by Ken Tsui | Vancouver’s Chinatown is a neighbourhood with over a century of cultural history crammed within a handful of blocks. There are countless Chinese stories embedded in the architecture and within the street front businesses. Though it’s on the cusp of being a certified UNESCO historical site, change is still very much afoot in Chinatown, making right now a very interesting time to explore it. The neighbourhood – it’s very plain to see – is flourishing with new businesses. Young entrepreneurs from across the city are opening up alongside traditional herbalists, restaurants, butchers, green grocers and kitchen equipment suppliers that have operated in Chinatown for several decades, making it a diverse mix of the treasured old guard and the welcomed new. This is a (by no means complete) guide to some of these most treasured places. Take your empty belly and a couple of hours out of your day to explore…
Chinatown Supermarket | 239 Keefer Street | 604-685-5423
Navigating the myriad of neighbourhood grocers in Chinatown can be an intimidating experience, but this place is a friendly one-stopper. With fresh produce, meats, and classic Chinese ingredients, it has practically everything you need to put together a delicious and authentic Cantonese meal.
New Town Bakery | 158 E Pender Street | 604-681-1828
New Town is a regular haunt for Chinatown elders and a stopover for out-of-towners who flock to Pender Street for their steamed bun fix. It’s the definitive Chinese bakery, offering a wide range of sweet and savoury classics such as BBQ pork buns (some of the best in town), pineapple buns, and egg tarts. New Town has columns of steamers stacked full of pillowy steamed buns ranging from Sichuan pork and “Chicken Deluxe” to a vegetarian alternative.
Dollar Meat Store | 266 E Pender Street | 604-681-1052
Don’t let the name fool you! The award-winning Dollar Meats is an old guard butcher shop that serves up some of Chinatown’s most delicious Chinese BBQ and cured meats. BBQ ducks and a crispy whole hog usually hang in the window while sausages and Chinese bacon cure to deliciousness in the shop. In operation for over 30 years, Dollar Meats takes pride in their artisan products and remains a Vancouver institution for traditional Chinese barbecue
Matchstick Coffee Roasters | 213 East Georgia St. | 604-336-0213
Expanding from their original Fraserhood location to Georgia Street this year, Matchstick Coffee boasts the best coffee in Chinatown (it’s also one of the few places in the neighbourhood where you can get a cup of coffee before 8am). Along with the standard baked goods (excellent croissants), Matchstick Coffee offers a toast bar and dinner options like Mac and Cheese, plus a selection of local beer on tap.
Phnom Penh Restaurant | 244 East Georgia St. | 604-682-5777
Butter beef, deep fried lemon pepper chicken wings, and hot and sour soup are the regular barn burners that keep people coming back to this Vietnamese/Cambodian treasure. When former New York chef-turned-celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain was asked where he liked to eat in Vancouver, he simply replied “Phnom Penh.” He’s not alone, as evidenced by the fact that its large dining room is eternally bustling, even at unlikely hours.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie | 163 Keefer St. | 604-688-0876
The award-winning Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie strikes a fine balance in preserving culture through food. Chef Joel Watanabe’s menus are inspired by traditional Chinese flavours and ingredients but are prepared with modern culinary techniques. Bao Bei is a reflection of the modern Chinese experience, a delicious meeting place between the new and old.
Tinland Cookware | 260 East Pender St. | 604-608-0787
Chinatown would not be complete without an unpretentious kitchen supply store. You won’t find brand name cookware here but they’re equipped with just about every single size of pot, pan, clear plastic storage container, ceramic bowl, and cooking utensil. Tinland has practically every tool you’ll ever need to outfit your kitchen at an affordable price.
Bestie | 105 East Pender | 604-620-1175
Clinton McDougall and Dane Brown’s sausage and beer parlour specializing in currywurst is one of Chinatown’s most exciting new developments. It’s a perfect example of the new style of up and coming businesses that are taking a chance on the area. It just so happens that they’re also some of the friendliest, most charming folks on the block. Bestie may not be a typical Chinatown destination, but it gives Vancouverites of every stripe good reason to visit Pender Street.
