Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

For me, the world revolves around Toronto… and Vancouver. Hey, if I don’t pay attention to stuff going on in Toronto, it’s my disadvantage. How many things go to Toronto first?

At the rate that American companies are expanding into Canada, it’s exciting to see Canadian businesses succeeding and crossing the great prairie divide. Recently, I was listing to NPY Vancouver restaurants that I know of that have started up shop in Toronto. Not that he needs any kind of addition affirmations about his hometown. I just have to keep reminding him that the world doesn’t end at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

I did a bit of digging but this is by far not a complete list.

Long ago, Vancouver exported The Keg, the steakhouse chain. Not bad.

More recently, upscale casual dining chains Earls (which isn’t really that recent and its head office is in Vancouver while it was founded in Edmonton), Joey and Cactus Club Cafe have joined the fray. In the articles listed at the end of this post, I found that they are all actually related to each other.

But of course the interesting exports are the Asian restaurants.

  • Guu, the original izakaya concept in Vancouver, has expanded the most in Toronto with Guu Izakaya, Guu Sakabar and 4 locations of Kinton Ramen – I’ve visited the Izakaya and Kinton’s first location.
  • Kingyo, another izakaya with two locations in Vancouver (we go to Suika partly because it’s not downtown), opened under their main name
  • Hapa Izakaya, our favourite izakaya in town, was the latest to go over – since I’ve been to all Vancouver locations except for one, I made a point of hitting up the Toronto one. The Toronto website is frank about disclosing they had some problems in the beginning (when I went to dine there), closed and reopened severl months later!
  • Deer Garden Signatures, our favourite DYO noodle soup spot with three locations in Vancouver has two locations in Toronto, Richmond Hill and Scarborough
  • Zakkushi – we dined at a restaurant next to Zakkushi often but never tried this one. They have two Zakkushi concepts on Carleton and Ramen Raijin – I’ve tried Ramen Raijin.
  • Miku Restaurant, serving fine Japanese sushi and specializing in seared aburi creations, I’m most excited about. They have three restaurants in Vancouver and I hope they do well in Toronto.

And while coffee isn’t Asian, I was pleased as punch to learn recently Milano Espresso Bar is opening in Toronto. It’s kind of my neighbourhood roastery while not being exactly only a stone’s throw away. And that reminds me that earlier this year, I think, I heard that Caffe Artigiano just opened in Toronto. Mmm, Spanish latte… On the coffee note, what I would like to see from Toronto is Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Rooster Coffee House.

One of Vancouver’s cutest exports (to LA, not Toronto) is Japadog. Some fusion hot dog vendors exist in Toronto but I know the price point is lower so I’m not sure how Japadog would fare. Somehow, Vancouverites got conditioned to thinking a $6 hot dog was average!

My main source of news is Vancouver-based Scout Magazine that informs me of exports, particularly of restaurants in their network. I’d love to know what cool restaurants Vancouver has imported from Toronto that it can’t take credit for. I’m sure it’s not a one-way street!

Interesting reading about the export of Cactus Club/Earls/Joey

Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

The 100 and I’m so off the CW

NPY introduced me to The 100 on our six-hour flight to Maui earlier this year. Somehow, I hadn’t heard of it at all or its bland name hadn’t registered. A few years ago, this type of dystopia setting would capture my interest and it is one of the reasons why I sat through the pilot and one other episode. The 100 is currently halfway through its second season.

The pilot, aired in March 2014, starred three Asian-American actors: Kelly Hu in the one-episode role of being the implausibly righteous woman who is the girlfriend of a wannabe dictator; Terry Chen, the Canadian actor I watched in Combat Hospital; and series regular Christopher Larkin, a name new to me.

In The 100, Earth suffered catastrophic radiation exposure and a small population managed to escape and reside on a space station (the Arc) for 97 years so far. Now, life on the Arc is becoming unviable so 100 juvenile delinquents were selected to participate (unwittingly) in an experiment, sent to Earth to determine if the planet is habitable again. You can imagine the endless possible stories with 100 characters under 25 years old who have no adult supervision or limitations.

I don’t have the patience to watch the caricatures from self-righteous rebels who will do exactly everything that is a bad idea with cringe-worthy bad consequences to self-righteous “do-gooders” and worry about their fates. In particular, I pretty viscerally despise the characters of Bellamy and his sister Octavia and one of Bellamy’s wildcard thugs. I’m so over and unempathetic to whatever “coming of age” tale this might be for them.

kellu-hu terry-chen christopher-larkin

Images from imdb.com.

So, Kelly Hu showed up in the pilot and I like to remind NPY how different a pilot can be from the rest of the series and how much in advance it was filmed. She’s like a bigger name that got attached to the pilot but was an unnecessary character and we don’t see her again.

I cheered to see Terry Chen in the credits and kind of would only watch to see when he reappears (three more episodes). NPY and I get a kick out of seeing him on screen and he plays the military personnel role really well.

