Read the rest of Ton-Ton's Journey: Vancouver 2007.)
There's a Taiwanese tradition that you should never visit someone's home empty-handed, particularly if they're family or if you haven't seen them in a while. Instead, you should bring them a little something, usually food, to thank them for their hospitality. Once we'd finished breakfast, Cat, Ton-Ton, and I set about hunting for guest gifts and a birthday gift for Cat's relatives.
Aberdeen Centre is the newest, largest, and shiniest Asian mall in the Vancouver area. With stores from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, it was designed to cater to wealthy Chinese-Canadians. Cat thought it would be a great place to pick up gifts, since the shops would offer goods her Scottish-Canadian relatives weren't likely to already own.
Even with a cupcake in his furry little belly, Ton-Ton immediately noticed an Asian marketplace filled with fruit and lined with stalls of processed food products. Nothing else would do but that we investigate it immediately.
Imagine my excitement when we found Mei Jan Hong, a shop selling Singapore style dried meats. After reading Suanne's Bak Kwa recipe, and Ben's posts on Wing Heong and Kiew Brothers, I couldn't wait to get my hands on some. Since I've had the beef and pork varieties before, I decided to pick up some chicken and a lot of salmon to snack on at the hotel.
We also found a butcher's shop with some pretty cool items. Sadly, not having a kitchenette at the hotel, we weren't able to get anything for later consumption. I was really interested in the rodent-like squares of cured meat with the skeletons still inside of them. Anyone know what those are?
We had a lot of fun poking around the rest of the mall. There was a fountain that gave a colored water display timed to a soundtrack. Cat thought it was cheesy, but Ton-Ton and I enjoyed it. We also noticed some workers setting up what looked like an animatronics dinosaur display. It seemed out of place in an Asian mall.
(Tugs? Is that you?)
The shops were really interesting. We found a number of gifts that I would have had to do a bit of driving to collect in the States.
(Fishing for pottery sharks.)
For the most part, the shopkeepers were very friendly. They didn't seem to mind my camera at all.
(Ready to harvest rice, sir!)
However, the clerk at one Japanese discount store, which shall remain UNNAMED, was unforgivably rude to me when she saw me taking a picture of Ton-Ton. You'd think I'd spat on the floor given how she acted.
That didn't stop me from sneaking a few more shots, or Cat from buying a really cute little stegosaurus. It was only $2 Canadian. Everything in the store was $2 Canadian. I can put up with a lot for merchandise that's $2 Canadian. $2 Canadian!
(Enjoying a private tea ceremony.)
We really hit jackpot at a branch of Ten Fu Herb and Ginseng. The saleswomen were really friendly and both of them wanted to pose with Ton-Ton. What better gift for Scottish-Canadians than tea? Last year we gave them tea biscuits.
By the time we'd gathered all the gifts we needed for Cat's numerous relatives, it was lunch time. During our dinner at Tropika the night before, Ben had recommended Northern Delicacy to us. Having read his review on Chow Times, I was raring to give it a go.
(Terra cotta warriors!)
Owned by the same restaurant group that runs Tropika, Northern Delicacy advertises itself as a Shanghai style restaurant. Northern Chinese cuisine is characterized by a preference for noodles, breads, and dumplings, since the cold and arid climate is inhospitable towards rice cultivation.
(Hey, how ya doin'?)
Shanghai, which is a northern seaport, is known for a style of cooking that emphasizes the use of Chinese rice wine and seafood. Steamed dumplings, wine braised fish, and cold, marinated vegetable and meat dishes are hallmarks of this type of food.
The restaurant, which boasts a chic, modern Chinese aesthetic, was surprisingly busy for a Thursday morning. I took that to be a good sign.
All of the serving ware was plain white, emblazoned with Northern Delicacy's logo. I had a hard time deciding if I found that tacky or classy. The tea was nice.
Cat and I were in the mood to order a number of small plates so we could sample more dishes. We started with the Liang Ban Xi Qing Gan Si (Shredded Celery and Dried Tofu), a signature cold appetizer in Shanghai cuisine. Thin noodles of springy bean curd twined with crunchy shreds of celery in lightly salted clumps that thrashed in my mouth like the tentacles of a briny soy monster.
A plate of flakey Cong You Bo Bing (Pan Fried Scallion Pancakes) was next, each wedge a crispy, chewy mouthful. The savory flecks of green onion seared into the surface, like so many aromatic flavor crystals, offered explosions of buttery delight.
The Hong You Chao Shou (Wontons in Spicy Sauce) were juicy bundles of pork and shrimp gleaming red with a lurid chili oil that gently warmed my body instead of searing my tongue. The wispy white wrappers were perfect for holding the tart sauce containing Chinese black vinegar.
Kathy from A Passion for Food has been teasing me with practically pornographic descriptions of the various sesame-flavored noodles she's tried over the past year. When I saw Hei Zhi Ma Dan Dan Mian (Dan-Dan Noodles in Black Sesame Soup) on Northern Delicacy's menu, I just had to scratch that itch. The al dente noodles swimming in a light sea of broth and sesame paste truly delivered. Black sesame seeds, chili flakes, ground pork, and julienne cucumbers added texture to the spicy dish.
Cat and Ton-Ton love steamed dumplings. The Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Pork Dumplings) were good, with resilient skins and meaty fillings. However, they could have done with more broth inside.
I needed something green to cut all that starch and meat. The waitress recommended the Qing Chao Dou Miao (Stir-fried Pea Leaves), simply prepared with garlic and salt. The pea leaves were very fresh and crunchy, like a slightly tougher cross between spinach and arugala. I finished the entire plate with Ton-Ton's help. We pandas like veggies.
Cat has a jonesing for her usual Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Style Diced Chicken), which turned out to be the most disappointing part of the meal. There weren't enough nuts and the seasonings were very strange. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the classic Sichuan version we're used to. Maybe it was Shanghai style? To make matters worse, they charged us for the bowl of rice she had with it. Being charged for rice makes me a sad panda.
Northern Delicacy - For authentic Shanghai style cuisine and excellent atmosphere at a decent price. I wouldn't hesitate to visit again.
The Bill (in Canadian dollars):
Liang Ban Xi Qing Gan Si (Shredded Celery and Dried Tofu) - 4.95
Cong You Bo Bing (Pan Fried Scallion Pancakes) - 4.00
Hong You Chao Shou (Wontons in Spicy Sauce) - 5.25
Hei Zhi Ma Dan Dan Mian (Dan-Dan Noodles in Black Sesame Soup) - 6.50
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Pork Dumplings) - 4.50
Qing Chao Dou Miao (Stir-fried Pea Leaves) - 13.95
Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Style Diced Chicken) - 8.95
Bai Fan (Rice) - 1.25
Unit 2788, Aberdeen Centre
4151 Hazelbridge Way
Richmond, BC V6X 4J7
Read Ben's review of Northern Delicacy on Chow Times.