London Serves Up Awesome Vietnamese

After being in Spain for four months, I have been longing for a fix of Asian food. In desperation, we’ve made homemade pho, but the broth wasn’t the same, as we couldn’t get all the necessary ingredients to make the perfect pho.

On a recent trip to London I was very grateful to not only eat some great Asian food, but also, to be introduced to some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had.

Song Que is located in the uber trendy Shoreditch area. Think hipsters, sporting ironic onesies with black horn rimmed glasses and a complete distain for the “mainstream”. I digress, in Shoreditch, Pho has become a trendy thing to eat and so there are tons of a great pho shops, especially on Kingsland Road.

Song Que has a reputation for being one of the best and doesn’t just have fantastic Pho, all of the dishes are outstanding. In fact, the next time I go, which is very soon, I’m to skip the Pho so I can try as many dishes as possible. Definitely order the Spicy Squid. It’s deep fried and served with garlic, chilies and a lemon pepper dip. It won’t last long on the plate. The Fried Spring Rolls are fantastic because they are hand rolled and have rich undertones of cinnamon. The Fried Cube Beef with garlic & black pepper is also yummy. Song Que is some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had. The most important thing to remember is, go with lots of people so you can try lots as many dishes as possible.

Spicy Squid & Fried Cube Beef

Fried Spring Rolls

Vancouver’s Top Ten Eats

It seems ironic to write about my top ten restaurants in Vancouver, when in fact I’m not in Vancouver. Yet in actuality, it’s the perfect time to write it. Although I am currently living in Spain and surrounded by amazing food, I find myself craving my favorite restaurants in Vancouver. Vancouver has some of the best food in the world because it’s so diverse. Although it’s hard to narrow down my favourite places to eat, I’ve done my best to give you my 10 must visit restaurants. This list is in no particular order as my favourites change depending on what I’m craving.

1. Kintaro – The best ramen in the world! To be fair I haven’t had ramen in Japan, so the statement may be a bit over the top, but it’s definitly the best ramen in Vancouver. I have had many fights with my foodie friends who prefer Hokkaido Ramen Santouka or Motomachi Shokudo, but I’ve tried them all and Kintaro is the best. Despite the fact that there is always an ominous line and you will most likely have to wait in the rain, only to arrive in a pork filled sauna, the soup will make up for it. The broth is rich and the noodles are a perfect texture being both chewy and buttery at the same time. Everyone has their own preference for ramen but my personal favourite is Miso Ramen, medium richness (broth) and lean pork. Also, I always order extra corn and a side of Kimchi.

2. Dinesty – This is another controversial pick. I have had many debates over which Xiao Long Bao restaurant is the best. What I have learned from these debates is there are two different types of XLB. The thick skinned, larger, more traditional Shanghainese dumplings or the the thin skinned, delicate, Taiwanese XLB. I prefer the Taiwanese style dumpling as I think the thin skin allows you to taste the broth and pork. Plus from a purely gluttonous standpoint I can eat more Tawainese style XLB than the larger Shanghainese XLB. Dinesty has the perfect Taiwanese XLB. Some of the other Chinese dishes here are mediocre so I always stick to the same 4 dishes. A vegetable dish, either “Doh Meow” (spelled phonetically because I don’t know how to properly write it in Ping Ying and so you can pronounce it) or “Cong Shing Chai”, Fried Rice with Lup Chun, and the Rice noodle dish (pictured below, don’t know the name) and of course as many XLB as I can eat. My record to date is 20. Want to know how to eat XLB? Watch my post about Din Tai Fung.

Rice Noodle Dish

Xiao Long Bao

3. Lanna Thai – This the newest addition to my favorite restaurants. I think it’s one of the best Thai restaurants in Vancouver. It specializes in Northern Thai dishes and is authentic as it gets for Vancouver Thai food. Check out my recent blog for dish recommendations.

4. Phnom Penh – This restaurant is no secret to food lovers in Vancouver. If you are from out of town or live in Vancouver and haven’t tried it yet, get your ass there. This hole in the wall restaurant in the heart of China Town is packed every night, but worth the wait. The food is a mix of Vietenmese and Cambiodian and it’s unbelievable. You must try Grandma’s Recipe wings/calamari/ribs, Butter Beef, Hot and Sour Soup (also known as Magic Soup among friends because it’s great for when you have a cold) and of course Tong Choi (a green leafy vegetable cooked with garlic).

