(PHOTO: LINDSAY ANDERSON)
My grandmother (Poh-Poh), who just turned 102 last month, taught me the importance of seeing food as ceremony. Cooking was everything to her since it was her way of showing love and bringing her favourite people together. When celebratory eating was called for, she would spend all day exactingly creating some of her best dishes: steamed duck with dried oysters and fat choy (black moss); deep fried grated taro root balls; roast pork with plenty of crackling; and sea cucumber with braised chicken, and plenty of ginger. Poh-Poh can no longer create these delicious dishes so now we go out to eat, still relishing the food together. Here are five dishes worthy of special occasions, which would receive my grandmother’s approval.
(PHOTO: TARA LEE)
1. Braised Pork Hock at Hakkasan Bistro
Since Poh-Poh is Hakka, I have particular fondness for many of the signature items served at Hakkasan Bistro. They require a day’s notice, but are well worth the planning. One of my favourites is the Braised Pork Hock ($45), which takes me back to my childhood. The meat is slow cooked until it becomes incredibly tender and glazed with a sweet/salty sauce. The pork is best eaten with rice in order to slightly neutralize its intense, rich flavour. It’s a lovely hearty dish for a wintry day.
Location: 110-2188 No. 5 Rd.
2. Cedar Wrapped B.C. Salmon at Globe@YVR
My grandmother was born in China, but immigrated here in 1967 after 30 years in Cape Town, South Africa. She fully embraced her new home and incorporated its local ingredients, including West Coast salmon, into her cooking. Globe@YVR Restaurant’s menu features a particularly elegant sockeye salmon dish ($38) that is worthy of any special occasion. The fish, glazed with a whiskey maple sauce, is wrapped in a thin sheet of cedar and then baked. It arrives tableside in its cedar wrapper (which imparts amazing woodsy flavour and aroma) and is served with fingerling potatoes and green beans lyonnaise.
Location: The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, 3111 Grant McConachie Way
(PHOTO: LINDSAY ANDERSON)
3. Beggar’s Chicken at Suhang Restaurant
Poh-Poh thinks it’s important not to hold back during food celebrations. So, for the ultimate in show-stopping eating, make sure to pre-order Suhang‘s Beggar’s Chicken ($48.80), a dish that originates from Hangzhou and is steeped in folklore and tradition. It consists of a whole chicken, stuffed with sticky rice, water chestnuts, egg yolk, and edamame beans, and then wrapped in lotus leaves and “clay” (bread dough). Legend has it that the exterior covering served as a makeshift oven for a poor peasant. The massive wrapped bird is baked and the “clay” cracked open and removed when served. Make sure to dig in quickly before others around the table demolish the sumptuous dish.
Location: 100-8291 Ackroyd Rd.
(PHOTO: JADE CHINESE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT)
4. Pan-Fried Dungeness Crab at Jade Chinese Seafood Restaurant
When I was a kid I looked forward to celebratory meals because I knew there’d be crab arriving on the Lazy Susan. And the messy hands from getting at the crab meat was just part of the special eating experience. Jade Restaurant offers two versions of pan-fried Dungeness crab ($24.99 per pound), one seasoned with salt and ginger, and the other with XO sauce if you’re craving a spicy kick. For those looking to spend a little less, they also do a delicious Dungeness crab sautéed with egg whites and soy milk ($17.99).
Location: 8511 Alexandra Rd.
(PHOTO: CHEF TONY SEAFOOD RESTAURANT)
5. Spiky Sea Cucumber Soaked in Vinegar at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
When Poh-Poh used to make sea cucumber, it was a week-long process for her in terms of cleaning, soaking and stewing. The final result was worth the effort but, sadly, now that she stays away from the kitchen, I rarely get to enjoy this delicacy. Fortunately, Chef Tony offers a must-try version that is braised and then soaked in a tangy dark vinegar dressing ($33.80). The dish is so impressive that it won as one of the Critics’ Choice Signature Dishes in the 2014 Chinese Restaurant Awards. This month, I’m going to suggest to my grandmother that we go out and celebrate the season over sea cucumber.
Location: 101-4600 Number 3 Rd.