With such a wide variety of fried, marinated and otherwise delicious things on the menu at most Taiwanese restaurants, you’d find equally extensive lists of beer. As foods that match great with beer go, it doesn’t get much better than Taiwanese-style deep fried chicken nuggets. However, most Taiwanese restaurants in Richmond don’t serve alcohol, so you’re usually limited to bubble tea. 836 different flavors of bubble tea, of course, but limited nonetheless.
Maji Restaurant on Alexandra Road (1180 – 8391 Alexandra Road), better known as Richmond’s “Food Street”, is one of few exceptions to the rule, featuring a small but sufficient drink menu that contains more alcohol than tapioca pearls. In fact, the website doesn’t show any bubble tea options at all, going with a selection of local and Asian beers, Japanese sake and a few mixed drinks instead.
The full title on the door calls Maji a “Taiwanese Stir Fry.” While Taiwanese cooking often a reputation for heavy flavors, rich marinades and generally deep fried everything, there are also a number of steamed, grilled and lighter options available.
Maji’s website claims the restaurant’s name comes from the English word “match”, in the context of close friendships and brotherhood. The belief is that the best way to build friendships and foster trust is by bonding over sharing a meal.
If you were in the mood for some artisanal microbrews or richly hoppy IPAs made by people with beards, you’re out of luck here. Bars in Asia are usually stocked with lighter, mass-produced lagers. Most of them are 5% alcohol per volume and below, but that just means you can drink more! Maji has all that and a variety of fruit flavored beers, including this “Natural and Romantic” Sweet Touch Fruit Beer, which has a hint of lychee. The beer connoisseurs among us may turn their noses at the selection of Molson, Kokanee and their Asian counterparts but really, this is the sort of beer that goes best with the food on the menu. Some Innis and Gunn would taste and feel out of place amongst the braised pork and marinated tripe.
The menu is full of Taiwanese comfort food favorites like this Spicy Deep Fried Chicken ($10.25). The juicy boneless leg meat is fried to a crisp outside and doused with a hot chili sauce. It won’t set your mouth on fire but it’s got enough heat to make things interesting.
As far as beer snacks go, I can think of few things I like more than chicken gizzards ($7.25). While the idea of eating deep fried chicken guts may not be everyone’s bag, the adventurous won’t be able to keep their hands off these. The gizzard meat has a pleasant crunchy snap to it, similar to a high-quality sausage casing and, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s hard to go wrong with this magical combination of salt and chili peppers known as jiew yeem.
If you’re really not into gizzards, don’t worry, there’s no shortage of fried meats on the Maji menu, such as these Honey Glazed Spareribs ($11.50). The deep fried nuggets of pork are tossed in an amazing, sticky honey sauce and white sesames that gets rather addictive.
Braised and marinated dishes are a big part of Taiwanese cuisine, usually served as appetizers. The Braised Food Platter ($16.50) lets you pick 4 items from the list, excluding the cabbage, and we went with (clockwise from the front) braised king oyster mushrooms, braised beef tripe, braised dried tofu and braised pork intestines.
The king oyster mushrooms were the star of this plate for me. If you haven’t had king oyster mushrooms, they have a fiberous, meaty texture that I think works best on the grill but also tastes great as a braised dish. The tofu was also excellent but the tripe and pork intestines were mildly disappointing. Tripe is one of my favorite cuts of cow but in this instance, the pieces were overdone and mushy. Pork intestines are… a challenge, for even the most seasoned of Asian food enthusiasts and when someone absolutely nails it, they’re actually quite delicious. But all those other times, they taste and smell unappetizing. This was one of those times.
One of the house specialties is this puzzling combination of Deep Fried Shrimp with Pineapples. The deep fried shrimp should be familiar to anyone that’s had an ebi mayo at a Japanese restaurant but the dressing is a bit lighter and there’s a sweet, tangy component with the pineapple. While quite tasty, I didn’t think the pineapple felt particularly necessary. Not as cohesive as it could’ve been.
One of my absolutely favorite foods growing up was puffed rice. Usually associated with Shanghainese cuisine, “puffed” rice are formed rice cakes, usually deep fried and served with a thick broth of vegetables and meats. It’s become increasingly difficult to find a decent puffed rice dish in the Lower Mainland (called woh bah in Cantonese) as most restaurants have moved away from freshly fried puffed rice cakes, which are tastier but far more labor intensive, to pre-made, store-bought rice cakes. The places that made it best are no longer around and it’s rare to see in general now.
The Seafood Stir-fry with Puffed Rice ($12.75) at Maji is mediocre at best. The puffed rice itself isn’t bad but there’s very little of it. The dish is quite small to begin with and the broth contains more bamboo and onions than seafood. Maybe it just doesn’t live up to the puffed rice dishes of my childhood but there are still better examples of this in Vancouver than here.
The Basil Clams ($11.25), however, were spot on. The large, briny clams and rich, garlicky sauce make for a delicious combination, freshened up by the herbs and ginger. Another excellent beer snack.
The San-Bei Chicken ($10.25, better known as “three cup chicken”) tasted great with the familiar notes of soy, sesame oil and rice wine, contrasting with the fresh basil tossed in at the end.
…but it’s easily blown away by the Dongpo Pork ($11.75), which is as rich and sumptuous as it looks. I don’t know why they included a knife, as a fork was more than enough to cut into the tender, bouncy meat.
Another one of their house specialties, the Dongpo Pork is permeated by deep, rich flavors of Shaoxing wine and dark soy sauce. All the different textures in the pork belly make each bite a little different. Despite being lightened up by a little sweetness, this is a very heavy dish that’s probably best shared.
This is the Hakka-Style Pork and Squid ($11.25) that I neglected to try after being floored by the aforementioned Dongpo Pork.
Maji is only open from dinner til late-night, with no lunch service. While it’s not open as late night as one might hope a bar would be, it’s still one of relatively few Richmond restaurants open past midnight, until 1:30AM on Friday and Saturday. There are a couple misses with the food but overall, the food is quite good. The flavors are bold and there’s great use of spice and texture in just about every dish. Things do tend to be on the heavy side as there’s generous amounts of salt and sugar throughout, and at least half the menu appears to be deep fried. For good reason, though, as no one has ever thought to order a salad with their beer when they’re out eating at midnight. Maji is all about food and friendships and as a wise man once said “You don’t win friends with salad.”