Christopher Larkin, being just 24, has a shorter filmography and it’s great to see he’s is a series regular on a CW show. He seems to be cast in a goofy sidekick and technically-minded role but here’s to hoping he’ll get to expand his character in this lawless society where people are carving out new niches for themselves.

Some time in the past two years, I’ve just moved on from CW shows, except for one (Hart of Dixie). Shows like Gossip Girl and, to a lesser extent, 90210 were the last straw for me. As I get older, I want to see people who represent me on the screen, not college-aged twentysomethings with envy-inducing implausibly fabulous lives and gracefully (at least, successfully) navigating adult scenarios. I get it – I’m approaching the end of or out of the network’s target demographic with every passing year.

I watched Vampire Diaries for a few seasons because I do like Nina Dobrev (Canadian!) and Ian Somerhalder so very much but the vampires and werewolves lore just got really old and convoluted with some bad joke that every character is just going to become some kind of fantasy creature and I went from caring little to not at all. I watched only the pilot of Beauty and the Beast and shuddered – perhaps I wasn’t being fair. Veronica Mars was a great show on the CW that was so wholesome by comparison and smart without being obnoxious.

So, Hart of Dixie is my own remaining CW guilty pleasure because the characters are closer to my age and legitimately in adult situations. It’s still set in an unrealistic place (Bluebell that is seemingly caught in mid-twentieth century style) but just a darling weekly rom-com kind of drama.

The 100 and I’m so off the CW

Year of the Sheep commemorative items shopping DONE (or so she thinks)

Given my last post, you’d think that I’m some kind of deep believer in the Chinese zodiac. Not at all. Erm…

The Chinese New Year collections put forth by Canada Post and Starbucks each year get my attention. I fawn over the cute animals, generally sniff at the odd artistic style, and fall all over the ones with significance to me. Like how I use the Year of the Horse card as my default card in my Starbucks app. Not so much a coin collector (although the stash I do have might contradict me) – I don’t buy coins. Price point is higher, too. ;)

Usually, I’m late to the game. Getting the stamps is fairly easy but I forget and find that every Starbucks is out of the Chinese New Year card. The New Year is a little later this year (February 19) but I’m also all over it. Because Ebates.ca.

Haha, I have learned my lesson. I don’t shop online overly but I have rued in the recent past purchases I have made without checking if the shop is affiliated with Ebates. Hopefully nevermore! Both Starbucks (Canada) and Canada Post are with Ebates and I handily got some rebate while crazily collecting Chinese New Year paraphernalia.

Starbucks Canada (and US)

Let’s start off with the easy one – one choice for Year of the Sheep Starbucks cards whether you’re in the US shop or the Canadian one. I checked because I would be mighty torn if the two countries had different one and which ever design should I set as my default then??

starbucks-2015-year-of-the-sheep-card

Canada Post

I find the scroll look of the souvenir sheet striking – must be the Chinese in me. Even more striking is the limited edition (only 700 produced) framed souvenir sheet (picture on the right) but it is beyond my budget. “The souvenir sheet is decorated with a rain of gold petals, representing an idealized landscape where three rams rest under a tree filled with plum blossoms. The design is inspired by China’s Danxia mountains and created by stamp designer Hélène L’Heureux who draws on the rams peacefulness.”

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-souvenier-sheet CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-framed-souvenir-sheet

The souvenir sheet is featured again on the souvenir sheet official first day cover. It doubles as a lucky red pouch so should we use it for someone, that someone is really special to us, lol.

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-souvenir-sheet-first-day-cover

I picked up an official first day cover because it actually features the domestic stamp with the three rams sitting peacefully together. If I’m going to frame all of the materials together, this more gray tone piece will offset all of the red and gold!

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-official-first-day-cover

Then, what did I spy? A Year of the Horse to Year of the Ram: Transitional Souvenir Sheet – featuring the new year but also last year’s stamp which I did not purchase. And what do you know – The Year of the Snake to Year of the Horse: Transitional Souvenir Sheet is still available so I got one of those too although it is woefully brilliant red.

CanadaPost-Year-of-the-Ram-and-Horse-souvenier-sheet CanadaPost-Year-of-the-snake-to-horse-souvenir sheet

Finally, because it’s 75% off! and limited edition and signed and framed, I couldn’t resist picking up a Year of the Ram (2003) framed print. It looks pretty tasteful. I might give it away afterall, an item or two in my order was added in order to make the minimum purchase for free shipping. ;)

CanadaPost-2003-Year-of-the-Ram-framed-print

Canada Post’s Chinese New Year items were released on January 8, 2015 and I so happened to had to make a post office run and saw the promo material and made my order on the auspicious ;) day.

Starbucks card image from Starbucks.com / commemorative stamps images from CanadaPost.ca

Year of the Sheep commemorative items shopping DONE (or so she thinks)

The Chinese Zodiac as a guide to when to procreate

horse-sheepI am slightly outraged and I can’t say why. But, I will try.

