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Dragon Inn Kingsway Burnaby Vancouver



2516 Kingsway at Slocan
Vancouver BC

4524 Kingsway at Willingdon Ave
Burnaby BC

Sign silkscreened
on plexiglass and backlit. Hastings nr
Willingdon, Burnaby BC - 1997

-There were two Dragon Inn restaurants on Kingsway Ave and a later one on Hastings St-

Chinese cuisine in Metro Vancouver:
The flower continues to bloom

Shelley Fralic
September 30. 2009

If 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 Chinatown.

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 gastronomic landscape.

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.

Their inexpensive, 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.

One 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.

The Marco Polo was ’60s posh, cool and cavernous and dark, oozing with a Sinatra rat-pack vibe, right down to the pretty hat check girl.

Its 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.

Chinatown, 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.

Sunday 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.

Once 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 tasted.

Over 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 cutlery.

The Dragon Inn, like many others of its era, is long gone, that glorious sign removed in 1997 and put into storage.

Today, 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.

Everywhere 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.

There’s 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.

If 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.




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