Fresh baked “Fong Bao” from the oven – 方包出爐

Random musings & meditations straight from the oven. Hopefully some food for thought as well…

一個孤獨的美食家正要找尋自己的深夜食堂

近期對圍繞食物提材的劇種感興趣。

上年尾無意中發掘了「深夜食堂」,深深被內容所吸引。簡單的食物,短短的三十分鐘,但是帶出的故事竟可以那麼的有趣,那麼的細膩,那麼的感人。很坦白,觀看完兩輯「食堂」後真的有點失落,希望不久的將來有第三,第四輯的出現。

同樣是漫畫改編,半小時的深夜劇「孤獨的美食家」正在日本播放中。方包也第一時間同步追看。初步的感覺是很佩服原作。提材不但是另類,甚至(可說)是前所未見。每一集的中段至尾聲都是看中年主角怎樣尋找和享受他的食物,不停地說「好味」。表面上很無聊,但出奇地精彩。更有趣是每一集出現的餐廳都不是虛構,而是真正存在的小店。

其實只要食物做得好,有心,吃飯是一種最簡單但經常被遺忘的享受。

正如劇的開場白所謂:「 不被世間和社會所束縛,幸福地填飽肚子的時候,短時間內變得隨心所欲,變得自由。誰也不打擾,毫不費神地吃東西的這種孤高行為。這種行為才是平等地賦予現代人的最大程度的治癒。」

不知不覺在市中心上班也有四個半月,感到自己代入了「美食家」的角色。每天的午飯時間就是要尋找自己想吃的食物和空間。有時更會留意其他食客的表情。請不要誤會,方包不是有什麼的企圖。正所謂相由心生,每個人的食相都會自然流露出他[她]當時的心態。方包只不過是對這點感興趣,別無它意。哈哈!

Item du jour

孤獨的美食家

http://www.letv.com/ptv/pplay/71171/1.html

深夜食堂

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xlsjqq_yyyy2-y01y-yyyy_shortfilms

29th Avenue Cafe – Rebirth of Yoshoku Ya

As a fan of Yoshoku (Japanese Style Western Cuisine) I was sadden by the unfortunate closures of Bonqula in Richmond and the original Yoshoku Ya on Denman Street. Subsequent search for a replacement proved to be a fruitless exercise. Then to my surprise (and delight), I stumbled upon news that owners of Yoshoku Ya have decided to continue their craft at the corner of Boundary & 29th Ave, under the name of …….the 29th Avenue Café. The timing of the discovery couldn’t have been better since I was taking a night class at BCIT in the fall and was looking for a spot to grab a quick pre-class meal. Amen to the power of the Twitter feed!

Tucked away in the middle of a residential area, the location is, shall we say, interesting. But considering the family style menu, I could see the logic behind it. Nonetheless I wouldn’t have known it’s there unless I was looking for it. The ambience inside is casual and no frills, the type of place you’d feel right at home. I had a chit chat with the owner and she was happy and surprised that, despite no advertising, a lot of the old patrons managed to find them through the internet and word of mouth.

Now that my class is done, it’s time to look back on the few things I’ve eaten for three months.

There is something about ground beef (or cow with no legs, as one of my cousins once joked) that transcends borders and ethnicity. Every culture has, in one form or another, a ground-beef based dish. To a westerner, the hamburger steak may not be any different from your run-of-the-mill burger patty. The now-defunct Bonqula offered a version that’s very Japanese in its presentation and choice of sauces. At 29th Avenue, it’s more the traditional Yoshoku style and the patty is quite balance in terms of leanness/fattiness. It’s firm but not overcooked.

Once upon a time in my youth Tonkatsu was all I knew and ate whenever the family dined at a Japanese restaurant. My taste has certainly grown since then but that simple piece of panko-breaded pork chop will always occupy a special place in my heart. So it would be remiss of me not to sample the 29th Avenue offering of deep fried hog goodness.

