The Staff Meal photo essays detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | Before unlocking the doors to usher in another fully-booked dinner service, Wildebeest chef Ashley Kurtz is putting together a staff meal based on his memories from the time he spent in South Korea. While travelling the country, he discovered tteokbokki, a dish of rice cakes cooked in a spicy sauce.
Today, this ubiquitous Korean street vendor staple is at the core of the meal. As the sauce bubbles, Kurtz effortlessly moves around the kitchen, throwing kalbi (thin, marinated slices of beef short rib) on the grill, fluffing the freshly cooked rice while occasionally returning to the giant pot of tteokbokki for a quick stir. As the sauce thickens, he doles out his house-made kimchi, soy marinated bean sprouts and sesame leaves as side dishes.
When the meal is served, the staff gather around a long table, ladling out tteokbokki and wrapping sesame leaves around the rice and short rib. Kurtz sneaks a bowl of puffed wild rice onto the table for a bit of added crunch. Co-owner James Iranzad sits down to the spread, looks across the table and jokes, “OK, but where’s the beer?”
by Ken Tsui | For years, the Sunny Spot Cafe on Main Street has been a tiny, unremarkable greasy spoon cafe. But new management is flipping the script, embracing their culinary roots as Shaanxi province natives by introducing northern Chinese flavours to the menu. Originally hailing from a food stall at the Richmond Night Market as “Zhang’s World Famous Xian Burger and Terracotta Noodle”, Sunny Spot Cafe is now their home during the market’s off-season, and they are literally too legit to quit.
The new menu reflects the Shaanxi focus on hand-pulled noodles, breads and soups invigorated by aromatic chili oils and dark, tart vinegars. Get a taste of the region with their signature rou ji mou (house-made flatbread “xianburger” filled with braised beef shank, cilantro and cucumber) or handmade biangbiang noodles. Alternatively, get adventurous with their punchy, hot and sour soup with glass noodles and tripe.
Sunny Spot Cafe feels ad-hoc with a hodge podge of chairs and tablecloths reflecting the restaurant’s unique transition. The hot sauce for the fried eggs are in the same condiment holder as the vinegar for their fresh, house-made dumplings, but so what? As they get settled in, their new direction remains a delicious new option for Mount Pleasant food lovers.
Sunny Spot Cafe | 2543 Main St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-872-1816 | No Website
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.
Staff Meal is a new column by Ken Tsui. The photo essays will detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | Before service, the team at Railtown’s Ask for Luigi rallies for their staff meal. Chef and owner Jean-Christophe Poirier and cook Edward Jordan decide to nostalgic for their days together at Pizzeria Farina, Poirier’s sister restaurant. They begin by rolling out some tempered dough while general manager Matthew Morgenstern does his mise en place for a Caesar salad. In the back, Ales, a former dishwasher-turned-kitchen apprentice is on “smoothie duty”. He puts together a different fresh fruit smoothie every day in the chef’s bid for a healthier staff meal. Today, it’s a delicious melange of blueberries, pineapple, mint and blood orange. Within half an hour, a variety of pizzas are passed around, smoothies are poured, and the salad is mixed tableside. A strong sense of family pervades the room as the team takes a moment to enjoy their meal and each other’s company before the first tables arrive.
Never Heard Of It is a new series that explores Vancouver’s many informal hole-in-the-wall eateries.
by Ken Tsui | Laksa King’s restorative bowl of laksa on a chilly, no-good Vancouver day is a serious no-brainer. Its superiority in the soup game gives new meaning to Omar Little’s famous line from The Wire, “When you come at the king, you best not miss.” It’s hard to resist licking clean the bowl clean with your tongue, so get some Roti Canai to do the job. And the King offers up so much more than just the Burmese signature spicy noodle soup. Their Laphet Thoke (tea leaf salad) and Green Mango Salad, for example, are both packed with colour, contrasting textures and nuanced flavour.
2546 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC | 604-428-0155 | no website
Staff Meal is a new column by Ken Tsui. The photo essays will detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | After a busy service on a Saturday night at Chinatown’s award-winning Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, executive chef Joel Watanabe cranks out one final meal. Tonight, it’s his take on tostadas, and it’s for his staff. Think crispy tortillas topped with a healthy dose of cumin seasoned black beans, tomato sauce, melted cheese, guacamole, and shredded lettuce all dressed with lime and a pico de gallo salsa. Tostadas were one of the family classics in the Watanabe household when Joel was a kid. He and his brother were hooked, both invariably asking for the treat to be a part of every birthday meal. In the spirit of sibling rivalry, they even devoured the fully loaded tostadas competitively, with Joel holding the household record of fourteen eaten in one sitting.
