Asian Club Sandwiches

May 16th, 2015, 12:04 am PST by Greg

[I know this is not the way one is supposed to blog about a vacation. I choose to ignore that.]

Club sandwiches have rules. As Mitch Hedberg would say, if you don’t follow them, you’re not part of the club.

The rules are: bread, chicken and lettuce, bread, tomato and bacon, optional american cheese, bread. All bread toasted. Mayonnaise. Cut in four. It comes with french fries and poorly constructed coleslaw.

Simple. Do that, and you’re part of the club.

A friend who has spent time in food services used to interview potential cooks by asking them to make a club sandwich. Acceptable variation is certainly allowed, but it seems like a good test of “can you just make some decent food?”

There are often things labeled “club sandwich” on menus in Asia. I occasionally order them hoping for some taste of home. After all, how hard could it be? There are rules.

It turns out that these rules have not been effectively transmitted to Asia.

The first example is actually a favourite of mine. It is from the Vineyard in Hangzhou, an expat place near the Yuquan campus where I lived while teaching there: (click through on any of the images for detail)

Vineyard club

It’s moderately club-sandwich-like. There are three pieces of bread. Ham is substituted for chicken. Cut in two instead of four. It doesn’t taste entirely like a club sandwich but it’s good. This is the high point of our journey.

The next example is from a cafe in the Shanghai Pudong airport and is much more typical of Chinese club sandwiches:

Pudong club

Three slices of bread, but crusts cut off. An egg for some reason, which I don’t mind since I believe an egg can be added to any savory dish to enhance it. There is some chicken salad like substance serving as a poor substitute for chicken. Ham substituted for bacon. One forlorn little piece of lettuce is split between the four quarters. An irritating amount of mayo. Only the innermost bite of each piece really has any filling. After that bite, it’s vaguely sweet Chinese “toast bread” with mayo. Four pringles act poorly as fries.

This happened at a resort in the Philippines. There was a picture on the menu, but I thought “no… they couldn’t legally serve that as a club sandwich. It’ll be different.” It wasn’t.

Resort club

Four (four!) slices of bread with the crusts cut off. A crumbled bacon and chicken salad melange. Lettuce, cucumber and tomato. A scrambled egg and thick slab of weak cheddar. Cut in two.

That kind of thing should get a cook sent to the Hague.

A final entry from a random western-ish restaurant in a mall in Cebu. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I ordered it anyway:

Cebu club

Three slices of bread toasted in a panini press. Ham, chicken salad with some egg in there somewhere. Roast beef, lettuce tomato, cheese. A poor entry overall.

I have developed a real love of the Philippines, but this is a serious deficiency in the culture.

There is no real conclusion to this post, other than perhaps “get your club sandwiches from diners in North America.”

Kat’s Tips for the Richmond Night Market (by the casino)

May 17th, 2014, 1:57 am PST by Kat

Recently many people have been asking about the Richmond Night Market (by the casino), so I thought I would put together a list of tips.

1. When planning what to wear to the Night Market, keep in mind that a) while there are a few tables,  you will likely have to eat while standing up without  a table, and b) there are a LOT of people walking around with food in a VERY crowded space. I have stained a few shirts by dribbling sauce on myself or getting splattered on by other people. So, darker clothing is better.

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I also always bring a hoodie or a sweater. By the time you’re done eating dinner, wander around the non-food booths (to digest dinner), then go back for dessert, it’s dark and starts to get cold.

2. Bring water. While there are places to buy drinks at the Night Market, most of them sell bubble tea or other sweet drinks. I didn’t notice water for sale (but I probably just missed it). Every summer we replace our “in case of earthquake water supply”, and use the old water throughout the Night Market season. (If you don’t have an “in case of earthquake water supply” stop reading this and go out and buy some now. I lived through an earthquake, and our emergency water was all we had to drink for 3-4 days. Seriously, go buy emergency water now!)

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3. Bring enough cash. All of the food and many of the non-food booths are cash only, and the ATM at the Night Market charges an insanely high fee.

4. Bring eating utensils. Ever wonder what to do with the extra disposable chop sticks that you get from take-out sushi? Bring them to the Night Market! Many places don’t give you proper utensils. They give you a bamboo skewer (two if you’re lucky, but it’s still impossible to use them like chop sticks).

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Try eating squid, a dumpling or a pretzel ball with one bamboo skewer – it’s do-able, but it’s not pretty and often leads to the stains that I mentioned above.