Continental Herbal | 278 East Pender St. | 604-677-3334
Continental Herbal is filled floor-to-ceiling with every herbal remedy and traditional Chinese dried good imaginable, including dried starfish. Even if you’re not entirely sure how to use any of it (including said dried starfish), Continental Herbal has you covered. They keep an in-house herbalist in the back of the store who is always ready to fill a prescription. Beyond herbal remedies, Continental also has an impressive tea collection and a staff that gladly walks anyone who is interested through it.
Bamboo Village Trading Company | 135 E Pender Street | 604-662-3300
Bamboo Village, located on Pender Street, is chock-a-block with cheap and cheerful antiques and homewares. The shop is a vibrant encapsulation of all things decorative, walking a very fine line between practicality and Chinatown kitsch. From an impressive array of paper lanterns and ornately painted ceramic bowls to Mao propaganda posters, exploring the visually striking, wall-to-wall collection at Bamboo Village is an adventure in discovering the things you never thought you were looking for.
On March 22nd, Rain City Chronicles, Ken Tsui and Bestie join forces to celebrate all things German with DAS LEXIKON!
Through storytelling and supper, Das Lexikon is a fun-filled night of German appreciation infused with Krautrock, German beer, entertaining stories inspired by German vocabulary handpicked by Rain City Chronicles and a delicious bratwurst dinner by Bestie. And what better place to have it unfold than the Vancouver Alpen Club, an institution with a century’s worth of local German history.
After staging a memorable two night pop-up restaurant in a school cafeteria this past November for Rain City Chronicles’ “Tales from Public School” show series, edible pop-up producer Ken Tsui continues his partnership with Rain City Chronicles for Das Lexikon. In working with Lizzy Karp, the event transforms a culturally treasured space into a playful and energetic experience unlike any other in the city.
Rain City Chronicles, Vancouver’s premiere storytelling night, are pairing a diverse roster of Vancouverites with a collection of unique German words that spark captivating stories. From tales inspired by moments of “schadenfreude” (the pleasure derived from someone’s misfortune) to “waldeinsamkeit” (forest solitude), the evening revels in the idiosyncrasies of the German language.
With a casual, friendly and fun approach, the local German street food wunderkinds of Chinatown, Dane Brown, Clinton McDougall and chef Colin Johnson will serve up their take on the traditional German supper. Bestie’s dinner for Das Lexikon is a unique menu that celebrates the fundamentals of German comfort food, served one night only and created exclusively for the event. And yes, vegetarians are welcome.
Filling one of Vancouver’s most unique spaces with word nerds and bratwurst devotees, Das Lexikon will be a raucous, hilarious and delectable night out. Storytellers, musical guest and menu details to be announced the week of March 10, 2014. Get tickets and details after the jump… Read more
Chinatown, a commercial (and increasingly residential) neighbourhood within the Downtown Eastside, has been one of Vancouver’s most vibrant areas since the City’s beginnings. It got its start as a ghetto on the edge of the Granville Townsite in the late 1880′s, when scores of Chinese immigrants arrived to work BC’s mines and build its railroads. The institutional racism of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 and the anti-animated neon signage laws of 1974 did little to curb its vibrancy, and today it is home to an eclectic mix of traditional and trendy eateries, markets (both day and night), gardens, temples, and a wide assortment of businesses ranging from tea shops and apothecaries to art galleries and vintage stores. Its borders are squared roughly by Abbott/Taylor (west), Gore (east), Pender (north), and Keefer/East Georgia (south). The 200 block of Union St. (between Main and Gore) is technically part of Chinatown, but we count the section east of its alleyway as a part of Strathcona.
Blue/Orange facades of Ho Sun Hing Printers & Fresh Egg Mart on East Georgia; the leafiness of Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Gardens; omnipresent decorative red and gold; freshly horked old man loogie; marinated eggplant with soy, garlic, and ginger at Bao Bei; stinky summer fish gut puddle; dead alleyway pigeon tri-colour; dried tokay gecko on a stick.
