Even though I’ve never experienced a Chinese New Year, yesterday in Richmond I couldn’t help but feel the pre-celebration buzz. It’s present before all important holidays, whether in small towns or big cities. Decorations are hung and grocery stores are packed, with everyone wanting to ensure there’s enough food in the house for several thousand visitors, just in case.
I was curious about what kind of snacks are popular for the Chinese New Year, so yesterday I had a look in the Price Smart Foods on Ackroyd. A Valentine’s display stood dejectedly to the side, making way for massive stacks of goodies, all arranged under red lanterns and snake balloons.
There were cookies, cakes, seeds, nuts, platters of crunchy snacks, and candy, which I imagine keep the little kiddies up hours longer than usual.
In front of all the displays, there was also a drum and gong set up. Some customers banged on them both as they left the store, which I assume is good luck. And fun.
Later that evening, my friends Tammy, Sally, and Steph joined me for dinner at Garden City Hot Pot. It was packed, so I was very glad I made a reservation, and suggest you do the same on a weekend!
Unlike my first two hot pot experiences, this one wasn’t an all you can eat. Broths were varying prices, and platters of vegetables, meat, and seafood varied in cost from around $6 – $20 a plate.
Here’s the thing: even though I never thought these words would leave my lips (or rather, my fingertips, since I’m typing), I have to say that when it comes to hot pot, I prefer all you can eat. Why? Because you can try a much wider variety of items, and don’t have to mentally add up your total each time you order something new. We paid almost the same amount, but didn’t eat as much food and had a lot less variety.
The big bonus at Garden City Hot Pot, however, is the complimentary sauce cart, which has over a dozen options you can mix and match for your own customized bowl.
In various combinations, we all mixed fresh cilantro with satay, sesame, garlic, chilis, and soy to make addictive bowls of saucy gold. Having fresh cilantro was the real kicker.
We divided our pot into two sections, one with chicken broth and the other vegetarian/vegan-friendly (a simple stock made with cabbage, tofu, and water). We opted for the 3 vegetable combo with Japanese pumpkin (now one of my favourite hot pot picks), watercress, and baby bok choy; frozen tofu; a dozen dumplings; lotus root; fatty beef slices; and udon noodles.
It was a filling, healthy, and tasty meal. I think I might have actually clapped my hands with glee when is saw they’d cut the tofu into hearts, which is a strange reaction for me.
I’d have preferred if the fatty beef slices were sliced thinner, but they were very good, and just the right amount for us. Plus, it was garnished with a baby carrot that itself had been garnished with a stalk of curly parsley, which also brought me an unexpected amount of joy.
The dumplings were really good, and the lotus root proved to be a table favourite. I could have happily had more Japanese pumpkin, which was sweet, creamy, and added a lot to the broth. We also all loved the udon noodles, which cook up quickly and are perfection with satay sauce and fresh cilantro.
The restaurant possessed the same, celebratory atmosphere I’d felt in Price Smart earlier in the day. Thanks to Steph, Tammy, and Sally for joining me for dinner (+ Blizzards afterwards!), to our servers at Garden City for the wonderful food and service, and to and all of you for reading.
Cash and cards accepted
Plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available!