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Gary Soup

Richmond, Shanghainese Food, Xiaolong Bao

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I've just returned from a long weekend in Vancouver with my wife, S-I-L and S-I-L's husband in tow. I'm embarrased to admit that it was my first visit there after 42 years of living in California, but I shall return!

If you read the Chinese food forum, you may know that I get a steady diet of home-cooked Shanghainese food, and am the self-appointed snapping turtle of xiaolong bao orthodoxy (I even registered to domain name xiaolongbao.com). Our whole party was jonesing for Shanghainese food and I in particular for xiaolong bao (sometimes referred to as "soup dumplings").

We were surprised at the number of Shanghainese Restaurants, Shanghainese people and Mandarin-speaking people we encountered. (Yes, we neglected the excellent Cantonese fare, but the SF Bay area can probably hold a candle to Van in that department, and we did have an agenda.) Two of our three dinners were at purportedly Shanghainese Restaurants, Shanghai Shin Ya in one of the Asia West malls (I still haven't got the geography straight) and Chen's Shanghai Restaurtant on Leslie Rd.

Shanghai Shin Ya won our affections. The food, while not stellar, was as authentic as you can get for family-style Shanghainese food, and all of the staff and probably all of the customers except me were speaking Shanghainese (though I'll modestly allow that I can curse and order food in the dialect). They had a great version of yan du xian, the national soup of Shanghai, as it were, a dish so home-y that it's seldom even found in restauarants. We also had an even harder to find hashed doufu gan and garlic chive dish, a passable kaofu dish, a red-cooked fish dish and a falling-off-the-bone pork hock (tipang) which was blessedly not overly sweetened with rock sugar.

Chen's Shanghai Restaurant, on the other hand, was one of those places that tries to be all things to all people, despite its name. Some dishes had characteristic Shanghainese ingredients, like the stuffed youmian jing, but were delivered in unfamiliar preparations without the stark flavor profiles of Shanghainese cuisine. The spicy fish slices, a familiar Sichuanese-with-Shanghainese-characteristics item on menus in Shanghai, was also delivered in a stock that was a muddle of flavors.

I also got to sample three different xiaolong bao offerings, and was pleased to find that the xialong bao served at the Bejing-Shanghai Delicacies stall in the Richmond Public Market food court ranked with the best I have found in North America in the 12 years that I have been in the hunt. By unanimous decision of the three contentious Shanghainese in my party and myself, we returned for more a second day.

The next stall over from the BJ-SH stall, "Tian Jing Food" also offered xiaolong bao and had an elegant picture of same on their sign, so my journalistic curiosity made me purchase a small order for side-by-side comparison, contrary to the advice of my fellow travelers (the goubuli from there had already bombed in our trials). TJ food's xiaolong bao were a disaster, with thick, brittle wrappers, a chewy, tasteless filling and no "soup".

Chen's Shanghai Restaurant also offered xiaolong bao with dinner (Shanghai Shin Ya, like most restaurants in Shanghai, didn't have it on the dinner menu). The XLB at Chen's were something that a New York soup dumpling maven would love, being overly large, flabby, and souped up like the ones at Joe's Shanghai. They were flavorful enough, but far from the smaller, tightly constructed and delicately skinned model for xlb.

Overall, I'd probably have to say that the Richmond Public Market was probably the highlight of the three days for our frugal bunch. The food court was simply amazing, with vendors of specialties from Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Xi'an, Xinjiang (2, including one halal), Taiwan, Chongqing, Guangdong, Singapore, and Hong Kong, that I can recall. At the produce stalls on the main floor, my wife and her sister were both ecstatic at finding White Bamboo, something they have never found locally. I'm not sure if it's a proscribed foodstuff, but I can now safely report that they both were succesful at "smuggling" a small supply into the US.

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without the stark flavor profiles of Shanghainese cuisine. 

What do you mean by this? What are typical Shanghainese flavours?

