Never Heard Of It is a series of stories exploring Vancouver’s many informal hole-in-the-wall eateries. These are the places that don’t get much in the way of traditional media play as they tend to avoid the typical paths of PR, seldom fiddling over tweets, posting imagery to Instagram, or playing the Facebook game.
I’m a creature of habit. Once I have that one dish I like at a particular restaurant, it would take some convincing to steer me towards anything else on the menu. The Combo #3 Pho ga don (“Deep fried chicken with rice noodles in soup”) at My Chau on Kingsway is a prime example.
My first visit to My Chau was a long time ago but I still vividly recall how I knew that #3 was what I needed to order. It was the lunch rush and the place was packed. I noticed that every single table had ordered this combo – a chicken leg fried golden brown that came with a bowl an amazingly clear “pho ga” (chicken pho with rice noodles). It would have been foolish not to order it. From that point on I was hooked.
Of course, My Chau has a fairly extensive menu and it is very good. I have ordered other dishes when eating with friends. Their “dry” hu tieu, for example – essentially a noodle salad topped with pork, prawns, crushed peanuts, and deep-fried shallot chips – is the best I have had in the city ($8.50). But Combo #3 is a must.
To make it, My Chau’s cooks simmer batches of chicken legs, onion, and ginger in water until they are tender. This part of the process creates a flavourful stock that will then be turned into the soup’s broth. It is crystal clear and light in flavour, more subtle than the more familiar pho bo (beef pho) broth, the taste of which is deeper and redolent in spices (star anise, cinnamon, charred ginger, charred onion, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and cloves).
The poached chicken legs are prepared by marinating them in fish sauce, garlic, ginger, soya, sugar, lime and I don’t know what else. These are deep fried to order until the skin is crisp and golden and then chopped with a cleaver prior to serving. They are so good that I always get an extra order. (A Combo #3 is $7.75 for a small bowl or S8.50 for a large. Each additional chicken leg is $2.50.)
My Chau, like many other great Vietnamese restaurants in town, is set in a decrepit 1950’s low-rise on Kingsway. I tend to believe that this eatery and many others like it could only work in such a setting. With apologies to the great urbanist Jane Jacobs: “good food needs old buildings”. This area – often called “Little Saigon” – is experiencing unprecedented redevelopment these days, and I worry that all this great food will go away as a consequence.
Vietnamese immigrants (many of them “boat people”, refugees escaping the Vietnam war) settled in this area because once upon a time it was a cheap place to buy a house. As we all know, that time is long gone. New “mixed-use” mid-rise developments with commercial units on the first floor are rising all along this strip. There is one such structure currently under construction directly across the street from My Chau. Will it and the others eventually displace all of the little holes-in-the-wall? For now, anyway, it is heartening to see that at least some of the newer storefronts are being occupied by Vietnamese businesses and restaurants instead of chains. Let’s hope we have nothing to worry about.
My Chau | 604-874-6880 | 1715 Kingsway | Vancouver, BC