Raymond Wu, Co-owner/chef of Memory Corner (PHOTO: TARA LEE)
Go to most any Taiwanese restaurant in Richmond and you’ll find san bei ji or ‘three cup chicken’ on the menu. This slow-cooked dish originated from China’s Jiangxi province, and has become a beloved staple of the Taiwanese diet. Raymond Wu, co-owner/chef of Memory Corner (6900 Number 3 Road), grew up eating his grandfather’s version in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and with the help of his parents, Eric Wu and Joanne Liang, tweaked the family’s recipe when they opened Memory Corner in 2013.
Memory Corner (PHOTO: TARA LEE)
Wu explains that the dish derives its name from the equal proportions of three key ingredients: soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine. Chicken pieces are simmered in this ‘three cup’ mixture until they absorb most of the sauce. He says the key is finding a balance so that the san bei ji is not too sweet, salty, or acidic. Other ingredients that Wu uses, like ginger, garlic, green onion, and sugar, add other flavour notes, as well heighten existing ones.
Wu insists it’s the addition of fresh basil that really makes the dish. Indeed, every bite of the san bei ji at Memory Corner ($9.98) packs a vibrant basil punch. Meanwhile, the chicken itself is tender, with a flavour intensity that pairs well with white rice.
Pearl Castle (PHOTO: TARA LEE)
San bei ji is such a litmus test of Taiwanese cooking that this year’s Chinese Restaurant Awards has devoted two of its categories to it. While the Food Bloggers’ Choice Awards will be announced April 15, the Diners’ Choice Award for Best Three Cup Chicken was awarded to Pearl Castle (1128-3779 Sexsmith Road; 1782-6060 Minoru Boulevard). Their snack size rendition ($7.95) features savoury bites of primarily boneless chicken, with a generous amount of basil, and garlic and ginger slices.
Uncle Lu (PHOTO: TARA LEE)
Another standout version at Uncle Lu (1101-3779 Sexsmith Road) is unique due to the heat from red chili flakes, as well as the golden, slightly crisp exterior of the chicken. Each order ($8.95) is accompanied by black-sesame topped rice, baby bok choy, creamed corn and soy bean sprout salad.
Delicious Cuisine (PHOTO: TARA LEE)
At Delicious Cuisine (100-7911 Alderbridge Way), my personal favourite san bei ji (small $12.50/large $23.95) arrives sizzling, with juicy chicken and the ideal caramelization and balance to the sauce. As you devour the dish, you’ll quickly understand why san bei ji has become such a Taiwanese classic.