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5. Be prepared for crowds. Tonight (opening night) the line snaked all of the way around the Night Market parking lot and reached the casino parking lot. It was the longest I’ve ever seen it. The crowds are heaviest in the food area where you can be packed in like sardines. I do not recommend trying to push strollers or take dogs through the crowded food areas. Neither does well in the crowd. If you need to bring a stroller, (please, for the love of everyone’s ankles) park it in one of the eating areas and take turns going to get food. Alternatively, I would recommend going to the Night Market by Home Depot/IKEA instead. Their aisles are a lot wider, and there are fewer people.

6. If you plan to go multiple times throughout the season and/or if you have a large group (5 or more people), buy a Zoom Pass. Admission is regularly $2.25 for adults. The zoom passes are $10 for 7 entrances or $20 for 15 entrances. You can use the pass for multiple people at the same time or for multiple visits, and there is a separate Zoom Pass entrance to the right of the ticket booths where there is never a line. The best part is that you generally don’t even have to wait in line to buy a Zoom Pass. There are usually Night Market personnel walking around the ticket booth area (they wear Night Market shirts) who sell the Zoom Passes and direct you to the Zoom Pass entrance.

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7. Parking at this Night Market is free, but getting into the parking lot can take a while. We often take the skytrain to Bridgeport and walk in (~5 minutes).

8. Go with an empty stomach and enjoy filling it up!

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Restaurant Suggestions, and responsible instruction

April 4th, 2014, 12:39 am PST by Greg

This semester in my CMPT 165 class, I was faced with a problem: it was a one/two hour split. A two hour lecture is too long to talk straight through, but too short to take a real break (since 200 people can’t go get a coffee and come back in 10 minutes). So, I decided to just take a “no learning” break in the middle of lecture.

For hard to understand reasons, I decided that the right thing to do was to give a restaurant suggestion every week (and then give them five minutes or so to talk amongst themselves). It had the take-a-mental-break feeling without having them all run out of the room.

My weekly restaurant recommendations were somewhat random: kind of whatever I felt like talking about that week. I recorded the recommendations on the class discussion forum, so I would remember (mostly for myself). Below is my discussion records, along with some editorial additions. I also tried to give a tip or two on what to order, since it can be intimidating to go into a place where you have no idea what’s going on.

Maybe this is a followup to my North Burnaby Food post, since I did have an “accessible from Burnaby campus” bias.

  • Week 1: didn’t have the rhythm of the semester down yet, so no recommendation.
  • Week 2: Indian Wok, especially the chili dumpling appetizer. [This is by far my favourite place to eat at the moment. Where has Indian-style Chinese been all my life? My usual description: “it’s like Chinese food, but a little bit better.”]
  • Week 3: Burgers Etc, especially the pattyless veggie burger. [I maintain that their off-menu pattyless veggie burger is the best vegetatian “burger” I can direct you to. Everything else on their menu is also pretty solid.]
  • Week 4: Alvin Garden or 湘緣湖南食府. Possibly order things from the “Xiang’s specials” page of the menu? I’m always a fan of Hand-Torn Cabbage (手撕包菜 or “Hunan style cabbage” on their menu), but I’m not sure it’s any better there than anywhere else you find it. Just spicier. [This was part one of my “annoyingly vague English names of Chinese restaurants” rant. “Alvin Garden” is meaningless. The Chinese name translates to something like “Xiang River Hunan Restaurant”, which is wonderfully meaningful.]
  • Week 5: Kulinarya, a Filipino place behind Coquitlam Centre. My suggestions: breakfast (Tapsilog or longsilog), crispy pata, lechon. [I really don’t think Filipino food gets the recognition it deserves. I blame the Filipino tendancy to assimilate. I claim that Filipinos are the best at breakfast: definitely in the Asian division, and likely worldwide to my tastes.]
  • Week 6: Cotto Enoteca in north Burnaby for some excellent Italian food. Nothing on the menu is bad. [Although I may admit that the food quality is slipping a little under the new owners/chef.]
  • Week 7: Hog Shack in Steveston. Again, no way to go wrong. The combo platters are a good start. [It’s a little out of the way for SFU students to get to, but there isn’t much good BBQ in Vancouver. It’s also a uniquely American cuisine, which hadn’t made the list so far.]
  • Week 8: midterm day.
  • Week 9: Perfect Taste Restaurant/老東北風味餐廳 in Crystal Mall in Burnaby. No useful ordering tips since I didn’t order there. There’s always the option of asking “what are the most famous dishes” or something. [This is part 2 of the “useless English names” rant. The Chinese name is “Old North-East Flavour Restaurant”: it’s the cuisine from around north-eastern China, around Liaoning and Harbin.]
  • Week 10: In honour of Nowruz, a Persian recommendation of Cazba in North Vancouver. One ordering tip: a lot of the dishes have a choice of rice or salad or a mix for $1 more: pay the extra dollar and get the mix. [I don’t have great depth of experience with Persian food, but this seems to be the one that gets recommended by the Persians in my life. I feel that given the size of the population, there should be more restaurants to choose from.]
  • Week 11: Coffee shops! Caffe Divano in the North Burnaby neighbourhood (and a couple of other locations); Prado Cafe on Commercial; Revolver in Gastown. See also an excellent list of Top 10 Independent Coffee Shops in Vancouver. [I feel like I have a whole blog post about coffee shops. For now, let’s say I haven’t found the exactly perfect drink, but Divano is close to both my house and a perfect drink. I feel like 49th Parallel also needs some exploration on my part.]
  • Week 12: Soho Tea Room on Cambie at 19th. Order the french toast (which isn’t much like french toast as I know it) or the Macau sawdust pudding, or any of the bubble teas, or any of the wacky variety of food. Other Taiwanese cafes: Corner 23, Copa Cafe. And there’s kind of a fuzzy line between those and bubble tea places like Dragon Ball Tea House and Bubble World. [I described the Taiwanese cafes as “it’s like the not-really-Chinese Chinese food that we get everywhere but Vancouver went back to China as “Canadian food”, but in reverse. Sandwiches and spaghetti went to Taiwan and Hong Kong, mutated, and have come back. With bubble tea.]
  • Week 13: are we slightly short this semester? I don’t have a Thursday lecture in week 13.

