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Authentic Sichuan Found in Richmond


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Authentic Sichuan Found in Richmond

fmed | Jul 1, 2008 09:51 AM


I don't know how this place eluded my radar for so long....but I'm glad I finally found it. It is tucked away in a non-descript strip mall on Saba Road which is next to the Richmond Public Market. I guess I never drive down this road or else I would have spotted it.

I have long complained that the GVA does not have a good Sichuan food scene. Sure you can get a few exemplary Sichuan dishes from certain pan-regional Chinese restaurants (Peaceful, The Place) and at some Food Court stalls at Crystal Mall and at the Richmond Public Market. But I have yet to see (until now) a true Sichuan restaurant here. I have been to many of the more well known and purported authentic places like Golden Szechuan (a Richmond heavyweight) and Ba Guo Yi (a hole in the wall on Park Rd, also in Richmond), etc...but upon repeat visits, I found them all lacking.

Near my home is Szechuan Chongqing, a restaurant my parents and I have dined in for decades. We have been eating there since they were in their original location on Victoria Drive at Broadway. Here, I fell in love with Chinese food....specifically, its particular kind of Sichuan cuisine. Just ot be clear, I don't consider restaurants like Szechuan Chongqing to be authentic Sichuan restuarants. These types of places (there are a number of them in the GVA), I consider "Nixon-era Szechuan."

In 1972 Richard Nixon went to China and raised North American awareness of all things Chinese. Shortly after his visit, hundreds of "Szechuan" and "Hunan" restaurants opened up all over the US and Canada. For the most part, this ersatz Sichuan and Hunan food was a revelation to most North Americans. They didn't think Chinese food could taste this way. But I digress...

On Saba road is Szechwan Restuarant (note that third spelling of Sichuan). The place is clearly a premium restaurant with some old-school Chinese decorsuch as lacquered tables and chairs, nice ceramic table settings, etc. Upon sitting down at my table, I perused the menu and I was impressed with the breadth and depth of the items. I have never seen some of these dishes outside of Sichuan province. The dishes were not cheap - they are charging premium prices (similar to Kirin and that ilk)

I chatted up the manager. He confirmed that they have an true Sichuan chef. Most of their cooks are also from the Sichuan province.

Sadly, I was alone and I was only able to try a couple of dishes. I chose two of my litmus-tests: Dan Dan Mian, and Sichuan Wonton in Chili sauce. I ordered them both at "medium" heat knowing how hot Sichuan food can be.

When my dishes came, I was overjoyed. The Dan Dan Mian tasted like the ones back in Chengdu. The earthy-toasted flavour of the Chilies dominated this dish. It did not taste like any of the Dan Dan Mian I have had here in Vancouver. I have had a true Chengdu-style Dan Dan Mian only once before in North America - at a long forgotten restaurant in Los Angeles many years ago. Even at medium heat, Szechwan Restaurant's rendition was blazing hot. The Wonton had the same ferocity of chili heat. I finished my meal with a complimentary sweet fermented rice wine with Goji berries.

I am dying to come back. I will bring a few friends so I can be guaranteed to try some of my other favorite Sichuan dishes. Also, I learned that I can't take Richmond for granted. This place is a treasure trove of Chinese cuisine....but I really must explore all the nooks and crannies to get to the really good stuff.

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