When I look around at people I know who have procreated, sometimes I can get cynical. I know, I should get their take but it’s too many people to ask and who knows if I would get the truth.

In China, there is a marked increase in births during years for auspicious zodiac signs. The Year of the Tiger last occurred 14 February 2010 to 2 February 2011. Amongst the people I know, two friends had their first child (A&S and T&Y). These couples had been married five years by then and met in university or before and the mothers were the awesome child-bearing age of 32-33.

Two years later, the most auspicious zodiac sign rolled around – the Year of the Dragon spanning 23 January 2012 to 9 February 2013. A&S and T&Y had their second child while two other couples (S&C and A&J) had their first and so did my cousins (W&S). The couples having their first child had by then been married about five years and the mothers were 33-34 years old. And it was the Year of the Dragon so all Chinese grandparents-to-be are over the moon. My cousin and his brother are a Tiger-Dragon sibling pair, one of three such pairs on that side of the family. Talk about family planning.

That means A&S and T&Y have the most coveted Tiger-Dragon sibling pair of them all. I’m not so surprised for A&S but a smidge for T&Y. But why not? I know that all of my friends and cousins are mature and responsible, bringing children into prepared and loving families. Some have been married a long time compared to my fledgling one-year.

Fast forward another two years and it was the Year of the Horse which spans from 31 January 2014 to 19 February 2015. I hadn’t really noticed the number of births this year and merely attributed it to couples wanting to have a second child two years later or not having a great deal of time to wait for couples who had “just” been married. S&C and A&J had their second child and F&E had their first. There will be two (or three) Year of the Horse babies amongst my cousins: W&S’s second, F&A’s first and my Hong Kong cousins V&V may have reproduced again this year. The first-time parents haven’t been married all that long, two years for F&E and just 15 months by the time F&A’s comes around but the first-time mother is the oldest yet at 35.*

I’ve always known about the glory of the Tiger and Dragon signs and that my own, Horse, is up there. They are powerful and they are swift and they are not food sources. Are my intelligent peers subject to this hocus pocus? I want to think I’m better than all of that but if “everyone’s doing it” and I do take such stock in “being Chinese” am I denying a child of mine something to be proud of?

There are multitudes of reasons  – none of which sound altruistic – that I did not want to reproduce this year, which happened to be Year of the Horse. I was married only in September 2013 and while the status of going from unmarried to married wasn’t earth-shattering and dramatically different, I also didn’t want to have a child within a year of that date. How cliché. The Year of the Horse is my year, and that is either a good year or a bad year and it turned out to be a good year that could not have been if I was on the way to getting fat and sick throughout. (But having a child during the year would have made it the best year yet, blah blah blah.) We didn’t have a home yet and while that is a weak excuse, I hardly wanted to immediately set up a nursery and have an impending addition to the family force our hand in where to live. The most reasonable excuse to not reproduce is that I haven’t felt for a second the biological urge to have a child. It’s the way I’m wired.

Throughout the year, my mother told me that it would be a-okay for me to have a Year of the Horse child and when summer rolled around and I would miss the cut-off, she told me to wait a year. Not that I was keeping her apprised of my (lack of) baby-making plans – it was simply that important for her to inform me of these dates.

Because, and no Internet source will back it up, my mother truly believes that a Year of the Sheep daughter will turn on her parents (or just her mother). Her own experiences make her terrified at the prospect. The difficulty and the heartbreak are not worth it and once summer rolled around, she advised me to wait a year. The zodiac prediction outweighed the risk of my eggs getting older and crappier.

In China, a spike in pregnancies last year was marked. In May, the Washington Post reported, “Chinese couples rush to get pregnant before dreaded Year of the Sheep”. While you can read horoscopes and interpret what you will, this description of Sheep characteristics is kind of dire: “Sheep are meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. Babies born in the Year of the Sheep, therefore, will grow up to be followers rather than leaders, according to some superstitions. The children are destined for heartbreak and failed marriages, and they will be unlucky in business, many Chinese believe. One popular folk saying holds that only one out of 10 people born in the Year of the Sheep finds happiness.”

In China, the increase in birth rates in during the best year (Dragon) can be measured, like 5%. It is offset a bit because “no one” wants to have a child that is born in the subsequent Year of the Snake. Still, then the Dragon child will grow up in a bigger cohort in schools throughout his/her life and encounter more competition. To a lesser extent, it could be true for Tiger and Horse babies but it’s not as remarkable to write articles about. In a city like Vancouver with a larger Chinese population than, say, Toronto, it would register as a most minor of blips.

Well, here is to Year of the Sheep children having less crowded pastures and tremendous room to grow. Good luck.

* I don’t have everyone’s birth year memorized but this is the sequence that I remember.