I left the discussion forum with this question, that I’ll also invite answers to here: imagine your grandma/grandpa/auntie/whatever was visiting Vancouver and you wanted to show him/her that “it’s okay, I can get real food here, just like back home.” Where would you take them to get the old fashioned food that they want (and where are you from)?

You will notice that I have a real bias to that kind of “grandma approved” food in the above list. Fusion and high-end food are fine, but not where my heart lies.

North Burnaby Food

August 23rd, 2013, 12:51 pm PST by Greg

Some friends just moved into North Burnaby and asked what the good restaurants are. This is an area of expertise in which I take some pride. It seemed like a good idea to post my list here.

I have opined many times: the food in the suburbs is better than downtown. There is excellent food in both places, but when downtown, a lot of the money you’re paying is going to high rents. In the burbs, the rents are lower, so the money you pay goes to the food, which is where I want it. On the other hand, I also think there are a lot more bad restaurants the farther out you go. If you know the good ones, life is good.

Meta-site: Sherman’s Food Adventures. Sherman blogs daily about a restaurant somewhere in Greater Vancouver. He lives in North Burnaby, so the places around here are pretty well covered.

And my list, in approximately-decreasing order of how exciting I think they are…

Pear Tree: Probably the best example of money going into the food, not the rent. Very nice food made by a very skilled chef, who has carved out a niche in North Burnaby somehow.

Cotto Enoteca: Super good pizza and pasta.

Burgers etc: If not the best burger in the city, it’s close. Good BBQ too. There’s an off-menu pattyless veggie burger that’s awesome.

El Comal: Good Mexican on the Production station side of Burnaby Mountain. Only open for lunch Mon-Sat.

Chez Meme: French bistro food. Also only lunch Mon-Sat.

Chad Thai: Solidly good Thai, getting a lot of blog attention.

Glenburnn Soda Fountain: A cool old-fashioned soda shop (recreation). Excellent dessert after dinner at one of the other places.

Caffé Divano: Excellent coffee shop, where serious coffee geeks make your drinks.

Caffé Artigiano: Good coffee shop, but if we’re honest, their quality has slipped in the last few years.

Chez Christophe: A stupidly-good bakery. Why put such a place out of the way int he suburbs? Who knows.

Saigon Bistro: It struck me as carefully-make Vietnamese food, but I’m no expert.

Domineco’s: Not as well made as the food at Cotto, but good utility Italian. The place to send people that wanted to go to Anton’s. Also cheap for big groups: order 1/2 as many dishes and serve family style.

X-Site: Cheap decent eats, full of students.

