Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thai Hang Vietnamese Restaurant


I've long felt the absence of a local Vietnamese place that's both cheap and good quality. Fortunately, Thai Hang, which I discovered through Urbanspoon, fulfills that criteria and is also a short and pleasant enough of a walk away that I now have a go-to local Vietnamese place. Thai Hang looks like it's been here for ages, which is usually a good sign; the interior is modest but welcoming and the wait staff were very friendly. I do want to mention that it's CASH ONLY, a policy only described by an easy to miss piece of paper near the register that sent me running 3 blocks to the nearest branch of my bank after we ordered. 

Thai Hang's menu is essentially what I expected to see; a range of noodle soup, vermicelli dishes and rice dishes as well as some tempting combos and specials. We ordered "Grilled Beef Short Ribs & Chicken on Steamed Rice" (at $8.00, the most expensive end of the menu) and  "Pork Skewer & Deep Fried Spring Roll on Vermicelli". The portions were refreshingly large, especially for the price and the rice dish came with a small soup that tasted like carrot and contained either ground beef or pork which was a nice surprise that wasn't on the menu (though I had to ask the waitress if it was soup or something I was supposed to pour on my main dish). The food wasn't anything different but definitely tasted like it should have cost more than it did (probably the best version of this style of lemongrass chicken I've ever had) and we left incredibly full. Thai Hang seems like a reliable choice for great value Vietnamese; I'm glad to have found it and will be back soon!

Thai Hang Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Minted Watermelon


On hot summer days, one of the most refreshing snacks is minted watermelon. It's so simple - only two ingredients - but the flavors compliment each other so nicely. We grow fresh mint so that we always have some on hand; it's really easy to take care of and spreads like a weed so there's a continuous supply ready to be eaten or added to drinks. Kentucky Colonel Mint is my favorite; it has a fragrant smooth flavor and isn't as overpowering as other variations of Spearmint. It doesn't seem readily available in most grocery stores so I really recommend growing your own - it's worth it!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Snacking at the Summer Night Market

Last night we went to the summer night market in Richmond to eat some of the mostly Asian, street vendor-style food. The rest of the market is mostly the kind of tacky stuff you'd expect to find; cell phone cases, knock-off sunglasses, etc. but the food stall section makes the trip worth it. Other people definitely felt the same way considering it was, at times, almost impossible to push through the crowds forming around popular food vendors and there were lots to choose from.

The ubiquitous "meat on a stick" was a popular option offered by several vendors. The one we chose had a pretty big crowd of customers waiting and its operators were using microphone headsets to communicate with one another and shout to the crowd. We tried beef, chicken and spicy lamb - all delicious, perfectly grilled and generously seasoned.

Other than the traditional tako (octopus), this takoyaki stand offered fillings of squid, scallop and shrimp. We chose half octopus and half scallop and though they were nicely crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, we had a bit of difficulty telling them apart.

More fried stuff and skewers, we decided to try the gyoza, which is never usually much to look at and I'm still not sure what the filling consisted of (mostly vegetable) but it seemed really fresh. Gyoza is often served with a sauce made with soy and rice vinegar and it seemed like these were brushed with a similar sauce while being grilled so even without a dipping sauce, that flavor was still present.

We couldn't look in any direction without seeing someone eating one of these towers of unfurling, sliced potato; some stacked like thick potato chips, others like a corkscrew spiral. We didn't get around to trying one so I don't know if they taste as good as they look (the novelty is definitely part of the appeal) and we had other, more pressing food priorities to attend to.

Taiyaki! This is probably the main reason we come to the night market, I don't know anywhere else that makes it fresh to order which is a shame because it's something that really needs to be enjoyed while it's hot and still crispy. Taiyaki is pretty much like a fish shaped waffle with a sweet filling - in this case either chocolate, red bean or custard cream. We tried all three and even though red bean is sort of the traditional filling, the custard ones were a surprise favorite for us. It's sad to have to go all the way to the night market for fresh taiyaki; if there was a stand in Vancouver it would be really popular and we'd probably keep them in business year round (especially in the winter when there are usually only chestnut stands). Hopefully someone wondering what kind of new food stall to open is reading this, haha...

"Deep Fried Cheesecake" served out of a bus; we really wanted to try this because it sounds so decadent and potentially a genius enhancement to cheesecake (or potentially vomit-inducing). By the time we were considering this for a dessert, we were undeniably full from everything else which is probably for the best because they were sold out of a lot of flavors anyway. Still curious though, maybe next time! We were also too full to hit the very tempting "Japanese Crepes" stand.

Toward the end of the night, some vendors started lowering their prices to help alleviate themselves of a seemingly infinite supply of meat skewers or whatever other various goodies were still efficiently being churned out.

After all that fried and salty food we were really thirsty, so this watermelon slush made with slices of fresh watermelon was especially refreshing. The summer night market is perfect for a night of snacking if you can stand to wade through the crowds and travel to its not so convenient location in a corner of Richmond. There's so much stuff to eat that multiple visits are necessary (unless you really want to test the limits of your stomach) so we'll probably go back again before it shuts down in a few months. It's annoying that we can only really find this kind of thing on weekends in the summer (there are other night markets but they're even further away) when any of these stalls would be a welcome everyday replacement for the hot dog stands that are pretty much the only standard street food fare in most of the city.