The Chinese Zodiac as a guide to when to procreate

Currently reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You

Celeste-Ng_Everything_I_Never_Told_YouI don’t really need to say it again but life has just ramped up again. I guess that is what happens when I’m grounded in the summer because travelling is expensive and it all bunches up in the fall. And most of my activities haven’t inspired me to blog here. But when I got halfway through Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, I knew I wanted to write about it.

Released in July this year, this novel was listed on reading lists of women’s interest magazines and such. I honestly didn’t really get into it for a while. At first, I couldn’t keep straight the names of the (three) siblings from the parents, also referred to by first name. I wasn’t sure I even cared about Lydia’s mysterious disappearance leading to her death. There was a fog that descended on the family and the reader, too, that one that would hang over a family finding their teenage child has suddenly died and it looks like a suicide (if so, why??) but what if it is not …

Initially, I didn’t have a great deal of connection with James and Marilyn’s (the parents) love story. They are a biracial couple who met and married in the 1960s and they seemed to come together for unsympathetic reasons, to escape their paths in addition to true love (or lust). Their ignorance of the reality of their relationship was naive.

The flashbacks finally came to the point where Marilyn left her young family without so much as a note in order to finish her undergraduate degree and proceed to medical, dreams she put on hold when she got pregnant and got married instead. My mother has a similar passion for obtaining education and feeling that it was all sidelined by having a family and her own fortune in life. Mum finished her degree while raising us, an unfathomably difficult challenge. Marilyn learned she was pregnant again and had to return to her husband, never got her degree and proceeded to channel all of her dreams into Lydia. I sat up at attention realizing how intense the mother-daughter relationship would be and its implication: Lydia couldn’t take it and must have killed herself.

It was obvious to the reader and the other siblings how unfair it was for Marilyn and James to shower their attention on Lydia. Marilyn nurtured Lydia’s aptitude for the sciences and loved her the more she succeeded in a spiraling positive feedback loop. An Asian man in 1970s Middle America, James always felt like an outsider and saw in his beautiful biracial daughter the possibility and (false) hope that Lydia could be the well-adjusted and popular like he never was. I found myself fully identifying with the pressure to fulfill my mother’s dreams channeled through me, and being an outcast as Lydia was. And what can Lydia do? She is a minor. All she can do is bow her head and do what is deemed to be good for her.

What ensued was sibling rivalry between Lydia and Nath, her older brother. They needed each other as no one else could understand them the same way but strain and misunderstanding enters their relationship when Nath is accepted to Harvard and will leave Lydia at home and she can’t fathom it.

The youngest sibling, Hannah, was conceived sort of by accident and the reason Marilyn gave up her second attempt at university. She was a very interesting character. In a fit of obsession over Lydia, Marilyn forgot about her youngest child, and this shapes Hannah’s personality which develops in Lydia’s shadow. As a result, Hannah seems to lurk and merely observes everything. She might have the key to everyone’s problems by being overlooked and having observed it all.

Then there’ the neighbour Jack that Lydia started hanging out with and who has a reputation to bed every girl and leave a trail of broken hearts. A child of a single parent and not exactly properly raised, he is a perennial outsider who can understand Lydia’s feelings of being excluded. Jack and Nath have long been enemies over the most frustrating incidents that you can see come from misunderstandings and boy-come-man pride. Does Jack know what happened to Lydia and does he have the key to help the family heal?

Currently reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You

An afternoon at the 2nd Annual Vancouver Golden Dumpling Cook Off

Along with a friend from work, I attended the 2nd Annual Vancouver Golden Dumpling Cook Off. I’ve never been to a themed festival like such before and dumplings was a good start! When tickets when on sale months ago and I saw my cousin would be amongst those competing, it was an additional motivation.

The dumpling festival took place alongside the TD Vancouver Chinatown Festival. It provided some entertainment besides the food but we were just there for the food, really.

 

 

Some 600 passports were sold online and sold out. 200 passports were released to the competitors to give to friends and family and 100 more were sold at the door. We lined up at 11:45 and found out we were amongst the first 100 and got a second passport, so we didn’t have to share, haha. (Those are dumpling shaped stamps we received at each stand.) Only those with passports could get a dumpling and the competitors had licenses that restricted them from selling their food items.

As such, my cousin and his two partners prepared 1,000 dumplings this week for the event!

The following are my observations, as far as I can remember.

