueled the development of Vancouver's superior Chinese cuisine. In addition in my visit last year to Toronto, which some observers indicate had caught up to Vancouver for quality of Chinese cuisine, I found Chinese food that was better than Los Angeles, but not by a wide margin. And, I had read commentary on a restaurant message board that the Chinese food in San Francisco had almost caught up to Vancouver. Given that Los Angeles Chinese food is clearly better than San Francisco, this was more evidence that the clear dominance of Vancouver was over. On the other hand, my pre-trip survey of what appeared to be the best Chinese restaurants today in Vancouver contained only one repeat from the listing from our last visit, Sun Sui Wah, so perhaps new contenders had raised the Vancouver bar higher.

Once again, Mrs. Chandavkl's third cousin took us to the best of the best and we had many outstanding meals that exceeded what we can get in Los Angeles. Most notable was our meal at Landmark Hot Pot House on Cambie St. in Vancouver, where we had a meal to remember. I always considered shabu shabu/hot pot to be "meh", but this meal was indescribably delicious. The meal started with oil being squirted on a live lobster and live crab each in its own pot, the oil being lit, and then the addition of stock to the pot after an initial cooking period. I don't know what it was--the stock, the dipping sauces, or the fresh ingredients such as fresh fish, marbled beef, thin sliced Japanese pork, bean curd sheets, oysters, clams, fish balls, etc., but it truly was a magnificent meal.

However, my conclusion is that while Vancouver is still better when it comes to Chinese food, and I'm not going to turn down future opportunities to go there and eat, but the difference between there and Los Angeles is only incremental now. Indeed, for "ordinary food," meaning most dishes that are available in both cities, while the Vancouver average is above the Los Angeles average, not every good restaurant in Vancouver is necessarily better than any good Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles.

Now where there is still a big gap is for food items in Vancouver that are not available in Los Angeles. Besides the Vancouver style hot pot we had items such as honeydew tapioca, three mushroom bean curd rolls, fried egg white balls, Cajun beef, fried bread with sweet cream, and other innovative dishes which were heavenly. And the prospect of these kinds of dishes alone continues to make Vancouver enticing. But after our last visit to Vancouver in 2004 I literally did not eat Chinese food in L.A. for a month because it would be such a letdown. However, that's certainly not the case this year.

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