Talk about your embarrassing admission eh Keith? I've lived here my entire life, and the only distinct Chinese I know of is Szechuan, and if it weren't for Iron Chef Chen Kenichi, I wouldn't even know that! You'd figure we'd be more aware of those differences considering the Chinese community in the Lower Mainland.

I'm all ears Gary ...

A.

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To be fair, the hegemony of Cantonese cooking has kinda pushed other Chinese regional cuisines into the shadows here in Vancouver, so we can (almost) be forgiven our ignorance.

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In typical bad luck fashion, Bei Jing Shang Hai Delicacies (a sign you need to look at twice to detrmine what it says, due to the seemingly extraneous spacing, at least to my caucasian eyes,) was closed today.

I had so absolutely fantastic Xian lamb soup instead. Hand pulled nnodles, (not cooked long enough) and enough chunks of meaty lamb to warm the hearts of my Scottish inlaws, (although the profusion of cilatro garnish would have sent them running in terror. Only the Scots are actively afraid of raw vegetables.) Broth had great lamb flavour, served in a large ceramic bowl, (I hate styrofoam). Ate cold potato side dish as my side dish. I have no idea what the hell it was, with the exception of damn good. Some root vegetable, certainly not potato, texture of daikon, marinated in sesame oil/cilatro/chilis trinty of Chinese cooking.

Really good.

I haven't been to the Market in ages, Coop sagely observed that it makes Yaohan look like the Harrods food courts. Time to go back. The whole space has that cool archtectual quality the Chinese seem to specialize in of taking a buildings intended purpose, and through the force of extreme capitalism, bending and shaping it into an unintended space that suits its' purpose better than the architect could have ever put on paper.

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without the stark flavor profiles of Shanghainese cuisine. 

What do you mean by this? What are typical Shanghainese flavours?

Sorry for being cryptically terse (I found my post already rambling more than I intended). I was referring to the Shanghainese tendency to prefer strong individual flavors rather than subtle melded ones. Along the same lines, Shanghainese chefs adhere religiously to the northern tenet of only two ingredients in a stir fry, and tend to extend it further by having one clearly primary and the other secondary. "Happy family" type dishes are generally eschewed, especially ones in a medium which allows flavors to mingle.

The stuffed "youmian jing" as prepared by Shanghainese would have them resting in a bit of nearly neutral broth, or familiar "red" broth with the flavors of the ground pork, wheat gluten and red sauce easily parsed by the palate. The preparation at Chen's had them deep in a soup which had a lot of things going on in it, and presented a confusion of tastes which resulted in some furrowed brows in our party.

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I had so absolutely fantastic Xian lamb soup instead. Hand pulled nnodles, (not cooked long enough) and enough chunks of meaty lamb to warm the hearts of my Scottish inlaws, (although the profusion of cilatro garnish would have sent them running in terror. Only the Scots are actively afraid of raw vegetables.) Broth had great lamb flavour, served in a large ceramic bowl, (I hate styrofoam). Ate cold potato side dish as my side dish. I have no idea what the hell it was, with the exception of damn good.  Some root vegetable, certainly not potato, texture of daikon, marinated in sesame oil/cilatro/chilis trinty of Chinese cooking. 

It sounds like you went to the left-most (non-halal) Xinjiang place. We had the same dish, only with beef instead of lamb. Oddly, our noodles seemed to have been cooked a bit too long.

[Edited to say: Oops, I overlooked the fact that you said Xian, not Xinjiang. The soup we had at the Xinjiang place also came in a ceramic bowl and had lots of cilantro in it; it also came with a lamb option.]


Edited by Gary Soup (log)

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(Yes, we neglected the excellent Cantonese fare, but the SF Bay area can probably hold a candle to  Van in that department, and we did have an agenda.)

Boy, you're definitely going to have to go back to Vancouver, because I think it's safe to say that the SF Bay Area canNOT hold a candle to Vancouver in this area.

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(Yes, we neglected the excellent Cantonese fare, but the SF Bay area can probably hold a candle to  Van in that department, and we did have an agenda.)

Boy, you're definitely going to have to go back to Vancouver, because I think it's safe to say that the SF Bay Area canNOT hold a candle to Vancouver in this area.

