Today’s post was supposed to be about two popular tofus. Two plucky little tofu dishes that came from very modest places, yet have won their way into the hearts, minds, and stomachs of discerning Richmond eaters.
However, in a scenario that took me back to my 365 Days of Dining days, I was forced to change my original plan at the last minute, and thus, this post will now be about tofu and schwarma. What an obvious combo!
The first meal, the one I’d actually planned for, was the soft tofu soup from O’Tray Noodle in President’s Plaza. I wrote about this much-loved mom and pop shop in 2012; it’s a modest stall in an equally unassuming food court – very different from its much flashier neighbors at Aberdeen Centre across the street.
O’Tray specializes in Tianjin-style food (Tianjin is a city in Northern China) and their most popular offerings are the Tianjin ‘burger,’ which has been sold out EVERY time I’ve gone (a source of much frustration for me), the egg wrap, and the soft tofu soup. While the purpose of this latest visit was to try the soup for the first time, I couldn’t help but get an egg wrap as well. My stomach was growling, they’re cheap, and they are SO GOOD (you can read about it here).
But onto the main show: the soft tofu soup. Once ordered, it was ready very quickly.
There’s an incredible sense of precision and consistency at O’Tray; just as each egg wrap is made in the same mesmerizing way (batter scooped, poured, swirled, egg cracked, green onions sprinkled, etc.), so too is the soup ‘compiled’ with equally adept speed. Broth was ladled into my bowl, the soft tofu was scooped and delicately laid in, sauces were squirted into the centre, and it was finished with chopped fresh cilantro.
Once at the table, I broke the delicate chunk of tofu into much smaller pieces and gave it a stir, revealing a plethora of mushrooms and vegetables below.
The thickened broth was rich and savoury, and lightened up with each mild bite of tofu. I enjoyed it, and would probably ask for it spicy next time. The two dishes cost me less than $8 – a seriously cheap and filling lunch.
The second tofu dish in this post was supposed to be from Garden City Kabob Grill. In addition to serving Greek-style kabobs, it’s also known for its excellent taho, a Fillipino-style soft tofu dessert (only in Richmond would Greek food and tofu get paired up). I headed to the Garden City mall it’s located in, then wandered around and around trying to find it, annoyed at my poor sense of direction and the fact I couldn’t spot the shop’s sign.
Eventually I discovered it no longer exists, and has been replaced by Al Basha, a Halal shawarma shop. So, I did what I always did when this happened during 365 Days of Dining – I ate there instead. No, they don’t have taho, but who am I to turn down a tasty meal of chicken and rice with baklava for dessert?
Al Basha serves shawarma and falafel, both of which can be served as a wrap or as a meal with rice. I opted for the latter, with chicken, hummus, garden salad, and every condiment/side that was offered.
That included pureed fresh garlic (note: not for date night), pita bread, bright pink pickled turnip, green pickles, and tahini sauce for the chicken.
It was $11.95, and enough food to feed two people. Everything, from the chicken to the rice, was packed with flavour, and the pickles cut through the richness of the meat perfectly. The super-creamy hummus was also great.
I also got a little cigar-shaped roll of pistachio baklava, which was sticky-sweet and wonderful.
So there you have it, a meal from Tianjin in northern China and Lebanon in the Middle East. While they have very few culinary ties, they DO beautifully represent Richmond: diverse, delicious, and unexpected.
I’d highly recommend a visit to both!