Preamble: This Chowdown happened last week and I'm only getting around to it now. It was a pretty busy week of eating for me with two Chowdown's and chowtime's Eight Great Tradtions of Chinese Cuisine dinner.
Last week, some local members of the Chowhound community met up with Portland 'hound Iona and her SO Bob, and NYC 'hound Marine Engineer at a well known local favourite - Koon Bo.
5682 Fraser Street
In 1984, Margaret Thatcher, then the Prime Minister of Britain, signed a treaty with China to repatriate the colony of Hong Kong. This event has had a profound impact on Vancouver's Chinese food. Fears that China would debilitate Hong Kong's famously capitalistic ways sent thousands of Cantonese-speaking immigrants to Canada. Most of them chose settle in Vancouver and Toronto - cities which can now boast having some of the best Chinese food anywhere. The new immigrants imported a cuisine that is modern, cosmopolitan, and polished. Shiny new Dim Sum and Seafood restaurants now dot both cities' suburbs.
Koon Bo is a Cantonese family restaurant that followed a different evolutionary path. It serves Chinese cuisine as if this influx of new Hong Kong immigrants never happened. The food served here - the familiar Westernized Chinese cuisine - has roots that go further back to the time the southern Chinese first came here to build the railroads in the late 1800's. We all know this cuisine - as we, our parents, and even our grandparents have eaten it all our lives - in buffets, as take-out, at Chinese-run diners...at places with evocative names such as The Dragon Inn, The Ho Ho, or The Marco Polo. Many restaurants still serve this kind of food. Here in this city, their numbers are dwindling as they are slowly replaced with the more modern dim sum, congee, noodle and seafood houses.
Koon Bo's humbly innovative kitchen serves up some of the usual favourites (Chicken Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Pork, that sort or thing)...but it also serves inventions that riff from the aesthetic of Westernized Chinese food. These dishes are familiar, but offer interesting twists and combinations that take the cuisine to a more modern direction. Here, even something as ubiquitous as the Chinese Chicken Salad becomes elevated and memorable (it is probably their most popular and talked-about dish). The familiar ingredients are all there - shredded chicken, crispy wonton skins, etc...but the addition of their own house-made sweet pickle and jellyfish takes this dish to another level.
Koon Bo are masters of fowl - this night we had some excellent Peking Duck (served two ways), Roast Squab, and Mandarin Chicken. The Beef Tenderloin with Walnut is a sweet, syrupy treat which pairs very well with white rice. Their Pork with Peppah Tofu (oddly listed with a different name on the menu - anyone remember what it was actually called?) - is the only dish that had any kind of "constructed" presentation - as it was served in a wonton skin bowl. The currently in-season Spot Prawns and Soy Sauce was a messy and delicious dish - and made with the largest spot prawns I have ever seen. I think the only dish that I personally didn't care for was the Smoked Sablefish served with a Mayo dipping sauce.
One thing I would have done differently was to order at least one more vegetable dish - even something as simple as Gai Lan with Garlic Sauce would have balanced out the richness of the other dishes.
To me, Koon Bo offers are great alternative to my usual Dim Sum, Noodlehouse, or Regional Chinese excursions. The cooking here sends a clear message that Westernized-Chinese Cuisine isn't some bastard child - it truly is a "Cuisine" of its own right...and one that is still evolving with the help of places like Koon Bo.
If anyone would like to join us in any future Chowdowns please log on here... http://vanchow.ning.com/ and (please) introduce yourself in the "About Me" section.
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