I'll put that down to your LA snobbery (inferiority complex?) vis-a-vis the Bay Area coming through again.

I'm guessing that Vancouver's Chinese food is Hong Kong-based, which makes it already Cantonese once removed. I avoided the pricey places in HK (and boy were they pricey!) in the three months I was there, but the affordable food in HK was nothing to write home about.

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Perhaps you're right. Don't get me wrong, I love the Bay Area.

--Please forgive me Gary. I got a little too excited at the thought of your adventures in Vancouver.


Edited by jschyun (log)

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Perhaps you're right.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Bay Area.

--Please forgive me Gary.  I got a little too excited at the thought of your adventures in Vancouver.

Joan, you give up too easily :laugh: .

Just trying to start a little Socratic dialogue, and hopefully draw out the Vancouver folks to defend/discuss the gems of Chinese cuisine in Vancouver/Richmond. There doesn't seem to be much of a knowledge base on this or the other message board about it.

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Just trying to start a little Socratic dialogue, and hopefully draw out the Vancouver folks to defend/discuss the gems of Chinese cuisine in Vancouver/Richmond. There doesn't seem to be much of a knowledge base on this or the other message board about it.

Socratic dialogue? Although we have an abundance of hemlock up here, could you really endorse a guy who ordered it for his last meal? Sorry Gary, but in these parts, when a big Pacific storm rolls over the coast we're much more favourably disposed to Nietzsche--someone we can really sink our teeth into when it's dark outside too.

Besides, shouldn't we cast the net wider and ask the question as to precisely when Greater Vancouver displaced the Bay Area as the west coast's pre-eminent culinary destination? I'd warrant that it was about three years ago, six months after the tech-wreck but while we were still more than 30% happier to see you.

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Just trying to start a little Socratic dialogue, and hopefully draw out the Vancouver folks to defend/discuss the gems of Chinese cuisine in Vancouver/Richmond. There doesn't seem to be much of a knowledge base on this or the other message board about it.

Socratic dialogue? Although we have an abundance of hemlock up here, could you really endorse a guy who ordered it for his last meal? Sorry Gary, but in these parts, when a big Pacific storm rolls over the coast we're much more favourably disposed to Nietzsche--someone we can really sink our teeth into when it's dark outside too.

Besides, shouldn't we cast the net wider and ask the question as to precisely when Greater Vancouver displaced the Bay Area as the west coast's pre-eminent culinary destination? I'd warrant that it was about three years ago, six months after the tech-wreck but while we were still more than 30% happier to see you.

Heck, I grew up across the river from the Ontario-Quebec border and used Kierkegaard to keep me warm in the winter when it was -40 F (which also happens to be -40 C).

I'm not to the "when" yet, but the still working on the "if". I'm sure Vancouver has many gems of Chinese Restaurants, but getting information is kind of like LA and Mexican food; if you ask the non-Mexican locals for recommendations, they always come up with the same three restaurants.

Three years and six months ago was about the time when the $1 US was $1.62 CAN and I was on the verge of buying a condo in Richmond, sight unseen, as a retirement hedge. Now that's 30% less likely, and my standards for good Chinese food in Van/Rich have gone up 30%.

However, my meager retirement income would go a long way at the Richmond Public Market food court.....

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Besides, shouldn't we cast the net wider and ask the question as to precisely when Greater Vancouver displaced the Bay Area as the west coast's pre-eminent culinary destination? I'd warrant that it was about three years ago, six months after the tech-wreck but while we were still more than 30% happier to see you.

Jamie, Jamie, Jamie ... always the stalwart guardian of our culinary honour. I was wondering who was going to be the first to pipe in on that comment :biggrin:

I'm sure Vancouver has many gems of Chinese Restaurants, but getting information is kind of like LA and Mexican food; if you ask the non-Mexican locals for recommendations, they always come up with the same three restaurants.