 

PiDGiN: Chef Makoto Ono’s Sweet Potato and Chocolate dumpling
– last year’s winner’s entry this year is a sweet one (the only sweet one) which was a fluid combination of sweet potato and white chocolate in a cool broth with goji berries

 

Homer St. Cafe and Bar: Chef Tret Jordan’s Chicken and leek dumpling
– right after, a savoury bite – clean and light filling in a great cream sauce

 

Guu: Chef Yuki Ota’s Pork & shrimp dumpling wrapped with dumpling wrapper and tofu bag
– this was such a big bite! Tofu bag was refreshingly different and I liked the bamboo that tied it together

 

Ask for Luigi: Chef Letitia Wan’s Chicken liver cappelletti in brodo with pancetta and sage
– starting on the Italian stuffed pastas – crispy bacon was nice and the nice and smooth pasta shell – chicken liver is delicious, of course

 

Merchant’s Oyster Bar: Chef David Jackman’s Braised Duck and Smoked Plum, House Buttermilk  and Shiso Sauce
– who doesn’t love duck and it was a good duck inside, smoked plum lent the pink colour and the sauce was a tart complement

Bambudda: Chef Scott Korzack’s Fried next dumpling, spot prawn mayo, seaweed powder
(I should have taken this photo but may have accidentally deleted it.)
– oddly, my dumpling didn’t look the same inside as my friend’s and we couldn’t identify the flavours listed – in fact, mine tasted bitter, like that time I used the wrong baking powder/soda

 

Bestie: Smoky Bison Wonton with Chili Jam and Kohlrabi Slaw
– I didn’t like the slaw but the bison was good and smoky

 

The Union: Chef Lisa Henderson’s Red Curry Duck Lychee Potsticker
– didn’t taste the lychee and the hunk of duck wasn’t as good as I expected but I always like red curry

 

La Mezcaleria: Chef Alejandro Cruz’ Braised beef chicharron in a guajillo chili sauce dumpling topped with queso fresco, salsa verde, and cream
– the Mexican entry was memorable and while I wouldn’t top things myself with sour cream and raw onions, I enjoyed the whole bundle because braised beef in a delicious pocket is a good start

 

Damso: Chef Eric Lee’s Kimchee Mandoo Dumpling
– I think it was this one where the wrapper fell apart, it was so delicate

 

Harvest Community Foods: Chef Hokuto Yamanaka’s Harvest #39 Dumpling – Pork ramen in a dumpling
– it was indeed the elements of pork ramen in a dumpling wrapper made from ramen – it made me stop and thing and the dumpling wrapper was indeed unique while looking the same as others

 

Railtown Cafe: Chef Mathew Koyangi’s Xiao Long Bao – Pork consomme, braised geoduck and water chesnuts
– my cousin was really impressed with the ingredients Railtown used but we couldn’t really taste the geoduck

Winner Winner: Chefs Alain Chow, Chen-Wei Lee and Stanley Yung’s Coastal Dumping – Local crab and shellfish parcels with preserved duck egg yolks and seasoned vinegar
– full disclosure: my cousin is part of this crew – they used really great ingredients in a traditional dumpling and you could taste all of the ingredients (compared to mashed up flavours and fillings) – it was a really great dumpling and beautifully presented – they also had the best spirit, might I add

 

Wildebeest: Chef Wesley Young’s Foie gras and duck dumpling
– maybe this was the duck dumpling I thought was a bit dry

 

Cibo Trattoria: Chef Faizal Kassam’s Braised Pork and Fig Agnoli with Taleggio and Crisp Sage
– I really liked this one because braised pork is so flavourful and the cheese was so good

 

Vij’s: Chef Vikram Vij’s Chicken Samosa
– who needs to give further description than that? Vij’s stood out with a plated “dumpling” topped with hot curry and fried noodles. I suspected they wanted to overwhelm people’s taste buds and fill them up, haha.

 

Maenam: Chef Angus An’s Thai Seafood Dumpling in Southern Side Tumeric Curry
– the filling was largely shrimp and the curry was very much flavoured with tumeric – fresh coconut topping was nice

 

Cinara: Chefs Lucas Syme and Gill Book’s Pork and Swiss Chard Agnolotti
– three mini dumplings! While I was experiencing some dumpling fatigue at this time, I still took notice of this ones with really great flavour in the filling

 

Bearfoot Bistro: Chef Jimmy Stewart’s Duck and Shimp Dumplings with Lemongrass and Fried Garlic
– I don’t really remember this one except for the crispy fried garlic

 

Campagnolo: Chefs Nathan Lowey and Joachim Hayward’s Ricotta and kale gnudi, local tomatoes, ricotta salata
– this is no dumpling! And I had to wait for quite a bit for it. I should have ended my afternoon with a real dumpling like the I was offered at Winner Winner

I had to split before the derby (dumpling eating contest) and winners were announced so I’m still in suspense.

Update:

An afternoon at the 2nd Annual Vancouver Golden Dumpling Cook Off

Currently reading Elaine Lui’s Listen to the Squawking Chicken

elaine-lui-listen-to-the-squawking-chickenI will say upfront that I don’t follow Lainey Gossip. My general, uninformed impression, lumping Lainey Lui with all other entertainment reporters spilling celebrity gossip as if it were newsworthy, is that they are brazen and usually nothing short of annoying. In the “Whose City is Better” game I am not playing with my sister – who clearly doesn’t like Lainey Lui – she’s happy to point out Lainey Lui is from Vancouver. Actually – but I bit my tongue – Lainey Lui originally comes from and has now returned to Toronto. And somewhere along the line, I read that on her blog, she refers to her mother as the “Squawking Chicken.” Well, isn’t that just full of shock value and disrespectful?!

