This year just wizzed by me. It feels like only months ago that I compared Mama Fury’s Chinese home cooking to dining out for New Year celebrations.
In the year of the tiger, I dashed full speed ahead and founded Vancouver Food Tour – the #1 most popular tourist attraction in Vancouver, appeared on TV… twice, said “yes” to The Cowboy of my dreams, ate a lot of balls, dined on the world’s first floating dining room built on plastic bottles, went prawning at sea and devoured live spot prawns, reported live from the Winter Olympics and consequently gave up eating meat, travelled with my stomach, and ate deep fried butter and beer.
One especially rewarding and humbling experience was judging in the prestigious HSBC Chinese Restaurant Awards in Vancouver.
Over several months, I dined with and debated over countless Chinese regional dishes with my fellow judges. I also hosted the equivalent of Iron Chef for Chinese cuisine and wracked my brain over who to nominate for the 19 award categories, ranging from the most innovative dish, to the best bbq, and even the best congee.
Interviewing the winning chefs. See more from the chef of the year competition.
To those unfamiliar with Vancouver, a mecca for Asian cuisine, we are renown for our authentic and innovative Chinese eateries. There are hundreds, if not thousands of top-notch Chinese restaurants in our city and we’ve grown to be pretty particular about where to dine. I know plenty of Seattlities that trek over the border specifically for dim sum and xiao long bao (soup dumplings).
This year, I’ve created the traditional Chinese New Year menu of my dreams by compiling several exemplary winning dishes. If you’re lucky enough to live in or are visiting Vancouver, don’t miss these delectable gems that are available year round.
Five-Spiced Pork Heart, Alvin Garden – This pork heart is deeply marinated in soy and five spice. Its springy texture and slight heat triggers the appetite.
Golden Dungeness Crab, Jade Seafood Restaurant – The salted egg yolk crust pairs seamlessly with the crab’s sweet and succulent meat. The colour gold represents fortune so this golden dish is perfect for Chinese New Year.
The Jade Smoked Grandpa’s Chicken, Jade Seafood Restaurant – Lightly smoked with tea leaves, this juicy and tender number is a good choice for the imperative chicken dish. During Chinese New Year, request the to have the chicken’s head attached to represent wholeness and togetherness.
Steamed Tilapia with Egg Pudding, Bing Sheng Restaurant – The Chinese word for fish is homonymous to the word “overabundance” so having a whole steamed fish to start the year is a symbol of good will. The fish is steamed over a smooth egg custard that’s similar to Japanese chawanmushi.
Dungeness Crab with Wild Rice, Red Star Seafood Restaurant – A meal is not complete until a rice dish shows up. It’s no surprise that this creative dish that Red Star created using local wild rice, loaded with Dungeness crab meat and dried scallops won the most innovative award. I’m utterly addicted to this creative interpretation of fried rice and even included it at my engagement banquet.
Steamed Bun with Preserved Salty Egg Yolk, Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant – The sweet and salty combination in dessert is irresistible, as demonstrated in these humble looking steamed buns. Hidden inside is a piping hot stream of custard that’s made with sweetened salted egg yolk and good ol’ fashion lard.
Baked Durian Pastry, Rainflower Seafood Restaurant – One dessert is never enough so let’s end off with some warm, flaky pastry for good measure. I not sure what you’ve heard about durian but if you haven’t tried it, I urge you to. It is an acquired taste, just like beer, wine, blue cheese, and oysters. In other words, you may need to give it a few attempts before adapting to its distinct flavour and starting to appreciate it.
I tell newbies that trying durian is while it’s still slightly frozen and resembling ice cream is a good beginner’s step. This durian pastry is another highly recommended option. The creamy and subtly sweet durian filling melts into the thin, delicate pastry that crumbles at first bite. If you’re a durian lover, then you already know this is a dream come true.
Speaking of dreams, I wish that your sweetest dreams and aspirations will come true this year of the rabbit. 祝你夢想成真!
[Photo credit: HSBC CRA 2011]