Thank you Gary ... I was looking for clarification on your "knowledge base" remark. Having admitted my lack of knowledge on this subject up-thread, I have to agree. The only "authentic" Chinese meal I believe I have ever enjoyed was an after-hours nosh with my high-school friend Chris Ho at his uncle's place, The Ho Inn. I was the only non-Chinese in a group of about 30. Anytime something was put in front of me, Chris would either nod yes or shake his head no. In retrospect, I wish someone would have at least explained what I was eating, instead of chuckling at the hung mao.

A.

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Quick sidetrack, and then I'll leave you academically superior types to hash out the timeline of West Coast Chinese food.

Daddy-A's reference to the Ho Inn, reminded me of an unfullfilled lifelong quest that it never occured to me to seek resolution of here. When we were kids, we'd frequent the Ho-Inn. The family was bitterly divided on the merits of Foos Ho Ho vs. the Ho-Inn, my branch of the family tree considered Ho-Inn superior. I digress, my favourite dish was "Curry Beef and Potatoes", something I've never seen prepared similarly anywhere else. The potatoes were sliced in 1/8 inch thick slices, most likely deep fried layed on a plate and a thin yellow curry sauce and some sliced beef added to the top. Onion most likely played a role too. Anyone remember this dish? I've never seen it anywhere else prepared in a similar fashion. Occasionally you'll get curry beef and potato hot pot, but the potatoes are cubed and stewed with the beef and curry. Anywhere in town prepare anything along these lines?

I'll bet it's been 25 years since I last ate this, and I'm ready for some more. I think the problem finding it is that it from the "Dragon Inn Caucasian School" of chinese cuisine, the same movement that gave us Chop Suey and Sweet and Sour Boneless Pork. I don't really get to those places much anymore.

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I'll bet it's been 25 years since I last ate this, and I'm ready for some more. I think the problem finding it is that it from the "Dragon Inn Caucasian School" of chinese cuisine, the same movement that gave us Chop Suey and Sweet and Sour Boneless Pork. I don't really get to those places much anymore.

The Dragon Inn, The Rickshaw ... kinda like "Bigh Night" for Chinese. I feel somehow cheated :hmmm:

There's a terrific Szechuan place near us called "The Pepper House". If you stick to their spicey items it's really good, otherwise (to quote Mooshmouse) MEH.

As an aside, this is why I like eG. I'm always learning something new ...

A.

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Great reviews Gary. What little I know about Shanghainese food I get from reading your posts, so the next time I go up to Van I'll have to hit a few spots from your list.

Perhaps you're right. Don't get me wrong, I love the Bay Area.

Nope, in this case Gary is most definitely wrong. The Bay Area has a few really good Cantonese restaurants, but as a whole we don't hold a candle to Vancouver. You've got to try some of the Cantonese restaurants up there next time, Gary.

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I'll bet it's been 25 years since I last ate this, and I'm ready for some more. I think the problem finding it is that it from the "Dragon Inn Caucasian School" of chinese cuisine, the same movement that gave us Chop Suey and Sweet and Sour Boneless Pork. I don't really get to those places much anymore.

The Dragon Inn, The Rickshaw ... kinda like "Bigh Night" for Chinese. I feel somehow cheated :hmmm:

Now, imagine my shame as an Asian to know that I dined at both of these establishments. :huh: I'm somewhat consoled by the fact that this was long in my past when, as a child, I had no say in the outrageously bad food choices of others.

Remember how special smorgasbord night was?! :blink:

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Remember how special smorgasbord night was?!  :blink:

One word for you ... JELLO! :biggrin:

A.

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One word for you ... JELLO! :biggrin:

A.

Yeah! Fluorescent Jello, cut up in squares and topped with that dollop of "whipped cream" that you could remove in one piece with your fingers.

Ah, those were the days. Now, if there were only a "vomit" emoticon...