DEAD LIZARDS FOR YOUR PENIS*
$8.99 (AND CHEAPER) HAIRCUTS
EXCELLENT PARADES WITH BAGPIPES & DRAGONS
THE RENNIE COLLECTION AT WING SANG
A LITTLE QUIET SOLITUDE AT DR. SUN-YAT SEN GARDEN
OUT OF THE ORDINARY ANTIQUES
THE OCCASIONAL RAT
PRESENTS FOR YOUR MOM
GAMES OF POOL AT THE LONDON PUB
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE KEEFER PARKADE
AN UNSUSTAINABLE AMOUNT OF MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES
SWEET VINTAGE AT DUCHESSE
THE NICE GUYS AT THE SHOP
THE PLAZA SKATEPARK
SUPPLIES FOR LIQUOR LOVERS
A WHOLE LOTTA PIGEONS
LEATHER BAGS AT ERIN TEMPLETON
THE JIMI HENDRIX SHRINE
* the dried lizards (tokay geckos) are a traditional Chinese medicine for impotence, tuberculosis, and asthma.
MARINATED EGGPLANT (OR PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING) AT BAO BEI
APOTHECARY COCKTAILS AT THE KEEFER BAR
LATE NIGHT FRIED RICE AT GAIN WAH
ICE CREAM SANDWICHES FROM SCENT OF A SANDWICH
BBQ DUCK AT MONEY FOODS
COFFEE & CINNAMON TOAST AT MATCHSTICK
APPLE PIE FROM THE PIE SHOPPE
CHICKEN WINGS & GARLIC PRAWNS AT PHNOM PENH
THE BURGER AT MAMIE TAYLOR’S
PORK BUNS AT NEW TOWN BAKERY
SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM FROM PRIME TIME CHICKEN
POTATO TORNADOES AT THE NIGHT MARKET
PORK THURINGER CURRYWURST AT BESTIE
- The oldest standing structure in Chinatown is the Wing Sang Building on Pender, built in 1889 by Chinatown pioneer Yip Sang.
- Market Alley, spanning from Main Street and Carrall between Hastings and Pender, was a turn-of-the-century hotspot for opium production, gambling, and after-hours debauchery.
- Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was the first of its kind to be constructed outside of China.
- Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
- A city ordinance was passed in 1937 that prohibited Chinese-owned restaurants from employing white women. In 1939, city council amended the law to permit white waitresses in Chinatown restaurants that served “English meals to English customers”.
The GOODS from Bestie
Vancouver, BC | We’re excited to announce a special event featuring beer from a very interesting and important German microbrewery. The Freigeist Tap Takeover will be held at Bestie on Wednesday February 12 starting at 6pm. Freigeist is the experimental offshoot of Cologne’s revolutionary small brewery, Braustelle, which strives to break the chains of industrial brewing by reviving and updating Germany’s unique, historical beer styles.
For the first time ever in Canada, (and for one night only!) we’ll be pouring three different Freigeist taps. The Bestie kitchen will be serving up brand new food and dessert specials designed to pair beautifully with the beers. Adam Henderson of Copper & Theory, the agency responsible for bringing Freigeist to BC, will be in attendance pouring steins, talking beer, and generally being handsome. Don’t miss this chance to raise a glass of these extremely rare German microbrews!
No tickets required. The event is open to everyone 19+ but seating is limited. First come, first served. Good times and great beer guaranteed! Read more
BB | Slang | An attractive young woman (term popularized by local band Bestie).
Usage | ”I’m going to try and get that BB’s number.”
Chinatown’s Bestie has been open for a few months now, and our friends over at Warren Lane Pictures have just put out an awesome little video that details its construction process in typically charming fashion. Press play above and enjoy.
And in other Bestie news, they’re doing a little beer collaboration with 33 Acres this Sunday, September 22nd. The festivities will take place from 1pm to 5pm at Mt. Pleasant’s new (and very gorgeous) 33 Acres Brewery.
Bestie will be on site serving pretzel, pickle and cured sausage tasting plates to complement a very special brew. Expect music and merriment and a modern Oktoberfest vibe. See you there!
