Monday, January 24, 2011

Vancouver: Chinatown Exploring - Day 1

Finally a visit to our neighbor up north! I really wanted to go to Canada, just because it's been 10+ years since the last time I visited and by going to Canada, it's a chance for me to say I traveled "internationally." Yes yes, I didn't even get a stamp when I went through US and Canada customs (lame) but nevertheless, just the feeling of being in a different country, even if it is quite similar to home, is exciting.

Vancouver has been long as a popular destination in Canada, especially with the easier immigration laws into the country, and the Winter Olympic recently also resulted in an beautification of the city. Food in Vancouver, especially Asian food, is well known and many say that some of the best talents from their homeland have established roots in Vancouver. Of course, throughout this trip with Diana, Connie, and Michael, we tried to eat as much as we can.

And after arriving at YVR Airport, trying to understand the subway/metro so we can go into downtown, and dropping off our luggage, we decided to check out the old school Vancouver Chinatown for our first stop after some recommendations made by our hotel's concierge.


Flying Alaska Air from LAX to YVR (Vancouver). Damn, Alaska Air is ghetto.

Arrived in Vancouver at 12:30pm! Since I took the 9am flight in to YVR, I didn't get a chance to grab breakfast so first food stop in Vancouver, Tim Horton's to grab some donuts!!

OK yes, I was lame and failed to realize that the maple donuts here are probably extremely good since... well, it's Canada. Ended up getting an apple fritter and a "candy cane chocolate." Apple fritter is not bad. Not much apple in there though. Candy cane chocolate is essentially a chocolate creme filled donut with semi-sweet chocolate at the top. The chocolate at the top of the donut is good but I'm not a fan of creme so once I got to the middle, it was a little bit too much for me. LOTS and LOTS of people stopped by Tim Horton's though. Donut is really popular :P

Taking the subway/metro to Chinatown after dropping off our luggage. We asked the concierge at the hotel for a few recommendations since Connie, Diana, and I didn't eat much the whole day (except for the donut), so we were desperate to find some food. By the time we got here, it was already 3pm.

You know you're in Chinatown when right out of the exit, there's a Chinese supermarket. Oh and banners on light posts with pandas on there haha.

Of course, there's a gate for every Chinatown.

New Town Bakery & Restaurant
158 Pender St E
Vancouver, BC V6A 1T3

First stop in Chinatown: New Town Bakery & Restaurant. The concierge (a Chinese girl) said that the steamed buns here are considered one of the best. A little suspicious from the outside but inside, plenty of old Cantonese patrons dining, which is always a good sign.

Baskets and baskets full of steamed buns! They kept on bringing new ones out since there's people constantly coming in.

Menu for the steamed buns and dim sum items. The place also reminds me of many of the eateries in HK where they serve a small menu and with simple entrées like noodles or rice plates.

First to arrive, charsiu bun 叉燒包! Had to get it since we were at a Cantonese style eatery haha.

Legit charsiu inside! None of that pinkish, reddish sauce that seems to dominate most restaurants here in the States. It's shredded and has a great BBQ flavor. The bun itself is really soft and it's got a great bite.

Next up, a traditional pork & vegetable bun 菜肉包. Different buns are marked at the top by edible ink. Old school.

Juicy, flavorful. The filling isn't skimped on. The mushroom is a nice surprise in there!

Chicken deluxe 大包, which is pretty much grounded chicken, vegetables, salted egg yolk, chinese sausage, and a few others. It's loaded.

Ahhhh... should've opened it up a little more but trust, it's good!

I didn't think the steamed buns were gonna be so big (size of my fist) so I also ordered chicken glutinous rice 糯米雞.

There is half of a chicken drumstick hidden in there! Huge but steamed so well! The rice is so full of flavor. Rivals any good dim sum restaurants here in LA.

My first milk tea in Vancouver, HK style! It was okay.... not enough sweet milk. I thought it was gonna be as good as the ones I've had in HK.


Afterwards, we decided to walk around Chinatown and explore a bit. Lots of bums around the area. Like many Chinatowns in other cities, it's old and somewhat deserted. Many have moved out of the area to the suburbs and no new additions here.

Saw a man selling roasted sugared chestnuts. A WHITE GUY! That's crazy. He's smart though since Chinese people love roasted chestnuts

Wow you don't see this much in LA anymore: dried goods on the outside of store fronts. There are lots of dried goods and herbal stores in Chinatown.

Fruit & veggie market.

Dried seafood.


Phnom Penh
244 E Georgia St
Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z7

So after walking around a bit for an hour or so, we decided to check out this Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant recommended by the concierge just a little outside of Chinatown, in the Strathcona neighborhood. Again, not the best looking area but all the accolades and awards posted right where we entered gave us confidence (rated Best in Vancouver several times, as well as highly rated by Zagat).

Phnom Penh is actually the name of the capital of Cambodia. The menu itself is mostly Vietnamese rather than Cambodian. Still, I was excited at the chance to have my first go at Cambodian cuisine.

Most of the Cambodian items were actually noodles & rice dishes so we opted for the Dry Mixed Egg Noodle. I decided to try it cause I saw this dude at the table next to us slurping it away as if it was the best thing in the world.

Lots of stuff in this bowl: ground pork, sliced pieces of pork, shrimp, cilantro, fried shallots, and sauce. The star is definitely the egg noodles. Great texture and you can really taste the egg, but as for the rest of the dish, it was a hit & miss. We all agreed that it was a little bland, even with the dark looking sauce. Tricked! :P

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It also came with boiled sprouts and a slice of lime to add to the noodles. Should've requested more lime for the noodles. Also a very simple pork soup comes with the dish.

HOWEVER, the rest of the dinner was spectacular. The star was definitely the amazing Butter Beef. Yes, they call this butter beef, for the sole reason that it is so tender and soft like butter xD The acidic dressing, fried shallots, and the cilantro work together so well and packs so much flavor that you are forgetting you are actually eating super super rare beef. We were all scared at first but then we realized, it's actually similar to a carpaccio and the acid in the dressing probably already killed off the germs. Definitely gonna be looking for this item here in LA and compare!

Hot & Sour Soup. Apparently quite common here in LA at Vietnamese restaurants. I wouldn't know since I'm actually quite clueless when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine but it is as addicting as tom yum soup. I say that because it's sour but it's much lighter. There's fish, shrimp, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and pineapples which sweetens the soup then topped with fried shallots and green onions. Could not stop drinking it.

Another famous dish from Phnom Penh is their fried chicken wings (thanks to Connie for reading the articles on the wall) with lemon and pepper dressing on the side.

The seasoning on the wings are crazy good and fried to an awesome crisp. Even better with the dressing for that extra kick!

Seriously, Phnom Penh has got to be one of the best Asian food I've had, or maybe I'm just too clueless when it comes to that region :P


After the dinner, as we were walking to the metro station for the ride back to downtown and look, Ten Ren! No milk tea or any other drinks we're accustomed to seeing in LA since it's more of a traditional teahouse. I need some milk tea.

Took awhile for us to find all those places but thanks to the great help we received from the Westin concierge. After eating at Phnom Penh, I am determined to really get a true taste of Vietnamese cuisine since I only knew of pho, broken rice, and the usual dishes. Somebody take me? :]