Grandma's Recipe Calamari

5. Bin 941 - The perfect date spot. The tiny room is always packed and playing loud music which adds to it’s charm and makes the room more intimate. Don’t go starving as you will have to wait at least 45 minutes for a table. Bin has a great “By The Glass” wine list so while you are waiting try some lovely glasses of wine in the back waiting area. Every time I go to Bin I order the same things and they never disappoint. Order the Coconut Curry Mussels, the Shoe-string Fries with balsamic reduction and green onion, the Cinnamon Rubbed Flank Steak, Duck breast with truffle potato hash and the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Risotto. This may sound like a lot of food for two people because it is – I’m very, very greedy.

6. La Buca – Once upon a time, Italian food in Vancouver was expensive and pretentious. Five years ago, Chef Andre Durbach and partner Chris Stewart saw the obvious gap in the market and lead the way by opening La Buca and since then great Italian restaurants having been popping up all over Vancouver. La Buca strives to cook authentic, home style Italian dishes from fresh ingredients, which is why the menu is always changing. If there’s Gnocci on the menu be sure to order it, as it’s hand made and melts in your mouth.

7. Guu with Garlic – Guu with Garlic is a Japanese Izakaya (think Japanese tapas). The Guu Restaurant chain pioneered the Izakaya movement in Vancouver back in 1993, but really started gaining popularity in the early 2000s. I’ve been to a few of the Guu locations and Guu with Garlic is by far my favourite, probably due to the clever incorporation of garlic in most of the dishes. The restaurant is always busy and quite loud as all the orders are yelled to the kitchen. Order Tuna Yuki, Yaki Udon, Takoyaki, Ebi Mayo and Beef Tataki.

Tako Yaki

8. Vij’s - The NY Times said Vij’s is one of the best Indian Restaurants in the world and I couldn’t agree more. Owner, Vickram Vij, makes you feel as if you are a guest in his home, feeding you samples while you wait. The hospitality is only rivaled by the outstanding food. Every dish is made to perfection, which I attribute to the all female staff in the kitchen. Do not go without ordering the Lamb Popsicles. I repeat, do not go without ordering the Lamb Popsicles. Expect to wait 30 minutes or more as Vij’s doesn’t take reservations.

9. Thai Son (Broadway location, haven’t tried the other locations yet) – Pho is the perfect pre and post hangover meal, which is probably why I eat it so much. I am very picky about my Pho and have had a hard time finding something to replace Pho 99 ever since it changed ownership. TThe rich and spicy broth is what sets Thai Son’s pho apart from the thousands of other pho shops in Vancouver. Also Thai Son has some other amazing dishes. If you are feeling extra greedy, get a side of pork chop, an order of short ribs, spring rolls and a Vietnamese Coffee.

10. Meat & Bread – I’ve never been big on sandwiches. I find most sandwiches bore me, that is, until I went to Meat & Bread. The concept is simple, delicious, fresh roasted meat and fresh baked bread. Still not convinced? Well take this non-sandwich lovers word for it. They have different sandwiches features every day but I highly recommend the Porchetta. Roasted pork with crispy skin (the best part), served with a salsa verde. Honestly this sandwich will change your lunch break forever.

Porchetta

Make sure to save room for dessert and try the Bacon Maple Ice Cream Sandwich because what’s better than bacon and icecream? Nothing!

Lanna Thai Gives Back

As you know Lanna Thai is my new favorite Thai restaurant in Vancouver and I will use any excuse to eat there. If you haven’t tried Lanna Thai yet, I’ve got a great excuse for you to get off your couch and head down there. From October 15 – October 25, 10% of all proceeds will go the Thai Flood Relief Aid. With over 60 provinces flooded and over 700,000 homes destroyed it is clear that the people of Thailand need help our help. So grab some friends and eat some amazing Thai food for a good cause.

Lanna Thai

Vancouver has some of the best Asian food in the world. When traveling abroad I find myself bragging about Vancouver’s food regularly. We have some of the best Chinese, Japanese and Indian in the world but our selection of Thai restaurants is mediocre at best. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of Thai restaurant chains and they’re ok but nothing like the kind of Thai food you get in Thailand*. That is, until I discovered Lanna Thai. From the outside it looks like another small Denman Street restaurant that is doomed before it opens, but once I tasted the food I knew the place would be crawling with foodies in no time. The chef cooks up Northern Thai food and manages create unbelievable dishes despite her tiny kitchen. She also grows her own herbs and vegetables and adds them to the dishes which contributes to the fresh flavours that are imperative for the authentic Thai taste.

