Vancouver Chinese food is the best. I mean the BEST. THE BEST!! At least Vancouverites are pretty sure about this. And yet there is growing commentary that Los Angeles is catching up or perhaps even surpassing Vancouver as best Chinese food in North America. “What!?” local foodies sputter…
Many pundits point to the growth of authentic Sichuan restaurants in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley, and a recent visit to Chengdu Taste certainly confirms it is an absolutely stellar restaurant, superior to any Sichuan restaurant I’ve encountered in Vancouver or Richmond.
But the difference in quality, though very important, would not render our local choices inedible. Golden Sichuan and Golden Spring Szechuan Restaurant both in Richmond offer a high and low take, respectively, on classic Sichuan fare – rich with spice and numbing peppercorns.
Chinese food, particularly Cantonese food, thrives on having access to top notch ingredients, and the local waters and Fraser Valley farms do supply incredible seafood, live stock, and crops. Vancouver Chinese food has become very much ingrained in local tastes and flavors. That is, all locals, regardless of ethnic background – do not view Chinese as ‘foreign’ food, but part and parcel of the local fabric of dining out. This makes Vancouver Chinese food not better than Chinese food found elsewhere, but more interesting to my mind. It’s become it’s own thing – authentic to the good intentions of fresh flavors and clean executions.
In Vancouver, Chinese and Asian influences woven into cutting edge rooms such as The Farmer’s Apprentice, Royal Dinette, and Kissa Tanto effortlessly. I still recall the glorious Chinese BBQ Duck Broth from Rob Feenie’s Lumiere (is there a room more keenly missed in Vancouver?) – golden and clear, resonant with five spice.
At the same time, Chinese restaurants have very much embraced the freshness and seasonality of local ingredients. Spotted prawn season is awaited eagerly by Chinese diners – to have wok seared with soy or blanched to be served with spicy dipping sauces.
I once spoke to Kimble Chan who is one of the founding partners of the Kirin Restaurant Group, who he said that Kirin does not serve Chinese or Hong Kong food – but rather Vancouver style food. This informs all of their cooking and sourcing decisions – to uphold the highest standards of Cantonese cuisine, but integrated through a local lens. Depending on the season – fully 99.9% of what you see on the plate in a Vancouver Cantonese restaurant is either sourced locally or somewhere along the West Coast, whereas in other cities, the ability to import key components are what separate the good Chinese restaurants from the bad.
So who’s got the best Chinese food in North America? The politically correct me says let’s stop worrying about it and enjoy what’s in front of us. Chinese food is a deep deep bowl, that is able to absorb lots of influences without losing it’s sense of self. The standard of care, interest, and skill of producing top notch Chinese food is growing quickly in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto, so let’s enjoy it all.
But the real me says – Vancouver is still the best. No contest.