For those of us who only speak English and wish to dine in Richmond, there can be that slight fear we’ll walk into a restaurant and not have a clue what we’re doing. And fair enough – it can be intimidating to walk into an unfamiliar space, see an unfamiliar menu, and be surrounded by unfamiliar food. Pushing through that discomfort often produces rewards, however, which is one of the many reasons I love to travel.
What’s one way to break into the unfamiliar? By asking for help! I recently received some at Cheung’s Chiu Chow in Richmond, where I dined with my Cantonese speaking friends Stacey and Johnny. The restaurant used to be in Vancouver, but recently moved to a modern, black and red place on Alexandra Road. Not only could he speak the language, but Johnny is from the Chiu Chow (Chiuchow/Chaozhou) region, so this is his cuisine, the food he grew up with.
He chose a bunch of classic dishes for us off the menu, which didn’t appear to have an English word on it….
I’m sure Cheung’s has an English menu as well, but it’s probably not nearly as extensive as the Chinese version. Therefore, as soon as we arrived, we decided on this plan: in order to extend some help to YOU, dear readers, Johnny ordered some very typical (and tasty) Chiuchow dishes. I have given them easy, generic English names, and we let the incredibly friendly staff know who I am. Johnny told them all about the blog, and said they could possibly expect to have more English-speaking customers coming in. Instead of struggling with the menu, those English-only customers can just show them this blog post, and they’ll know exactly what to bring them. The owners of Cheung’s were thrilled with the idea! Honestly, our server and the head chef/owner were so lovely, I feel certain they’d accommodate anyone. With that said, let’s head to Chiuchow, shall we?
We started with a duck dish, which we shall call Duck Marinated in Soy Sauce ($16.50). Apparently, this would traditionally be made with goose, but because duck is less fatty, it’s becoming more and more favorable now.
The duck was braised, low-and-slow, in a pot of soy sauce with various other ingredients. An important thing to mention is that this pot only ever has things added, never taken away. This ‘1000 year’ stock is slowly simmered and added to for years, gaining more character and complexity with age.
This duck was incredible; tender, sweetly flavoured, and served with plenty of extra sauce to drizzle over our rice. To my utter delight, it also came with a second sauce, which was a simple white vinegar with chopped fresh garlic. It added an entirely new dimension to the dish, and I was in sauce heaven.
Next up was a Deep-fried Oyster Pancake ($12.50) composed of egg, potato starch, and chopped large oysters (in China it would be made with much smaller ones). The pancake is deep-fried, and served with a salty fish sauce.
The result was a cross between the Taiwanese oyster pancake I had at Liu’s and a Korean seafood pancake. While I found the gelatinous chew of the pancake at Liu’s to be a bit texturally overwhelming, eating it with an added layer of deep-fried crunch brought it HOME for me! I loved it.
Don’t forget to drizzle a bit of the fish sauce on first, because it adds a lot to the overall taste.
The signature soup ($9) was a milky-looking, white pepper-based broth with pork stomach and pickled cabbage (let’s call it Soup with White Pepper, Pork Stomach, and Preserved Vegetables).
Both Stacey and Johnny said it wasn’t spicy enough, but even so, there was a distinct peppery blaze with each spoonful. The pork wasn’t bacon, but rather stomach lining, and while its rubbery texture took some getting used to, I liked it. Not as much as the pickled cabbage, though. I LOVE the preserved vegetables in Chinese cooking.
Our final savoury dish was the Cold Steamed Crab ($36.50, by weight). Johnny said it’s usually served as an appetizer, but our dishes seemed to arrive in whatever order they were ready. This is a dish often made by people at home, because it’s both simple and tasty.
Ours arrived looking stately and bored, garnished with a few handfuls of fresh cilantro. The crab was steamed whole, brought to room temperature, then placed in the fridge, probably overnight. It was served cold, and we feasted upon every last bit, dipping the meat into a dark vinegar + slivered ginger sauce.
It was SO good – very meaty and easy to eat because they’d already pre-cracked most of the shells. Stacey and I split some offal from the body, which I think was the liver but can’t say for sure. It was a muddy yellow, with the texture of a medium-boiled egg yolk and a flavour I couldn’t quite pin down. It was startlingly familiar to me, even though I don’t think I’ve ever eaten this before.
I spent at least a minute staring into space trying to figure it out, but I never did. I will, however, describe its flavour and texture as ‘crustacean foie gras’ (torchon, to be specific). It was incredibly rich, almost melted in the mouth, and had a wonderful, ocean-y (if indefinable) flavour.
Dessert ($20) was another Chiuchow specialty, and one which Johnny said is difficult to make. Chunks of fresh taro are first deep-fried, then a heavy pan is heated to a very high temperature. Handfuls of white sugar are thrown in, it’s taken off the heat, and the taro is added. The chef must expertly toss the pan over and over again, until the sugar crystalizes and every last piece of taro is covered.
It’s essential that the whole process is done quickly, otherwise the sugar will caramelize and/or everything will seize into one enormous, super-hard chunk. The result if it’s done properly? Big chunks of ‘taro candy’ which look like they’ve been tossed in snow. The interiors were hot, soft, and creamy, with crackly, crunchy coatings.
This was a purple and awesome way to end the meal! All you need to ask for is “Dessert Taro,” and they’ll know what you’re after.
A huge thank you to Stacey and Johnny for helping us all out and, of course, for introducing me to the beauty that is crab offal. Cheung’s is a friendly way to explore Chiuchow home-cooking, and I truly hope you’ll go. Be sure to bring friends, eat family style, and do NOT be afraid of the language barrier – smiles, a sense of adventure, and pictures on your iPhone are all you really need!
Cash accepted (I can’t remember if they take cards or not, so bring cash!)
Likely some vegetarian options available if you ask for them, though ours was a very meat-heavy meal