In June, I went from parched, oven-hot South Texas with its tomatoes and peppers in full swing at the farmer’s markets, to lush, verdant landscapes, blue sea and spot prawn season in Vancouver, BC, for a work-related conference.
As luck would have it, there was another conference going on at the same time I was visiting: The Canadian Culinary Federation conference. I attended some of their delicious and informative events, one of which was their Dragon Feast of the Century luncheon, celebrating the fine Chinese cuisine offered in the Vancouver area.
The luncheon was held at a well-known Chinese restaurant, The Rain Flower Restaurant, in Richmond, BC, which is part of metro Vancouver. Richmond is its own city directly south of Vancouver, with more than half of its population being of Asian descent (about 100,000). In the mid-1990s, with political uncertainties growing in Hong Kong, many of that city’s residents immigrated to Canada, and especially the Vancouver area. Thankfully this included many great chefs, which is why the Vancouver area is said to have some of the best Chinese food in the world!
First though, a little shopping was in order: the Aberdeen Centre, one of the big malls in Richmond, was just one block away from the restaurant. I went to Diaso, the famous Japanese $2 store, to procure “treasures”–funky odds and ends–like bamboo cooking utensils, chopsticks of all kinds, stationery, and my favorite, a wooden massage hook (if you borrowed it, you’d never give it back). Afterward, in the hopes of not spoiling my appetite, I couldn’t resist having a green tea ice cream crepe at the mall’s surprisingly good quality food court. The giant made-to-order crepe was filled with green tea ice cream, a scoop of red bean jelly on top, sprinkled with green tea powder and a spray of whipped cream. I immediately tweeted another food writer I had befriended during the conference, whom I was about to meet up with again at the luncheon, informing him of my splurge. I was in Chinese-themed heaven.
With not much time to spare before the luncheon, I quickly exited the mall and luckily spotted an Asian supermarket across the street. Perfect! I could procure my favorite packaged ramen noodles, impossible to find in the U.S., even on the internet. It didn’t take me long to spot the noodles (Nissin, Shoyu Flavor), so I grabbed as many as could fit in my arms (10), and headed toward the long checkout lines. In front of the checkout stand, bags of roasted chestnuts were grinning, and they were on sale too. I grabbed a couple of bags and balanced them on top of the noodles. The checkout lady, speaking no English, frowned when she didn’t see me carrying a reusable shopping bag. She grabbed a plastic bag, charged me 10 extra cents, and stuffed everything inside. The bag was straining to contain its contents.
With stuffed bags in hand, I tottered a block over to The Rain Flower Restaurant and found the food media table. “Gosh, I’m so sorry to come with all this stuff,” I lamented, trying to wedge my bags underneath my chair. They laughed, and we talked about my purchases. Soon, the noodle-making demonstration started. The host chef grabbed the long pasta dough and repeatedly twisted, bounced, beat and stretched the dough until noodles were born from it. (You can watch a similar Chinese noodle demo here.) The chef then walked around, showing off the fresh noodles.
Then all of a sudden, with fanfare, a team of Chinese chefs paraded out of the kitchen with the first course for each table. All of the courses came out on large platters, were presented to the table, then taken away to be plated into single servings. Here they all are.
Drunken Squab Breast and Arctic Char Nanjing Style – Taking a melon baller to dragon fruit not only lent an intriguing presentation, but was a good palate cleanser after the duck and fish.
Dungeness Crab and Lobster in Jade Purse – A pleasing variety of textures. The chewy, stuffed cabbage was rich with lobster and balanced the soft, boiled potatoes. We got the last bit of crab on the dish by sucking the claws.
Braised Fraser Valley Duck Breast, Empress Style – A heap of Asian mushrooms was surrounded by duck wrapped around a morel mushroom and asparagus, sitting on a little square of bread. (Those little red things on top are goji berries.)
Tenderloin Teaser in Filigree Cup – Probably the least interesting and most standard looking, but tasty anyway. With asparagus and red peppers.
Yin Yang Steamed Eggplants – I loved the way the eggplants were fanned out. The sauces and oils poured over the top are still a secret to me. I was in a stupor from its flavor and tenderness, and didn’t think to ask.
Seafood Siu Bang – Crab in a flaky pastry coated with sesame seeds. Sinfully rich.
Longevity Date Cake – Not a traditional cake of the fluffy variety. These were gelatin squares made with date juice. To cleanse the body, they explained, and supposedly very healthy, hence its name. I should have eaten more of these in the hopes of living a very long time so I can indulge in more feasts like this lunch.
Dragon ice sculpture