Cockney Kings fish and chips: A one-trick-pony, but good at it.

Lotus cafe: A quirky little sandwich place that’s only open for lunch. I always describe them as “Nothing outstanding, but if your mom made you a sandwich for lunch, it would have been the best sandwich you could have hoped for.”

Wah Lun: Decently-good Cantonese. Better Chinese is a notable omission from the neighbourhood.

Sushi Town: Good utility sushi.

Countless little sushi places, that are all reasonable everyday sushi.

An Idiot with Maibing

March 15th, 2013, 4:31 am PST by Greg

I haven’t been blogging as much recently for the very good reason that I haven’t had as much to say. I have settled into a routine, so there’s not as much fodder for posts. I have been taking some time to explore the city. As the weather is slowly getting nicer, riding around is more and more inviting.

Today while riding around, I stopped at a street-side food stall (as I often do), decided what they were selling looked good, went up, and in the absence of literacy in the local language, pointed at the first picture on the menuboard and asked for one (as I often do). What I got could only be described as a Chinese pupusa. It was pretty good and new to me, so I saved the bag it came in in the hopes of figuring out what it was.

With the help of Pleco, I figured out that it was maibing. With the help of Google, I figured out… nothing.

Nothing useful for “maibing”. Searching for the Chinese, 麦饼, got some useful stuff that could be translated. They’re tasty: just look at them! They seem to come from Wenzhou and are prepared pretty much like pupusa: dough, dumpling, flatten, fry.

But here’s the thing: nobody seems to have ever written about them in English. There’s this food that I like, and will possibly never be able to find again (after I leave Hangzhou, at least).

I recall that this is something Karl Pilkington whinged about in An Idiot Abroad: what if I try something and like it, but then can’t every get it again. He took this as a reason to never travel.

Here I am agreeing with him: never try anything new. You might like it and then have your heart broken.

[But, I know somebody from Wenzhou. And his mom. Maybe I can bribe my way into a cooking lesson.]

I’m leaving a note here: Huge success!

February 25th, 2013, 2:53 am PST by Greg

Not much to update in general. Continued to explore the city and pick up a few things. Weather is a little warmer, so I can say that I have actually been warm somewhere other than under my many blankets.

The university was open today, so I have a little more support from that side.

My huge success that just happened: I walked into a place that seemed to serve noodles, and had some characters that looked familiar on the menu board. I walked confidently up to the counter and did my best “牛肉面条” (beef noodles). The clerk responded positively and charged me the amount of money I expected.

I am now looking at a damn tasty bowl of beef noodles. Huzzah!

Edit: I also just enjoyed “一个蛋挞” (an egg tart). It had a little dollop of jelly on it, which was new to me, but not unwelcome.

Markets, Monkeys and Man-Clothes

January 29th, 2013, 3:00 am PST by Kat

For our first day in Bangkok we took the Thai Fishing Village Tour with “Tour with Tong”. The tour started out at the Mae Klong railway market outside of Bangkok. The awnings overhang the tracks, and the products being sold are placed right along the tracks. Many of the stalls have their produce on wheeled carts. The awnings and the carts are moved back when the train comes through 8 times a day. Unfortunately, the train was running late, so we decided not to wait for it.

Our next stop was the Damnernsaduak Floating Market, where vendors in boats sell produce, snacks, and cooked, hot food from canal boats to (mostly) tourists who are either also in canal boats or are walking along the sides of the canal. Here I was able to do something I’ve always wanted to do – eat noodles that have been cooked and sold out of a small boat while I am also sitting in a small boat. We were also able to get away from the crowded market area and see the more peaceful part of the canal system that runs through a fruit farming village.

Our final stop was a Thai fishing village. Here we boarded another boat, which took us into a mangrove forest along the banks of the Gulf of Thailand. We got to feed a troupe of monkeys that live in the mangroves. When we exhausted our huge stock of bananas, we left the monkeys behind and headed out into the Gulf where local fishermen have set up oyster and cockle farms. For lunch we had a seafood feast in a fisherman’s bamboo stilt house in the midst of the cockle farms that stretched as far as the eye could see. This was definitely the best part of the tour, and we would definitely recommend this tour!

On our way back to our hotel, our tour guide, Mook, recommended a tailor where Greg could get a suit made. One fitting and 48-hours later, Greg’s suit, shirt, ties and sport jacket were delivered to our hotel room!