Edited for crimes of grammatical impropriety


Edited by Mooshmouse (log)

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Speaking of Chinese food from yesteryear that I miss, I still crave Screaming Chicken from Yang's on Main and 25th Avenue. About 19 years ago, when I was expecting my first child, I ate Screaming Chicken every night for almost 3 weeks hoping to induce labour. Each night David would wish us good night and tell us that I would be sure to give birth that night, so powerful was the ability of screaming chicken to induce labour. Suffice to say, that child was almost 4 weeks overdue and it was medical science, not Yang's Screaming Chicken that finally convinced her to make her appearance in the world. But damn, if I didn't love to eat it every night. Alas, David and his mother have long since moved on- David to a lucrative real estate career; I understand that his mother, bored with retirement has opened another restaurant somewhere in Richmond. But they don't serve screaming chicken, so it won't be the same.

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I wanted to revive this thread and say that I went and checked out the food court at the Richmond Public Market.

First off - it is frightening. Grungy, loud and crammed with people - it was just like being in China. I went to the Xian joint and had lamb skewers just like I remember from living in Shanghai. The meat is fatty and a little gristly and is grilled with a spicy-cumin rub. Delicous! Then we had the China version of pan fried dumplings (Wo Tip). They were cigar shaped and open ended and were really fresh and delicous. They made the dough and filling from scratch. You need to know that the dumplings should be dipped in a mix of chili oil and dark vinegar. The stuff is very very authentic - it was being back in China.

The second reason that I re-raised this thread is that it has occured to me that knowledge of good Chinese food (especially cantonese) is perhaps not as high as I thought it would be on this forum. I say this because Chinese food is not discussed alot and I sense that the non-Asian posters may be a litte timid about posting their views. Pashaw I say! I don't think that you have to be Asian to appreciate good chinese food (though it may help with reading the menu).

There has been a real decline in the number of high end cantonese restaurants in Vancouver - but there are some good places.

Curious to hear what you guys think are good Chinese places.

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I haven't had time to post in awhile, but I will put my work aside just long enough to respond. I am hesitant to mention this Shanghainese restaurant as it is already always packed at night and the place is quite small...but Shanghai Wind is IMO the best for xiaolongbao. Their other dishes are great as well, but many of my Shanghainese friends even agree that the xlb is pretty close to Shanghai standards. It's on no.3 rd in Richmond across from Richmond Centre in a little strip mall type place.

As a side, the tantan noodles at Northern Delicacy (dunno if that's the correct name but it's on the 2nd floor of Aberdeen Centre in Richmond) is the best I've had so far - and I've tried quite a few!

Dimsum is great at Ocean Harbor (across from Yaohan) and Yuu (Alexandra Rd in Richmond). Yuu has some interesting dimsum dishes, not just the run-of-the-mill shrimp dumplings and shiu mai.

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Revival of a great thread...am very curious about this topic as my knowledge base is embarassingly lacking. I went to Long's Noodle on Main St. (near Au Petit Cafe) yesterday and I was told this is Shanghainese food. (sp?) It was very busy. We didn't know what to order...unfortunately, everything we did order was all the same "white" colour: wine chicken, pan-fried dumplings, steamed mini buns, and mini won-ton soup (some colour). My favourite if I had to choose one was the won-ton soup (except the broth was lukewarm). However, my husband was wondering why the won-tons in the soup were "pouch" shaped and not flat and round as he thought they should be if true Shanghai won-tons. (Is this right?) The steamed mini buns were delicate in texture, the pork filling bland, but I was curious how they make them with the liquid inside. The dumplings' skin were too thick and chewy for my liking as I prefer the Japanese "gyoza". Didn't care for this meal, but that's probably b/c we didn't know what to order. I definitely need to learn more and will start at the Richmond Public Market and Gary's suggestions. Ahem, where is the Richmond Public Market? :unsure: Will also try the tantan noodles at Northern Delicacy as I tried this dish at Chong...(the place at 12th and Commercial) and really liked it.

So, if I'm going to start this research w/o being overwhelmed would it be safe to say I should try xiaolongbao first?

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The market is on Westminster Highway, 2 blocks east of Number Three on the south side of the street. Beware - This place has the most butal parkade of all time, be there before 11:30 or don't go at all. There is metered street parking around the market, cruise it before entering into the pit of darkness and ultimate despair that is the worst designed parkade in the universe.

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