The GOODS from Bestie
Vancouver, BC | Bestie is a friendly little sausage and beer parlour in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown. We’re looking for a talented cook to join our team, someone with experience working on a busy line and who has the ability to take initiative and drive a service. We’re looking for someone who can be flexible with their schedule and this position has room to grow as the business grows. We’re a tight crew who works hard, but knows how to have fun; a positive attitude is a MUST. Strong work ethic required.
Our menu is simple, but focused, changing daily, weekly and seasonally. Our kitchen is small but active, with a tight team and busy rushes. We work with Master Butchers, Bakers and Brewers, and do a lot of pickling, fermenting and condiment experiments in house. For more info visit bestie.ca. If you’re awesome and interested please send a resume and letter of interest to hello [at] bestie.ca. Thanks for your time, only those applicants short-listed will be contacted. Read more
The GOODS from Bestie
Vancouver, BC | Want to find out why all wine geeks hold Rieslings in such high regard, but wouldn’t know a Spätlese if you tripped over one? Join Kurtis Kolt of the East Van Wine Academy on Sunday, August 18th at 6:00 inside Bestie, “Home of Chinatown’s Finest Currywurst,” and taste through eight German Rieslings that will cover the range from bone-dry to decadently sweet. While touring through a handful of German wine regions, you’ll get a handle on all the important terminology, the various styles of the grape, learn how to make sense of the labels and gain a new appreciation for some of the best-value wines on store shelves today. And even better, you get to try these lip-smackingly delicious wines paired with a half-dozen different sausages while learning just how food-friendly these wines can be. It’s just $40 to taste through eight wines, bump up your wine education, and polish off a couple of plates of the hottest sausages in town. Seats are limited, so be sure to reserve yours today. Read more
by Andrew Morrison | This is a new feature in which we will examine 1,000 awesome things about Vancouver, 10 at a time. Ambitious, sure, but it has a point. It was originally designed to remind those people who have left Vancouver of what they’ve left behind. You probably know a few friends who’ve skipped town. I certainly do. I’ve lost many to places near and far afield, even a brother (to Germany) and a sister-in-law (to LA). The reasons why they left are numerous, nuanced, and as varied as the contents of a general store. Some left for love, while others fell victim to the notion that we live in a culturally retarded town where the powers that be take heed of (and act on) whatever the soul-killing NIMBYs are bitching about on any given Wednesday. And for many others still, it’s that irresistible opportunities presented themselves elsewhere. For most, however, it’s that Vancouver was too hard a place to afford a balanced, rewarding lifestyle where they could earn a proper keep. And who can blame them? We get it. Vancouver is not always awesome. But when it is, one has to admit that it’s in a league entirely of its own. This new series therefore aims to show those dodgers (and those who are considering getting out of dodge) that it isn’t all bad, and that their love of Vancouver is something worth coming home for. And if you don’t dig the first 10 that follow, there are – at the very least – 990 more to come. So without further et cetera…
by Andrew Morrison | Bestie is the first cool thing about Vancouver, and that’s probably because I just ate there with one of my boys and it was awesome. It was very inspiring to watch Clinton McDougall and Dane Brown – two guys without much training or restaurant experience – open a simple, straightforward eatery in Chinatown with public assistance and knock it completely out of the park without ever compromising their original vision. Sure it’s just German-style sausages and beer, but they have an oblique, out of the ordinary style that totally endears (and don’t just take my word for it — they were recently featured in Cool Hunting, Superfuture, Trendland, and a ton of other websites. When they were at Brewery & The Beast (June’s outdoor BBQ and beer extravaganza on False Creek), instead of putting up placards or sandwich boards to tell diners and drinkers who they were (very much the expected norm), they decided instead to spell out their name in giant gold balloons above their stall and jokingly hawk their wares carney-style, as if they were on Coney Island in 1958. No biggie in the large or small grand scheme of things, but to me, it exemplified their rare and contagious spirit of “Let’s just do it anyway”. Bestie – aside from being a reliably delicious place to get full – is a shining example of how passion and the resolve to be a little different from everyone else can trump experience, savvy, and pockets full of money.