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
The local masters of the edible pop-up are up to something sweet. From the inbox: “As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, Winner Winner and Ken Tsui are teaming up to celebrate this day of romantic splendour with “Seafood is for Lovers”, an intimate dinner of seven courses from the sea. In the spirit of Valentines Day, “Seafood is for Lovers” is a menu of classics intended to be shared with a date. It’s during the wintry months when the bounty of the oceans are at their tastiest and we find warmth cuddling side-by-side with a partner. Winner Winner and Ken Tsui are transforming one of Vancouver’s most celebrated daytime coffee shops, Revolver’s Archive, into an underground pop-up dining experience where lovebirds can cozy up to a beautiful Valentine’s Day dinner that celebrates the supremely tasty treasures from the sea.” Get all the details after the jump… Read more
Rain City Chronicles continues its run with storytelling in unique venues around town this week with two evenings of school related tales. Pencils and Playgrounds (November 21) goes down in the gym at Lord Strathcona Elementary School and Chalk and Lockers (November 22) takes over the auditorium at Templeton Secondary. Rain City Chronicles believes that everyone has a great personal story to tell and they make it their business to create opportunities for our communities to share them. Grab a ticket now for some fantastic storytelling featuring a diverse roster of Vancouverites who will speak to the general theme of School. “Whether you were a teacher’s pet, shy wallflower, sweaty jock or smoke-pit regular, we’ve got a great line-up of storytellers to make you laugh, cry and ooze nostalgia.”
And it gets even better…this time around, Rain City Chronicles has joined forces with the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner crew (you may remember these talented lads from the Chinatown Nightmarket) and super-food-and-event-enthusiast Ken Tsui to put on a special cafeteria-style dinner. Prior to the stories, guests grab a plastic tray, line-up and choose one of four distinctive re-interpretations of the classic lunch-time specials from your elementary or high school days. Think shepherd’s pie, sloppy joes, mac n’ cheese, and pizza. There will also be a mocktail (some sort of take on a “grape drink”?), a cafeteria bun, and a “pudding cup”. The menu is intended to be nostalgic and aims to inspire people to tell their school stories to table mates and friends while they dine.
PENCILS AND PLAYGROUNDS | Thu, Nov. 21 | The Cafeteria opens at 6pm, show 7:30 | Lord Strathcona Elementary School (592 E Pender)| $30 for dinner & show | DETAILS AND TICKETS HERE
CHALK AND LOCKERS | Friday, November 22 | The Cafeteria opens at 6pm, show 7:30 | Templeton Secondary (727 Templeton Dr.) | DETAILS AND TICKETS HERE
by Andrew Morrison | Ken Tsui is the next cool thing. Aside from being wicked smart, generous, funny as hell and charming to boot, Ken is a film-maker and lark-lover who works hard at whatever he tries. Whether he’s making a documentary on a model plane fanatic, directing a music video for Defektors, setting up a Twin Peaks pop-up coffee and pie shop called The Black Lodge (long before the Kingsway’s new Black Lodge), wrangling and serving folks at Eat Together suppers, transforming neighbourhood coffee shops into temporary street food stalls, or helping to re-invigorate the Chinatown Night Market, he’s always doing it full-on with a smile on his one of a kind face.
As we’ve noted before, the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market is bringing a heady mix of time-honoured tradition and new school flavour to the summer festivities on Keefer Street. Check out the teaser video (attaboy Ken, great job!) and read more after the jump… Read more
Tannis Ling, owner of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, and Ken Tsui, a well known pop-up organizer responsible for popular events like Black Lodge Diner, Eat Together and The Hawker Stand, have joined with the Vancouver Chinatown Merchant’s Association (VCMA) to reinvent the 18 year tradition we know as the Chinatown Night Market.
It’s no secret that the Night Market has struggled in recent years, but with the neighbourhood in the midst of an exciting renewal period and an influx of new businesses wanting to participate, the VCMA, Ling and Tsui see the summer of 2013 as the perfect opportunity to update it. They aim to harness Chinatown’s resurgent spirit while helping to preserve its cultural DNA. The goal is to create a dynamic cultural hub and social space that will appeal to all ages and all cultures.
In such an effort, collaboration is everything. Local design firm Glasfurd & Walker is working with Bao Bei to rebrand the Night Market, and the Street Food Vancouver Society is on board to help diversify and complement the range of food already offered by bringing in a selection of trucks to the market’s western border on Columbia Street. There will be an area for dining set up with picnic tables and chairs, and there’s a rumour going around of new restaurant patios opening for the occasion.
New programming will include outdoor Chinese movie screenings, ping-pong tournaments, cooking competitions, storytelling nights and mahjong lessons. Workshops available for kids could include kite making, calligraphy, circus arts, and more.
Of course, one of the integral aspects of revitalizing the night market is the incorporation of inspired and original vendors. To this end, Ling and Tsui are – starting today – looking for artisans, craftspeople, and food makers with excellent products and accessible price points.
They are making a call out to vendors for expressions of interest. To be clear, this is not a request for commitment. Just acquiring vendor interest will help them move forward and into the next stages of planning.
Booth rate rentals start at $42/night and comes with a 10′ x 10′ tent and 6′ table. Vendor rentals are available for a full season (32 nights), half season (16 nights) or a quarter season (8 nights).
If you are interested in becoming a vendor or a sponsor, please contact Tannis Ling or Ken Tsui at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Culinary enthusiasts Alex Dadzis and Ken Tsui took over Gene Cafe (2404 Main) last night and turned it into a hawker stand. They were flogging steamed Fei Bing pancakes stuffed with ethically-sourced ingredients like Paradise Valley pork belly with house-made apple jelly (also sesame shiitake & smoked tofu with hoisin and sriracha; five spice yam chips; and “ice queen sweethearts” – almond cookie ice cream sandwiches). Awesome grub guys. Keep up the good work!