Yet, I am definitely intrigued by Lainey Lui. As a blogger, who doesn’t dream of getting to blog for a living? To have a glamourous job including going to movie award ceremonies and attending the after-parties? And now Lainey is a co-host on The Social, Canada’s answer to The View. Just five years older than I am and Cantonese-Canadian, I got the feeling I would understand where Lainey comes from. So, when I learned she was publishing a memoir (sort of), I put a hold on a copy from the library. Despite the gaudy title, Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother knows best, what’s a daughter to do?

First thing, I learned that Squawking Chicken (SC) is not some rude nickname Lui gave her mother on her blog for giggles. It is a nickname Lui’s mother’s childhood counterparts gave her because she is unabashedly loud, but she coopted it to describe her inner strength and ability stand up for herself. The SC doesn’t give herself (too many) airs that she is a regal or mythical creature like a dragon or phoenix. A chicken is a common and lowly creature with no beauty. I can’t find the character for “Tsiahng Gai” which is what they called her but I think I’ve heard my mum use the word “tsiahng” before and it goes beyond “loud and shrill” and means more like “coarse, gaudy and vulgar.” Which is an example of just how colourful the Cantonese language is. :D

Lui and the SC’s life stories are revealed in a series of 10 essays each with a theme or lesson and powered by three or four anecdotes. Amidst the essays, we learn about the SC’s journey to date – from the unappreciated daughter of gambling addicts in Yuen Long (just outside Hong Kong) to a successful entrepreneur in Hong Kong to the harsh reality of being an immigrant in Canada and parenting her only child, Lui. We learn about the SC’s values. It is – as I often say – the kind of non-memoir I want to write: disjointed but gets the point across within a chapter. Lui writes with a similar voice to how I’ve heard her speak on television – direct, hilarious and colloquial. It is refreshing but I think panned by critics.

Reviewers, for lack of a comparison, mentioned Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club and other mother-daughter stories) and Amy Chua (of Tiger Mother fame) to describe Lui’s story. Neither describes it correctly. It is a story about a mother and a daughter but the SC’s story has gruesome with real-world details and it is far from a perfect, happily conciliatory Asian Hallmark ending. Lui’s mother is not an elegant and eloquent Tiger Mother like Amy Chua who tries to frame her demands in a selfless-looking manner. Instead, the SC speaks to the lowest common denominator and Lui is not, like Chua, advocating the SC kind of parenting.

I saw that ratings for the book were not good and I resisted from reading any reviews until I finished the book myself and formed my own opinion. It was panned for not having development, a conclusion and for being written in a style suited for a blog and not a book. Which is exactly why Lui had the disclaimer that it’s not a memoir! We are so accustomed to reading novels and memoirs with profound lessons and sweeping aphorisms like it is appropriate and necessary to have a tidy mid-life conclusion. The SC and Lui are alive and kicking and so the essay-style book essentially leaves off after a round number (10) of themed essays. After all and all, things are good the way they are in the Lui family.

As usual, there are parts – a lot of them – when I felt like I was reading about my own life. What I look for is the parts that especially hit home, that reveal something I thought only I could reveal. Like Lui’s relationship with Bobby that was so blinded by teenage love and rebellion it hurt me to read it because I could understand it. The lesson SC could articulate was better than my mother ever could (who basically only yelled at me for being so stupid and told me to concentrate on school):

“”He won’t love you for very long, you know? He won’t love you because right now, you’re not worth loving.”…
I was officially less-than.
And I was judged to be less-than, not by my own mother, but by someone else’s. It’s the shame that endures, you know? The shame lasts so much longer than the heartbreak.”

These days, I feel surrounded by squawking about feng shui. Seriously. My mother isn’t particularly adamant about it and I want to think I’m above all of the voodoo-hooey, but the in-laws are more circumspect, especially since major life events are taking place, like weddings and home-purchasing. I have heard of the same belief Lui has about not buying a house with a staircase aimed at the doorway and I will notice it in houses I visit. Lui would not buy a house with this feature and I might not either. (Funny anecdote: my wealthy aunt was warned not to buy a house because the staircase pointed at the door which signifies a conduit for money to go out the door but she liked the house and is a modern woman and said, “Let it then!”) These days, I’m being pressured on all sides about the mirror-closet door at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom. I heard about it in Joy Luck Club (movie) and when Lui mentioned it, well, now I’m convinced to do something about it!

One topic that I would not have expected to ever read in print was the exposition of the SC’s definition of and crusade against “low classy”:

“Low Classy is the term the Squawking Chicken uses to describe coarse behaviour. Leg jiggling is a coarse motion. There is no elegance in leg jiggling. There is no refinement. On the few occasions I jiggled my leg as a child, Ma would slap me on the thigh, stare me down with the death eyes, and scold me, loudly, of course: “That’s so Low Classy. I don’t care if you’re the Queen, if you’re jiggling your leg you may as well be a degenerate on the street corner.”

