Featured image: Sho Ka Do Bento @ Raisu.
Those who know me would know that I have certain food cravings every time I return to Vancouver. The food scene in Ottawa is not bad if you know where to go, but the selection is definitely not as impressive as that in Vancouver, especially when it comes to Asian cuisine. Here are a few of the items I try to cross off my list whenever I’m back in Vancouver.
Without a doubt, the number one food craving I always have is sushi! The number of sushi/Japanese restaurants is really astonishing. From the economical and humongous portions found at Samurai Sushi and Sushi California to the mid-range Sushi Aria to the upscale/tapas versions at Raisu/Kingyo/Miku/Suika/Guu, you can get good sushi at any budget. For those who really want a unique dining experience try Sushi Bar Maumi. It is an omakase style meal meaning you are sitting right at the bar with 9 other sushi lovers and the sushi is served piece by piece directly by the chef. The menu is pre-set. There are only 2 seatings per night, so you must make reservations. At the end of the meal, you can also order some more pieces a-la-carte. Be ready to spend $75+ per person, but it’s well worth it!
2. Xiao Long Bao (XLB)
If you hear people talking about XLB and have no idea what they’re taking about, let me explain. XLB (=xiao long bao 小籠包) is a soup dumpling, originating from Shanghai. The soup is first gelatinized and mixed in with the pork filling, and wrapped in a flour skin. The dumpling is then steamed in a (traditionally, bamboo) basket; hence the name, “little basket bun”. To eat, make sure to puncture a hole in the dumpling first and catch the hot, now-melted soup with a spoon. Make sure the soup has cooled down somewhat prior to drinking the soup, or else you will lose all sensations in your tongue for the rest of the week. You have been warned. I have had bad XLB in the past which were shrivelled up with minimal soup. That’s a bad sign. The texture of the skin is also another way to judge the quality of the dumpling. I prefer the ones with thinner skin which is not overly doughy and dry. The most popular chain is Dinesty. They have multiple locations located throughout Greater Vancouver. If in Richmond, you can try Top Shanghai Cuisine Restaurant or Shanghai River.
Another popular choice of food in Vancouver is ramen. Most have a simple menu with a limited number of broth options and a few side dishes/appies to choose from. This only means that they stay true to what they do best. If you are shopping along Robson close and Bidwell, you will find a cluster of these small ramen shops. Popular choices are Santouka (I like their tsukemen option, where you dip the noodles in a concentrated broth), Kintaro (known for their tonkatsu broth), Motomachi (known for their bamboo charcoal ramen) and Marutama (known for their chicken broth). Be prepared to wait in line during peak hours though! These get busy!
4. Beef noodle
Speaking of noodles, those who like tender pieces of beef swimming with egg/flour noodles in a flavourful umami-filled broth, should try the beef noodle houses here. My picks would be No 1 Beef Noodle on Willingdon Ave. and Wang’s Taiwan Beef Noodle on Granville St. I advise you bypass trying to find parking in the tiny lot of No 1 Beef Noodle and just park on the street. Otherwise, you may run the risk of someone double-parking behind your car.
5. Phnom Penh chicken wings
Alright, I have a confession to make. I was kinda late to jump on this bandwagon. I don’t know how I was not familiar with this place before I moved away from Vancouver. Thanks, “Bear Woman” for introducing me to this! The chicken wings here are apparently famous. These are so addictive that I know someone who needed to bring these with her even when she moved to another province to freeze so she can always have a taste of Vancouver wherever she was. Aaron describes it to have the Southeast Asian flavour, which is definitely appropriate as it reminds me of the chicken wings I’ve had in Malaysia. The batter is light and flavourful and the wings itself is juicy and tasty. The restaurant is super busy and they don’t take reservations except for huge groups (8+) so be patient if you want amazing chicken wings.
6. Korean food
I was trying really hard to think of a specific dish instead of using a whole category of “Korean food” but I couldn’t choose between all the deliciousness. The Korean food scene is pretty impressive here. The Korea Town of Vancouver is unofficially along North Road, close to Lougheed Mall, AKA Burquitlam. I’ve been to a few places here with Bear Woman (my personal food guide of Vancouver) and have never been once disappointed. For amazing kimbap (Korean sushi) you cannot just have one of, try Kimbap Cheong Uk. For some makgeolli (Korean rice wine) with nice authentic dishes, try Bukchigo Jangguchigo. If you are downtown, I would recommend Sura for a nicer dining experience or Dae-Ji for a quick no frills experience. If in Richmond, you must try Samsoonie Noodle & Rice for their bossam (sliced flavoured pork belly, that you can wrap in lettuce, cabbage or turnip, along with various side dishes such as kimchi, spicy radish, and raw garlic etc). Remember to pre-order a large and share it with some friends/family. You won’t regret. I promise. If you want just a nice boiling pot of budae jjigae, they have it at Chosun in Burnaby or Midam Cafe in Richmond.
7. Asian desserts/Bubble tea
This is another one where I cannot choose between the various dessert options. Usually even if we’re stuffed after eating a delicious meal of one of the above, we still want to maximize our food adventure fun. We will usually choose amongst one of the following. The classic hang-out place after dinner would have to be a bubble tea shop. These have been around since the 2000’s and they’re still staying strong. These sweet and milky drinks originated in Taiwan but has been a worldwide sensation since then. I always preferred the original milk black or green tea with or without bubbles/pearls/tapoica balls depending on my mood. For those who don’t want a sugar shock to their system, I recommend you get it half-sweet. Those who are more adventurous can try the various flavours available. On this trip, I tried the Okinawa Pearl Tea with roasted brown sugar at ShareTea and I really enjoyed the roasted flavour. ChaTime is another popular chain that is pretty consistent. For a special treat, try the Earl Grey Milk Tea at Mr. Moustache in Marpole. (Note: They are currently closed for renovations). I have never had anything else like it! Another favourite of mine is the Korean bingsoo (shaved ice) at Snowy Village. I even dedicated a full post to this. While you’re there, try the fluffy croissant pastries with various hot fillings – the croissant taiyaki.
And that brings us to the end of my list. If you’re interested in even more food recommendations in Vancouver, let me know! If you have other items you think should be on the list, comment below!