by Andrew Morrison | A month after serving its first currywursts at 105 East Pender in Chinatown, Bestie finally served its first beers last night to the gentle sounds of an Oompah fellow who was brought in to herald the liqour license’s arrival, German-style. To compliment their sausage selection, they’re serving Coal Harbour 311 Helles Lager (brewed with the same yeast strain from the Paulaner Brewery in Munich), Driftwood Crooked Coast Altbier, Driftwood White Bark Witbier, and Red Racer Pilsner in the vessels seen above. Co-owner Dane Brown notes that they “also have Schneiderweisse in half litre bottles for any homesick Deutschlanders.” And there was much rejoicing.
by Andrew Morrison | The long wait for Bestie - the new sausage and beer joint at 105 East Pender in Chinatown – is thankfully, finally, awesomely over. We tore through its tiny menu at a dry run over the weekend and it was as good as I had hoped it was. Knowing how long it took (over a year) and how they agonized over every detail made me all the more critical going in, but finding a flaw in such a simple, unassuming concept – sausages and beer – especially when you love sausages and beer, is a silly bit of business. My only regret is that they didn’t have their liquor license yet, but that comes this week, with crossed fingers (and hopefully an oompah band). What to eat? Everything! But start with a classic, Oyama-made Thuringer sausage as a currywurst (with fries and sauce) together a warm pretzel, side of mustard, bowl of beets with horseradish creme fraiche, and maybe another sausage, like the spiced lamb or the turkey. Hours are Monday to Wednesday, 11:30pm to 10pm and until midnight on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tiny takeout window will operate late nights on weekends. Break a leg, fellas!
by Andrew Morrison | It’s high time we provided an update on the highly anticipated Bestie at 105 East Pender St. in Chinatown. We first reported on its coming a year ago this week, and we’re happy to say that the 25 seat German-themed sausage and beer joint from Clinton McDougall and Dane Brown is well on its way. They’ve hammered down a menu of Thuringian sausages (pork) that will include brats and currywurst, plus a rotating poultry sausage and a special or two. The good folks at Oyama are making them, but execution is in the hands of chef Colin Johnson, who worked in Andrey Durbach’s kitchens for upwards of a decade. The fries will be hand-cut BC potatoes, double fried and served with a little metal pommesgabel (literally “French Fry Fork”), and the beers will be German-inspired but locally brewed (4 on tap with several others in bottle format). As you can see in one of the images above, the tapped beers can be had in 8oz, 12oz, or monstrous 24oz pours, the latter to be enjoyed from proper ceramic steins! David Stansfield, who you might know from Vancouver Urban Winery, is in charge of the tiny wine program. He has one red and one white cheap and cheerful planned for taps and tumblers, with a few supplemental bottles, all containing German varietals. The only spirit sold at Bestie will be schnapps. Because jawohl!
As far as the aesthetic goes, it’s worth remembering that Dane and Clinton come to the food trade from the design world, so they’ve considered the look as much as they have the sausages. It’s going to be on the bright side, with wooded paneling lit by high gloss white floors and white walls. Much of the seating will be convertible. A series of “booths” along the long wall facing the kitchen bar can readily be modified so that they become one large table, and above these booths will be an ever-changing canvas of wooden pegs. There are 116 holes in the wall to accommodate them, so expect to see hanging lights, magazines, and probably a jacket or two suspended above the modular booths. There’s also a sweet corner table at the front window that folds up so that sausages can be sold through the window deep into the night (hello Fortune revellers!). The rear wall will see rotating works from local artists (overseen by an obligatory cuckoo clock), and I suspect that we might hear some 1980′s Grauzone leading what I hope will be a chiefly German soundtrack. Dane and Clinton are doing nearly all the construction work themselves, with guidance from David Scott of local architecture firm Scott & Scott (recent recipients of some Cool Hunting love).
Because of its close proximity to the Scout office, I see a lot of currywurst in my future. Opening day, which can’t come soon enough, is on track for the early June.
Andrew Morrison is the editor-in-chief of Scout and BC’s Senior Judge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and TV shows on local food, culture and travel. He live and works in the vibrant Strathcona neighbourhood, where he also collects inexpensive things and enjoys birds, skateboards, whisky, shoes, many songs, and the smell of wood fires.