Everything is delicious but here are some of my favourites from the menu:

The Beef Larb (also known as Laab) is unbelievable. It’s spicy as hell but is perfectly balanced with mint, basil, toasted rice and lime. If you are with more than 2 people I would recommend getting 2 orders as this dish will disappear fast. (There is also a Lanna Larb on the menu. I haven’t tried that one yet so let me know which one you prefer.)

Beef Laab

Som Tum (Papaya Salad) is spicy and delicious! I like that the doesn’t have the small dried shrimps which, I know is authentic, but I’m not a big fan of. Also it’s not too sweet which is a mistake some of the chain restaurants make.

The Northern (Chiang Mai) style curry called Gaeng Hang Lay with pork is amazing. This curry is actually more like a soup in it’s consistency but the broth is full flavored and the pork melts in your mouth. Thanks to Mike and Jade for introducing me to this dish.

The Tod Mun Pla (fish cakes) are delicious! They have the perfect amount of rubber bounce to them and come with a delicious dipping sauce. Definitely authentic and highly recommended.

Try an order of red rice (I think that’s the name) as well as the white rice as it has a nice full flavor.

Of course no Thai meal would be complete without Pad Pak Boon (Morning Glory Stems). This is not on the menu but if you call ahead and order it the chef will bring it in for you.

If you are heading to Lanna Thai be patient. Service is very slow due to the tiny kitchen and tiny stove but I promise it’s worth the wait.

Leave a comment if you’ve tried it and let me know what you think. Hopefully you love it as much as I do as I really want it to be successful for purely selfish reasons.

Lanna Thai on Urbanspoon

*I would like to exclude Maenam from this statement as I think their Thai food rocks.

Cooking with Lift Restaurant

Richard with Lift Bar Grill View, teaches me to cook the scallop and corn, mushroom, and spinach succotash. Super easy recipe that even bad cooks like me can do it.

Filmed by Jade Brion with White Rabbit Productions.

Food Trends that Need to Die

Meatballs
The Glowbal Group made meatballs mainstream with their Kobe Meatball over five years ago. Now meatballs can be found on way too many menus throughout the city. I tried it, I liked it and now I’m over it.

Expensive Cocktails
Since when did making a cocktail become worthy of high prices? When did $8.00 for a cocktail become cheap and $12 become the norm? Please don’t tell me it’s because the cocktails are two ounces, that’s BS. For the rest of my rant I will refer to this Food to Miss your Plane For article.

Pabst Blue Ribbon
Really people? I don’t see anyone drinking Kokanee, Canadian or Lucky at trendy bars and they taste just as shitty as Pabst does. Already I can hear hipsters saying they don’t drink it because it’s trendy, they drink it because it’s cheap. Maybe price is a factor, but really most hipsters drink it to look cool and different. Want to be cool? Order a Lucky and drink it with pride.

Gastronome
Do we really need to make food tasting more pretentious than it already is? Anyone who calls him/herself a Gastronome is a douche bag. Enough said.

Pretentious Food
I am suspicious of any food can be described as having an “essence of” or that is finished with a “froth”. Recently I went to one of Vancouver’s hottest new restaurants and they served a salad with chicken that was pureed into cubes. The chicken, by the way, tasted like chicken. Boring and bland but it looked pretty. Pretentiously small portions with supposedly delicate flavours are always overrated.

Sustainability
Although I completely believe in demanding sustainable practices from restaurants, sometimes I wonder, how extreme is too extreme? Watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.

What food trends do you hate?

Yangs Fried Dumplings

Here is another one of my dumpling obsessions Shenjian bao. Similar to XLB, the Shenjian bao is also a pork and soup filled dumpling but the difference is the Shenjian bao is fried as opposed to being steamed.

WARNING: Watching this video will make you crave these dumplings!

The Kaboom Box

The Kaboom Box, formerly known as “Fresh, Local, Wild” was number one on my Street Food list because I had heard so much about their great food. They didn’t disappoint. The Smoked Salmon Salmwich lived up to its reputation of being one of the most sought after street eats. The venison burger was good but I expected a more unique flavour from the venison patty. Instead it tasted like a yummy regular burger. So for anyone who’s afraid to try venison this burger would be a perfect place to start.