And it did not disappoint. Made to order, steam would come out when you cut into the juicy pork chop that’s surrounded by a light, crunchy crust. It’s not heavy and quite good on its own. But having it with Tonkatsu sauce – with its tangy, citrus-y flavor – will enable you to devour the chop in no time. Rice is optional but it’s the perfect complement to the meal, IMHO.

Another classic Yoshoku dish is the Omrice, which is basically tomato-flavored rice tucked inside an omelette, topped with ketchup. It actually takes a certain amount of skill to be able to control the pan in such a way where the rice is “sealed” inside the egg mixture and rolled into a perfectly shaped omelette without breaking it.

The tomato rice itself is not too sour and the onions add a bit of crunch. The omelette shell is soft and not overcooked. If you want something light and without meat, this and a house salad should hit the spot.

Perhaps the best Yoshoku example of east-meets-west is the Tarako spaghetti. The Japanese answer to caviar is somewhat of an acquired taste. When tossed with al-dente spaghetti and a tiny bit of olive oil, tarako’s saltiness and unique texture comes through. This dish may not be for everyone but do give it a try if you feel adventurous.

Regardless of what you order at 29th Avenue Café, I would suggest that you save room for their custard pudding. It’s so good that I ordered it EVERY SINGLE TIME I ate there! It’s definitely the crown jewel.

On the surface, Yoshoku maybe simple and not that exciting. But like Hong Kong Style Western food, it’s fusion before fusion ever got popular in the culinary scene. Unpretentious, it is the type of food which provides comfort and invokes memories that I’ve come to appreciate.

In a multi-cultural city such as VancouverI find it odd that there aren’t more Yoshoku restaurants around. That being said, sometimes all you need is just one that prepares every dish with heart and honesty. It’s too bad I won’t be eating there that often but will certainly bring family and friends in the future.

The story of the re-useable Christmas crab

Some artists claimed to be inspired by the unlikeliest of things, at the most unusual of circumstances. In my case, here’s a tale about Christmas, a buffet and a plate of cold crab.

This Christmas my parents decided to eat out for a change and picked one of the restaurants located at the second floor of Aberdeen Centre. (To protect its identity, I shall call it ABC restaurant henceforth) Now ABC restaurant used be to decent until a recent ownership change turned it into an odd fusion restaurant…….of Hong Kong style & Chiu Chau style cuisine (港式 + 潮式). Just last week, Pie Pie Lo and I had dinner there with my In-Laws and were quite disappointed. Needless to say I was sceptical about what they have to offer on Christmas night.

It was a pre-booked dinner buffet with two sittings: 5:30pm & 8pm. My parents booked the early sitting and paid $28 per person whilst the later sitting cost three dollars less. As the evening unfolded, we were glad we paid the extra dollars.

This was one of the most “interesting” buffets I’ve ever had. You have the typical cold cuts, salad, lobster bisque, roast beef and turkey mixed in with taro fried rice, Singaporean vermicelli, sweet and sour pork, salted vegetables with pork stomach soup (咸菜豬肚湯) and cold sesame chicken. And as part of our dinner we were also given, amongst other things, two plates of Chiu Chau cold crab (潮洲凍蟹). For dessert, you have a choice of Tiramisu, crème brulee, taro stir fried in sugar (反沙芋) and fresh fruits. To be fair, some of the dishes were decent but for $28 dollars per person I was expecting something more.

At the end, we were all stuffed and realized we didn’t touch the two plates of cold crab. Now, any reasonable, non-wasteful family in this situation would ask to have the crabs packed away in a box to take home. We were no different but to our surprise, the waiter refused our request even though the crabs were given to us free of charge. We said we simply didn’t want to waste the food but the waiter came up with some sort of lame, health related excuse. So my grandpa and uncle dug into one of the crabs while the other one was taken away. Since we had a good view of the kitchen, we kept our eyes on it as it rested on the kitchen counter for the longest time. Puzzled and miffed, we tried to figure out the logic behind what the waiter had said.

Then it dawn on us.

One of the urban myths of Chinese restaurants was about to happen…….

Even though we have no definitive proof, we were quite certain our plate of untouched crab will be given to another table during the 8pm sitting and some poor kid will be chomping on a crab leg that we had breathed on all over.

