cuisine in Metro Vancouver:
The flower continues to bloom
September 30. 2009
you’re a newcomer to Metro Vancouver, it would be hard to
imagine that the ubiquitous Chinese food eateries that are today
a fixture in every neighbourhood were once something of a rarity.
In fact, just a few
decades ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a dish of
deep-fried prawns anywhere outside of the city’s bustling
But a wave of Asian
immigration that began in the 1960s and carried through the 1980s,
the latter in advance of China’s 1997 reclamation of Hong
Kong, along with a growing taste for the international spoils
of living in a Pacific port city, soon changed Vancouver’s
It started, at least
as far as the history books can tell, with the Chinese smorgasbord
(the name comes from Sweden, and refers to buffet-style dining)
that took root in the pre-Gastown waterfront settlements, where
resource workers like loggers and millwrights convinced their
Chinese cooks to spread their dishes out on a single table instead
of serving everyone individually.
The smorgasbord was
a hit, and as the post-war populace migrated beyond the downtown
core and into the eastern boundaries of the city and beyond, the
Chinese smorgasbord, and its sister enterprises, the drive-in
and the take-out, soon followed.
food-on-the-go offerings were tailor-made for growing families
with busy schedules, and they provided a welcome alternative,
a treat if you will, from the meat-and-potatoes cooking of the
nuclear family household.
of the first and best Chinese smorgasbords was the Dragon Inn,
on Kingsway, and its attraction, besides its gorgeous trademark
neon dragon sign, was its vast steaming buffet featuring chow
mein, egg foo yung, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, chop suey
and, of course, fortune cookies.
If you preferred more
formal Chinese dining, you could head down to Main and Pender,
deep into the heart of Chinatown, where restaurants like the Bamboo
Terrace, Mandarin Gardens, WK Chop Suey, King’s and the
HoHo offered not only basic Asian fare, but more fantastically
foreign menu choices, like Peking duck and bird’s nest soup.
If the family was feeling
especially flush, or was celebrating a milestone event like a
birthday or wedding anniversary, the joint of choice was the Marco
Polo Supper Club, on the corner of Pender and Columbia.
Marco Polo was ’60s posh, cool and cavernous and dark, oozing
with a Sinatra rat-pack vibe, right down to the pretty hat check
huge tables seated entire families, and you could get shark’s
fin soup and whole crispy chicken and steamed red snapper with
the head still on, and if the gastronomic gods were smiling, you’d
be there because you had been invited to a Chinese wedding and,
thus, a 10-course feast.
in the 1970s, was also home to the back-alley eateries, like the
Green Door and the Orange Door, which made up in flavour and thrift
and volume what they lacked in space, ambience and, um, cleanliness.
mornings would see scores of hungover club-goers gathering in
the sketchy lane between Pender and Hastings, lining up alongside
big barrels of bean sprouts and bins of rotting garbage.
inside, seated in mismatched wooden chairs at tiny tables shared
with strangers, you’d hand over $2.25 for a platter of pineapple
chicken, with a bowl of steamed rice and a bottomless glass of
green tea, and watch the ballet that was the sweaty chattering
Chinese cooks work their magic with woks in the open kitchen,
turning out spicy savoury dishes like nothing you’d ever
the decades, Vancouver’s Chinese food revolution has continued
to evolve, spreading its tasty tentacles to the far-flung suburbs
and becoming so much a part of the B.C. dining experience that
children today grow up using chopsticks as handily as western
Dragon Inn, like many others of its era, is long gone, that glorious
sign removed in 1997 and put into storage.
local Chinese food, in a direct reflection of immigration patterns
over the years — Chinese Canadians represent the largest
visible minority group in Metro Vancouver — ranges from
Cantonese and Mandarin to Szechuan and Hakka and is so common
that you’re unlikely to find a mall food fair without a
Chinese steam table of some kind.
you look are dim sum diners, Chinese bakeries turning out egg
tarts and coconut buns, fine dining rooms like the stately Imperial
in the Marine Building, and all manner of Chinese greasy spoons
that serve cheeseburgers and fries alongside broccoli and beef.
the hugely successful T&T Supermarket chin, and Hon’s
Wun-Tun House with its five locations dishing up those famous
Potstickers, and in Richmond, where nearly half the population
is Chinese, well, let’s just say you’ll never go wanting
for barbecued pork.
there are compelling reasons to call Metro Vancouver paradise
on earth, and the list is long, the epicurean bounty that is Chinese
cuisine is right up there.