Yesterday I was treated to two new things: watching a powerlifting competition, and eating a Chinese claypot rice meal. I do love an Unexpected Educational Tuesday.
Upon arriving at The Oval to work out, I discovered the 2013 Canadian National Powerlifting tournament had begun that morning. After watching them from above while on the treadmill (the gym is on the third floor), I headed down and chatted with the event organizer, Joe Oliveira.
The event runs from Tuesday to Saturday morning, when the ‘big guys’ will be lifting. 215 men and women ranging in age from sixteen to 60+ are competing in everything from bench press to dead lifting, which I watched yesterday afternoon. The concept is simple – there’s a bar on the floor, and you pick it up! The bars just happen to be REALLY, REALLY HEAVY.
One thing that quickly became apparent from watching the tournament (and this informational power lifting video) was the sense of community within the power lifting world. The athletes compete against one another, but the atmosphere is one of genuine support, with everyone from the athletes to the judges and audience rallying for whomever happens to be lifting. This impressed me just as much as the strength of the women I was watching (men begin competing today).
If you’d like to go watch, you can find the schedule here. Cost is $10 per day, or $40 for the 5 day tournament. Also, if you feel the need to build up your own strength after watching, you can head upstairs and work out in the gym!
Once I left The Oval, I cycled over to Empire Centre, and finally caught James Snacks when it was open. This place has been recommended constantly since I started this job, and yet I could never manage to arrive on the right day.
It’s a small stall in the food court specializing in claypot rice dishes, each of which take a minimum of 20 minutes to prepare. In other words, don’t go if you’re in a rush. James Snacks may be in a food court, but it’s not fast food.
The name, by the way, was explained to me by Chowtimes.com, which said James Snacks is “a direct translation from the Cantonese name Jeem-See-Lack. That sort of means… “James is awesome.”” Well I’ll be!
I chose option number 1: rice with preserved Chinese sausage ($7), which the woman told me is one of the most popular. I knew there would be a wait, so I brought my book!
Almost exactly 20 minutes later, my order was up. The hot lidded pot rested on a piece of cardboard so as not to wreck the tray, and the woman warned me several times to be careful.
It came with a cup of tea, and a small container of mild soy sauce. I used a napkin as a pot-holder and removed the top – inside, a layer of sliced sausages and preserved meats (including duck) rested on top of rice, and were topped by steamed Chinese cabbage.
The reason the dish takes a while to prepare is because they cook it in the pot, which results in a fluffy bowl of rice with crispy edges on the bottom and sides. It reminded me of the Persian dish ‘tah-dig,’ which is also prized for its addictive, crunchy rice crust.
The various chunks of sausage in the pot were strong in flavour, both salty and slightly sweet. While I’ve eaten these many times, they’re usually chopped up and used to season another dish, such as pan-fried radish cakes, so I’ve never really researched them before now.
There are many different varieties, but the generic Cantonese name is ‘Lap Cheong,’ and they usually come in ‘skimmed’ or ‘fatty’ varieties, with the skimmed costing more. Traditionally they’re air-dried, and made from fresh pork meat as well as pig and duck livers; usually sausages with liver in them are darker in colour. Some are smoked, and they’re seasoned in a variety of ways.
Looking at the meat in my claypot, it appears like I had some pork sausage, some pork and liver sausage, and slices of preserved fatty duck. The sausage was rich – certainly a stronger flavour than eating fresh meat. If you’re not used to the intensity of preserved meats, I’d suggest going with the free range chicken instead.
I poured the sauce over the dish and power-lifted every last bite of that crunchy rice to my mouth. This was one of the most memorable food court meals I’ve had so far, and certainly worth stopping in for. Despite all the other times I managed to find it closed, their sign says the hours are 11:30 – 8pm every day of the week except Sunday. And here’s a good tip – if you want to get yours to go, you can pay a small deposit (I believe it’s $3) and take the clay pot with you! Actually, that’s the only option you have for takeaway, since they’re not going to ruin the rice’s crusty exterior by trying to transfer the whole thing to another container. And rightly so! That stuff is gold. And so easy to lift.
A few vegetarian options available….I believe?