Almost forgot the most important piece of information (thanks Mom catching that): The Kaboom Box is located on Granville in between Robson and Georgia (right outside of Sears).

The Kaboom Box on Urbanspoon

JJBean, Corporate Agenda or Just Plain Idealistic?

I was elated when I came home from a 3 month hiatus to see the stunning JJ Bean one block away from my house. Of course there is a Starbucks even closer to my house but I love almost everything about JJ Bean. Amazing coffee, great, personable service and now a beautiful setting right around the corner from home. Oh and I forgot to mention the amazingly addictive Breakfast Bun.

As a small company owner I spend most of my time working from home. If you have ever worked from home you know it can be hard to get motivated at times. So when this happens, I find getting out of the house and doing work at a coffee shop for 30 minutes to an hour helps put me back on track.

Pre-JJBean, I would usually I go to Starbucks, which had the Bell Hotspot available for 1 hour to anyone who was at Starbucks who had a registered gift-card. Since then they have introduced free wifi in all locations with no need for a gift-card or registration.

So back to JJBean. With my laptop bag in hand, I ordered a vanilla latte, a breakfast bun and picked a beautiful and extremely comfortable seat by the window. As I opened my computer and searched for WiFi I thought it must be a mistake. I rushed up to the counter to ask if their internet was down and saw this letter posted up on the espresso machine.

After reading the smug letter I couldn’t help but feel that there was an underlying corporate agenda. Really this isn’t a little coffee shop, this is a growing coffee chain with over 10 locations.

In the letter they talk about “[Striving] to make [their] locations places which facilitate activity” and they don’t want their coffee shops to be like a “library”. But I’ve gone into a lot of coffee shops that have WiFi and it’s nothing like a “library”. There is still the same ratio of people on their computers as there are in most other coffee shops. Most of the time I go for coffee to socialize with friends, or have a meeting with a new client but sometimes I want to go to get a little bit of work done with a great latte.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say JJBean isn’t being “idealistic” but thinking like the corporate company that they are. If they bring in WiFi they fear that students and/or anyone who needs WiFi, are going to take up their seats for hours.

The most humorous part of the story is, as I was sitting there finishing my latte with my open computer a young hipster guy comes up to the counter, glances over at me and then starts to ask about what the feedback was like about the letter posted up. He joined in the smug attitude by saying “It’s so great you don’t have WiFi, I can just hear people now crying about it.” Then he used a baby voice and made crying gestures with his hands saying “why don’t you have WiFi that’s ridiculous!”

Suddenly I felt uncomfortable for even bringing in a computer and I realized that this has become like some hipster, coffee shop war and everyone has to choose his or her side.

War aside, I will still go to JJBean for a latte but when I want to get some work done on my computer, I will have to stick to Starbucks and endure the “dreaded silence of a library”.

What do you think of JJ Bean’s choice to not have WiFi? Comment below!

Din Tai Fung

This is the first of my dumpling series. Xiao Long Bao is one of my favorite foods and the reason I named my blog “The Wandering Dumpling”. Xiao Long Bao can be directly translated “small steaming basket buns” but are more well known as “soup filled dumplings”. XLB is traditionally a Shanghainese dish, but as I discovered on my dumpling journey, the Taiwanese do it better. (Ya I just said it)

My first XLB was at Joe’s Shanghai in New York and it was life changing. Now I have traveled the world in search of the perfect XLB. So far the list of my top 3 are:

1. Din Tai Fung (the best is the original location, Xinyi Restaurant, Taipei)
2. Dinesty Located in Richmond this is number 2 because of it’s amazing XLB and great side dishes. Blog to come.
3. Joe’s Shanghai I must try this again as it has been over 5 years.

The important thing to look for in the perfect XLB is thickness of skin (I have found in Shanghai the skin tends to be thicker and I don’t like this). Also the soup inside must be tasty and flavourful and of course the pork must be delicious.

This video is of Sarah and I at Din Tai Fung in Xintiandi, Shanghai.

*Please note Sarah shows the most popular way to eat XLB but I do not believe in her method. In the video she pours the soup out of the dumpling into her spoon and then eats the dumpling. I think you should eat the whole dumpling in one bite. This can be dangerous if you don’t let it cool down. I eat mine by poking a hole in the top of the dumpling, letting it cool down and then eating it in one bite. I will demonstrate in upcoming videos.