Oh the humanity…….

Needless to say Pie Pie Lo and I have no plans to visit ABC restaurant again.

The magic of October baseball


I’m a firm believer that to learn and gain an appreciation for a sport, one should always watch the post-season playoffs and/or the knockout stages of a major tournament. It is during these times when the spirit, passion and quality manifest themselves. The 1987 Canada Cup got me hooked on hockey. And the year before that, the 1986 World Series showed me the beauty of America’s past time.

Aside from learning the rules, strategy & intricacies of the game, I became a fan after experiencing the drama of an unscripted narrative. What happened to Bill Buckner and the Boston Red Sox that night at Shea stadium is the reason why baseball can be so gripping and entertaining.

And I’m sure there’s someone out there who just became a fan after watching game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

My connection with the All Blacks

Through the years I’ve come to accept my lot in life as a sports fan, one that’s deprived of championships and/or sustained success. There are exceptions like Team Canada in the 2002 & 2010 Winter Olympics but, by and large, I’ve endured a lot of disappointments and heartaches for the past twenty years. Despite all that, I’ve never been ashamed to be a supporter of the teams I’ve adopted: the Canucks, the Mariners, Everton, England (in footy), the Seahawks and the Whitecaps.

And then there are the New Zealand All Blacks.

What happened on Oct 23rd, 2011 was an event four million Kiwis have waited for twenty four long years: Their mighty and beloved rugby team has captured a second World Cup title. While I was not born in New Zealand nor have I ever visited this island country in the South Pacific, I consider myself a part of the four million since I am a dual New Zealand-Canadian citizen. It’s a little known fact that surprises a lot of people I know.

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Shortly after my dad finished grade six my grandparents decided to send him to Christchurch (to live with relatives from my grandmother’s side of the family) in search of a better education and set up the possibility of the family moving to New Zealand. The latter did not happen but my dad got naturalized nonetheless and returned to Hong Kong after graduating from university. A few years later I was born and had the option of attaching myself to one of my parents’ passports (New Zealand or the old British Commonwealth Citizenship) for traveling purposes. If I remember correctly I was asked about it and proudly made the “pledge” to become a Kiwi. The rest, as they say, was history. Granted I was around five at the time and didn’t really know what was going on but, in hindsight, I was glad I made that choice. Otherwise I would have gone through a period of uncertainty with regards to my citizenship status prior to the 1997 Hong Kong takeover. But that’s a story for another time.

I only started paying closer attention to rugby about ten years ago and frankly am still learning the nuances of the game. With my somewhat indirect connection to New Zealand, it was a natural decision to adopt the All Blacks as my team. A glory hunter, I am not. In some ways I feel fortunate to have a connection with countries where a sport is so engrained in the national fabric that it can lift the spirits of the people: Footy in England; Hockey in Canada; and Rugby in New Zealand.

The 2011 Rugby World Cup final was not the entertaining spectacle I had hoped for but gripping to the very end. Aside from being relieved of the outcome, I was proud the All Blacks, amid the pressure of playing on home soil, produced the inner strength to overcome all their mistakes and win a match they could have lost. Alas the Eden Park magic lives on and a sense of indescribable joy and pride went through me when captain Richie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup; a feeling similar to one I felt when Canada won Olympic hockey gold in 2002. Driving home from *Cdn Gooner’s house that morning, I found myself humming “God Defend New Zealand”.

I’m not sure why I have not made my way down to New Zealand but I know I need to visit the country my father spent his formative years in. Better yet, it would mean so much if I can go back with him.

Dealing with anger and loving thy neighbour

Keeping a perspective while being angry and frustrated is a struggle regardless of age.

This past weekend I was perusing Facebook when I stumbled upon a note written by a young man from my Church. It was a measured and sensible piece about his reaction to the Stanley Cup riot and the people responsible for it. He brought up the aspect of forgiveness which has been ignored by a lot us who have been, to various degrees, condemning the rioters. Numerous stories on the fallout have since surfaced and now the challenge is whether our society will forgive and, more importantly, whether the rioters can, and truly will, learn from this experience. Strangely, Pie Pie Lo and I are now faced with a similar decision.