Kat’s bite count: 3

Elephant kisses and Garra fish nibbles

January 24th, 2013, 7:34 am PST by Kat

We’ve spent two fun-filled days in Chiang Mai so far.

Yesterday, we took a full-day cooking class at Siam Rice cooking school. They brought us to the market where we were shown how coconut cream and coconut milk are made. We were also introduced to some of the local produce like tiny eggplants, Thai holy basil and fresh tumeric. At the market, we bought some of the local Northern Thai sausages and chicharron (fried pork rinds). mmmmm…. pork! Afterwards, we spent the day cooking up a storm and eating all of our tasty dishes.

Today, we took a half-day tour up to Chiang Dao to see the elephants. We got to feed them and got elephant hugs and kisses. There was a lot more slobber and a lot more suction than either of us expected! As we were leaving, Greg spotted a sign that said “Elephant Nursery”. I’m glad he did because we detoured and got to feed a 16-month-old baby elephant and her mother and to see a 10-month-old baby elephant! 🙂 Our tour then took us to Tiger Kingdom, where we posed for pictures with “big” and “small” tigers. Finally, our tour guide brought us to “the” Khao Soi restaurant in Chiang Mai. There was a long wait, but it was totally worth it (and it only cost us $1 a bowl!).

Kat’s bug bite count: 2

Where’s the Beef?

January 28th, 2011, 11:22 pm PST by Greg

Step 1: Taco Bell sued because their “Edible Beef-like Taco Substance” contains only 35% meat, instead of the 40% required by law to call your product “beef” in the United States.

Step 2: Taco Bell president publishes a letter saying “no, our product is 88% beef, and the other 12% is unicorn jerky”.

Aside on terminology: there are three similar terms floating around here. I’m going to use them as such:

  • beef: muscle tissue of a cow.
  • “beef”: things that can be sold with the word “beef” on them, and apparently have to be 40% beef.
  • “Edible Beef-like Taco Substance”: what Taco Bell serves.

Step 3: I think to myself, 88% is a suspicious number. I mean, I have seen what comes in a Taco Bell taco, and it ain’t 88% cow, and claiming it is is a bit of a stretch.

Step 4: Waitaminute… “beef” has to be 40% beef. Is Taco Bell saying that their “Beef-like Taco Substance” is 88% “beef”, not actually 88% beef? But “beef” only has to be 40% beef.

88% × 40% = 35%

So, the President of Taco Bell just announced to the world “claims that our taco filling is only thirty-five percent beef are completely inaccurate. It’s actually thirty-FIVE percent beef, and I’d stake my career on it! No lawsuit that claims otherwise will ever succeed!”

Um… clever?

Open House 2010

December 20th, 2010, 10:33 pm PST by Greg

Following our long-standing tradition (of three years now), we just had our annual holiday open house. It’s a great excuse to see a bunch of people, many of whom we’d be too busy to see over the holidays otherwise. We had 48 people (by Kat’s count) this year, which is a solid turnout. I have posted what pictures I have (which are mostly of food).

We have stuck pretty closely to the formula that seems to work: tell people to come whenever and make sure there’s a lot of food. You’ll notice a lot of similarities between this list and our list of food from 2008.

The Food

Here is the food we had, with recipe/supplier links where I have them to post. Several of the links are to Cooks Illustrated, which requires a subscription. I vote that you pony-up and buy the subscription: I’ve rarely made anything from them that wasn’t awesome.

Commentary: The meatballs were a huge hit, so I have posted the recipe in a separate blog entry. I have rarely, if ever, made a better pie than those blueberry pies: I think I’m finally getting the touch for it.

People drank a lot more pop and a lot less beer/wine this year. I have heard the same from another person who had a holiday party. Maybe it’s the new drunk driving laws? Worth keeping in mind if you’re entertaining in BC this season.

The Time Lapse

As before, I set up a camera on a tripod to take a picture every 30 seconds. These (2000) pictures can then be stitched together into a time lapse video, which tells the story of our day pretty completely, at 1:270 speed. (direct link to the movie if you’re having plugin problems)

The Next Day

On Sunday, it was Kat’s grandmother’s birthday. It has become tradition that the grandchildren cook for that event.

So, after cooking Friday for most of the day and all you see in the time lapse, we got up the next morning to drive to Surrey and make indoor pulled pork (with Lexington-style vinegar sauce, and chopped not pulled as they do in the Carolinas). And we fed another 24 people with that.

Needless to say, we were both pretty bagged by the end of our weekend.

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