Omigosh, that is exactly what my mother is like. She notices and despises and points out leg jiggling and admonished me when I was young and dared to do it. Mum also sees people in terms of “have class” and “low class” and raised me that way, too. It was just hilarious to see how my mother has that in common with SC – it might be a Hong Kong thing. Another funny thing is how Lui and I see our mothers as hypocrites telling us not to be “low classy” but exhibiting it themselves – bad habits creep in as ladies age and they become more “Chinese” (I feel it happening to me too). We saw it when we were young and our middle-age mothers are a touch uncouth. Hah! (My mother, of course, would look at this comparison superficially and deem that they are absolutely not alike. The SC is “so low class” and “tsiahng” because she plays mahjong so much while mum is a cerebral and educated businesswoman. Lack of empathy much? As Lui displayed, the SC is severely lacking in empathy.

The part that reminded me most of the Amy Chua’s parenting, of course, was about the shaming SC did of Lui. When Lui pulled a stunt that willful children would, the SC drove home the lesson with public shaming, to her close and wider social circle. It almost seems prescient of the SC, as if she knew Lui would become a public figure – but the logic applies to anyone who wants to freak out a child to be intelligent and sensible and mindful always.

“Ma was preparing me for future criticism: “My criticism of you always comes from a place of love. But as you get older, your critics won’t love you. They will criticize you to hurt you. I’m preparing you for criticism that comes from your enemies.”… Ma was constantly pre-shaming me, humiliating me in advance, making me afraid of the shame so that I’d never be foolish enough to earn it.”

The dark and ugly truth touched me the most. The SC – like a real mother not touched-up in a glossy memoir – is deeply flawed and not unconditionally giving. She didn’t transform into a magnanimous martyr upon motherhood and is lacking in empathy and wouldn’t ever know how to articulate her intentions nicely. In a girl’s formative years, it is really difficult to have this kind of parent. It’s difficult even to stop seeing the streak of selfishness in this kind of parent.

“I realized then that the tragedy wasn’t Bobby leaving me. The deepest cut was that my experience with Bobby led me to realize the Squawking Chicken’s greatest fear: I had become her. And worse still, I didn’t have to. Ma gave me every opportunity to avoid being powerless so that I would never be at the mercy of a man. And I had voluntarily put myself at the mercy of a man the way she seemed to always find herself at the mercy of them. This force of a woman, with the most indomitable spirit I have ever known, a phoenix seemingly undefeatable, didn’t want me to be like her at all.
Nothing is more humbling than to know your mother’s darkest truth. The Squawking Chicken’s darkest truth was that her wanting me to be more-than was based on her belief that she was the one who was less-than. It’s up to me to prove that she isn’t. That started by loving smarter. For both of us.”

That really hit the nail on the head for me.

Unless there is a gross misrepresentation, Lui’s exposé-style (sort of) memoir is exactly what she needed to write for her mother – the belligerent, the Squawking Chicken, with as many victories as losses, who protects herself by not hiding things and wouldn’t mind the exposé so long as it is true. I love how the SC puts it:

“Every tiger has a roar. You are my roar. Now don’t be so stupid. Otherwise you are just wasting my roar.”

Currently reading Elaine Lui’s Listen to the Squawking Chicken

My fabulously glamourous Saturday night

This past weekend, I had the great honour and privilege to be a guest at the wedding ceremony and reception of Joseph Fung and Michelle Tam. Of the 1,200 guests at the evening gala at the “new” Vancouver Convention Centre West, I cannot imagine how many are business associates of the father of the groom, Thomas Fung, founder of the Fairchild Group. We were guests by being related to the bride. :)

I wondered how much media coverage the event would receive but you know what? A great deal of it would just escape me because it is in Chinese. I have tried to search Ming Pao and didn’t turn up anything the next day or today. I did see The Globe and Mail article which was light on details. So, here is the inside scoop.

Being part of the bride’s family, our festivities started really early at the bride’s family house with door games played by the groom and his groomsmen followed by a tea ceremony for the bride’s family. A private ceremony for over 100 guests took place at the groom’s family home in Vancouver. It was an outdoor ceremony and although it sprinkled then rain changing to gusts blowing the precipitation sideways, all of this was anticipated and we were nicely sheltered under tent and parasols. I believe, but did not attend, that a tea ceremony for the groom’s family was then conducted inside the groom’s family house.

At the behest of the mother of the bride, we were at the convention center – my favourite venue in the city – rather early, ahead of the cocktail reception. The entire west half of the main floor including two ballrooms, the atrium area and outdoor terrace were (including where Digital Orca stands) was reserved for us for the evening. The entrance to the atrium was lined with green hedges that flanked a gate with “M” and “J” spelled in pink flowers. Fabulous.