Summer Night Market on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 12, 2010

Breakfast Sandwich - Alleviating My Morning Ennui


Until recently I haven't been much of a 'breakfast person'; growing up, meals in the morning were usually eaten hastily - or skipped entirely - before I ran out of the door inevitably late for school. Breakfast foods consisted of: uncooked oats, toast with jam, apples, bananas or anything quick. Bacon was unwelcome in my parent's refrigerator and sweet, sugary, rainbow-colored cereals were dismissed for their lack of nutrition and excessive amounts of sugar. Unhealthy, fattening foods were not a part of my upbringing - and though I appreciate the nutrition and knowledge my parents shared with me, I think I would have enjoyed pancakes a lot more if they were cooked using butter instead of overpowering and greasy olive-oil. An egg cooked with butter is infinitely better than one made crispy with hot oil! I try to eat healthy most of the time but some not-so-healthy foods are just too good to miss out on and I don't feel like the flavors and textures can properly be recreated with lighter options.

My entire childhood and adolescence was spent having never eaten a breakfast sandwich, I don't think I even really knew what they were. I feel like I must be one of the only people in North America who has never eaten an Egg McMuffin from McDonald's! The basic ingredients are so simple: English muffin, cheese, egg, meat. Why bother going out to buy this when you can make it at home with higher quality, fresher ingredients? The options of cheese are endless and infinitely more palatable than processed orange rubbery squares. Next time I plan on adding fresh avocado for ultimate textural satisfaction. Crunchy bacon and creamy avocado together - what more can one ask for?

Maybe this isn't what some people would consider a light, healthy breakfast but it's exactly what I crave when I get up in the morning; I need to satiate my hunger and a bowl of airy cereal just doesn't cut it!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aki

It's kind of hard for me to write about this "hidden gem" of a Japanese restaurant because Aki is possibly my overall favorite dining establishment ever! I'm not sure why that makes it difficult to write about; I suppose because I feel like I can't do it justice - there's just too much good stuff to say about it but you really have to actually go and eat somewhere to actually know what it's like. 

Yaki Onigiri

Chicken Hearts

Beef Butteryaki

Shishito

Morokyu

Black Sesame Ogura Ice Cream


Despite being located in an underground plaza with essentially no recognizable or obvious street level signage, Aki always has a steady stream of customers (some regulars who have likely been coming here for decades), its very large floorspace and private rooms always seem to be just comfortably below capacity most nights of the week. I've never been to Japan but apparently Aki feels like a traditional "classic" izakaya of Tokyo in the 1960s/70s. It definitely seems more authentic than most Japanese restaurants I've eaten at; the kind of Japanese food that Japanese people actually eat and an unpretentious, almost rustic atmosphere. As well as a large kitchen in the back, Aki's front kitchen areas include a sushi bar with two dedicated sushi chefs, multiple grills and a chef (and his assistants) for the robata/BBQ portion of the menu. I think Aki was the first real Japanese restaurant I went to - a classmate brought me when I moved to Vancouver to go to school in 2005 - the first Japanese restaurant that wasn't primarily a sushi restaurant or a hole in the wall teriyaki donburi joint without a single actual Japanese chef.

The menu is huge and changes often, cycling seasonal items like the unearthly, ethereal Matsutake Dobin-mushi. I've sampled pretty extensively from Aki's varied menu but there are still some items of which I'm entirely unsure of the contents, though almost every single choice has been a good one. The only technical exception that comes to mind is the Uni Tororo, which I wasn't familiar with but ordered because I wanted to try uni...the uni is delicious but the rest of the dish consists of grated yam that has, through some curious ritual, taken on a consistency not unlike a thick, slimy nasal mucous. My apparently infantile, Western palate wasn't very welcoming to that texture but other than that slight misadventure, everything I've ordered at Aki has been very pleasant and very delicious. The staff are incredibly friendly and warm, even more so than is to be expected of an izakaya or other Japanese restaurant and I'm always surprised to see how much lower the price is than I expected when the bill arrives.

Aki is a great place to come with a group of friends; bring friends from out of town - especially if they think "Japanese food" means sushi or teriyaki beef - you can order from the traditional menu, robata menu, get sukiyaki, sashimi or rolls or check the current specials for something seasonal or try something you've never had before and share a variety of impressive, affordable, delicious Japanese food.

Aki Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Buckwheat Pancakes


Buckwheat pancakes made from box mix, served with strawberries and maple syrup. I generally never eat pancakes made from a pre-packaged mix because they are so easy to make from scratch but these were actually pretty good!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Hasselback Potatoes Attempt #1


We have never made hasselback potatoes before and assumed we would not need to consult a recipe for something as simple as baking a potato but somehow these managed to come out undercooked. We placed onion in between the slices of potato to hold them open and add some flavor; this ended up tasting fairly good except the parts of the onion sticking out were blackened and burnt by the time the potatoes were finished baking. If we had left them in the oven for as long as we should have, the onion would have been even more burnt so maybe that idea just wouldn't have worked anyway. We brushed with butter, seasoned with herbs de provence and added cheese on top during the last few minutes of baking so that it would melt between the cracks. I think that if we figure out a way to make this properly it could be really delicious, next time we will definitely use a recipe!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Spicy Noodle Soup


We were downtown the other day and in the mood for some pho satay or similar spicy soup. Probably the best and cheapest Vietnamese place downtown (Asian Garden) closed down in the winter for some unknown, upsetting reason so with the help of the Urbanspoon iPhone app, we wandered for a bit and went looking for Ben Z Noodle House. Apparently that place no longer exists, but the Japanese restaurant next door, Kishu, had signs displaying a Vietnamese menu outside so we went in and got a table. I'm not sure if two restaurants combined or something because inside the Japanese menu, there was also a separate, laminated single page Vietnamese menu with a pretty comprehensive coverage of the usual suspects. The soups were pretty cheap but really filling, we both ordered "Spicy Noodle Soup", it contained a lot of tender pieces of beef as well as some dubious but tasty sausage pieces. I tried to find the restaurant online (Kishu Japanese) but according to Urbanspoon, it closed down...so not sure if we ended up in some ghost restaurant or they just haven't got around to changing the signs but the soup was good.