Our home is situated next to a predominately-rental apartment complex. Due to the transient nature of the tenants, “you never know what you gonna get” as a wise man once quipped while describing a box of chocolate. Unfortunately in our case we are stuck with an undesirable lot for now. A group of young people in their 20’s moved into a 3rd floor unit directly across from our studies – the west side of our unit – about a year ago. No different from a lot of their peers, they do enjoy their drinking and partying very much. During the warmer months their balcony would become gossip central, sometimes late into the night – 3 am in one instant as we struggled to get some rest. That being said, we’ve managed to acquire the ability to deal with unwelcomed noise ever since we’ve moved into our home – A lady living in the unit north of us likes to sing the same karaoke song repeatedly every night. But nothing prepared us for what happened later.

About nine months ago we noticed a couple of empty milk cartons lying outside our driveway. Pie Pie and I didn’t think too much of it but then one late Saturday night I was reading in the studies with my blinds down, window partly open when suddenly I heard a couple of loud BANGS and some giggling from the unit across. Those people had put fire crackers in the milk cartons and threw them over towards our driveway for kicks and a laugh. Since then the tossing of items have persisted on a fairly regular basis. From empty milk cartons, juice cartons & pop cans, from oranges, food scraps & turkey carcass, from empty beer keg, protein shake tubs filled with water to 4 litre milk jugs with milk still inside, the trash have gotten bigger, heavier and “sturdier”. The stuff is usually there in the morning when we head out to work but now we’re starting to see them when we come home from work. Try as I might, I could never catch those people right in the act with my own eyes but based on the noise coming out of their unit every time something landed on our driveway, I’ve a good idea that they are responsible. Sadly our strata council and the RCMP – we filed a case with them – couldn’t do anything tangible to stop them.

Words cannot describe how livid and upset I was when I heard the sound of the latest piece of garbage landing on my driveway yesterday just before dinner. I was seething as I cleaned up the mess while all these scenarios of “payback” flashed through my mind. Some were plausible while others were down right ridiculous. (Fire bomb anyone?) But the worst part was that hopeless feeling knowing we’ll have to endure this nonsense without any form of resolution until such time when these people move out of the unit. It also angers me to think that they will never realize how annoying their actions have been.

I was angry with rioters last Wednesday.

I’ve been angry with these people across my unit for nine months and I find it very difficult to extend any degree of grace and forgiveness towards them.

Perhaps this whole garbage ordeal is a reason why I’ve gotten grumpier in recent days. Think I’ve tapped into the fiery temper – of my late mother – that’s been dormant inside of me.

The challenge now is to remain calm and patient and hope that, some how some way, the garbage will stop landing on our driveway. Otherwise I may yet have to call Wile E Coyote for Acme Company’s phone number.

The True Spirit of Vancouver

The morning after the riot I took a different route to work and drove through the stretch of Georgia Street where most of the damage was done. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean it was given the circumstances. In retrospect I wished I had gotten out of my car for a moment because the true spirit of Vancouver was at work then. Many people from different walks of life, young and old, all gathered to help with the clean up efforts because they genuinely love and care about this beautiful city they called home. It was a simple yet powerful message of unity.

“Saw a young dad holding hands with his young son, both dirty from cleaning. I cried.”

@Kardboard via Twitter

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I spent some time today at “The Great Wall of Vancouver” outside The Bay downtown reading the messages left by Vancouverites. The words were poignant, emotional and I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed and contemplative afterwards.

P.S. An image that’s stuck in my head: A lady in a wheelchair outside The Bay writing positive messages on the pavement with a piece of chalk.

“As I went to bed with tears in my eyes and my son fearful of a city he loves, never wanting to watch a hockey game downtown again. I found myself bringing him downtown to show him that fear can be conquered and our city will be beautiful again. With a heavy heart I am truly sorry to “Boston” who should be the focus today, all those that wer hurt, the VPD and fire department and the countless businesses that were destroyed. I AM SORRY. Love, A single mom & her son!!!”

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