Inside the “garden”, chefs from Culinary Team Canada prepared thousands of servings of a dozen different hors d’oeuvres.

To not hover impolitely, we wandered around, starting with checking out the decadently decorated ballroom. On alternating tables, tall vases displayed floral arrangements dripping with white orchids and glass beads or hydrangea and orchid flowerballs. The wedding party (14 in total) would sit at a long head table with their back to the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Burrard Inlet and North Vancouver. Two dance floors were laid out and a second long table was right next to the center dance floor where the couple’s parents and other elders would be seated. Party favours included both macaron and truffles from Aimé Patisserie. There were two stages, one for the jazz band that would play throughout dinner and another for the vocal band that would sing a whole range of songs to dance to.

A large portion of the west terrace adjacent to the convention center was closed off for the private use of the gala guests, an area usually overrun with tourists. It was splendid to hang out on the terrace in peace, have a drink at several small table-clothed tables along the windows with beautiful Chiavari style (I had to look it up) ghost chairs.

And then, after a tasteful amount of time after the cocktail reception began, we descended upon the serving tables, me bent on trying each of the one dozen different dishes and restricting myself to one sample (no seconds for me). Who knew that a small amount of Arctic char with crispy skin and balanced with smoky lentils and turnip puree would be so satisfying? My other favourite was the pear and brie empanada with the usual divine combination of pear, brie, walnut and (thyme) honey with the added wonderfully crumbly savoury “empanada” pastry with shortbread consistency.

 

 

 

 

Our emcees for the evening were Clement Tang of Fairchild Television and Deborah Moore of Fairchild Radio. Fairchild, as I know it best, is an all-Chinese channel that our parents – and especially our grandparents – would subscribe to and play all day long; we second gen’ers don’t shell out $25 per month and stick to the English-language channels. And if I had to commute, I would listen to Fairchild Radio… In any case, the brand is very familiar to us and – as Wikipedia told me – the group encompasses more than I thought, including a chain of bakeries and a Chinese mall in Richmond.

Seriously, the rest of the evening doesn’t even properly registered, I was overstimulated by being so impressed. A dozen or so young ballerinas from the Goh Ballet Academy performed to lead in the entrance of the wedding party. Later in the evening, several couples from Grupo America performed a tango followed by (I’m guessing) a salsa number. It was a mind-boggling meld between a gala and a wedding with the usual wedding element like speeches, kissing/games, toasts, cake cutting and slide shows. But the business associates far, far outnumbered personal guests.

The food was delicious and while it started late, I didn’t feel as if it was long we were waiting for it. I did not grasp the meaning of “Mini wedding cake” on the menu until the time we were anticipating dessert – it was adorable!

After dinner, we were invited to watch the same-day edit of the wedding (events from earlier in the day the majority of the guests did not attend) which had the quality of an artistic and moving short film and then to turn our attention to the window for a “surprise”. The family knew already what to expect so our table eagerly lined the windows and got a front row view of “private” fireworks that were also for the rest of the city to enjoy. Gee, that’s all!

My fabulously glamourous Saturday night

韋恩

I don’t know why I didn’t ask sooner given Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been premier and in the news since February 2013. Mum pretty much watches and reads news in Chinese exclusively but she doesn’t care too much about day-to-day politics. However, Wynne’s recent win in the provincial election makes her Ontarios first elected female premier and Mum finally put two-and-two together and asked me, “Did you know the Ontario premier–“ I cut in, “Has my name?! Yes!! What are they calling her in Chinese??”

Mum is utterly perplexed because 韋恩 (simplified: 韦恩) is pronounced “wei yun” in Cantonese and its Pinyin is “wéi’ēn”. Besides the fact they say a one syllable name in English in two syllables in Chinese, it doesn’t sound the least bit like the way Mum calls me: “ween”. (Yeah, secret’s out with that one.) That’s because:

  1. The Chinese language doesn’t handle one-syllable names so well. More common examples include 约翰 for John and 保罗 for Paul. The latter always just makes me think of “bolo” meaning pineapple. There are too many similar sounding words in Chinese that translating the name to one syllable, it would get lost in conversation and have no context. You hear two characters that don’t string together as a compound you know and you sit up and realize it’s a proper noun.
  2. As much as Chinese people love (love love) to name their daughters auspicious names like “Winnie”, “win” doesn’t have an exact match amongst Chinese characters. In fact, I wonder if my mum and other Chinese mum’s called Winnies “ween-ie”…? I’m going on a trip with two “Winnies” later this week. This is a question to pose to them for sure.

韋恩, broken down, means “tanned leather / kindness, favour, grace”. 韋 is also the surname Wei, I believe. Mum wondered why they didn’t use something like my Chinese name, 慧. It would sound the same in Cantonese “wei yun” and would mean “wisdom / grace” but the Pinyin changes to “huì ēn” which is less of a match.

Oh, if you throw 韋恩 into Google Translate or Nciku, it kicks out “Wayne”, my least favourite name!! (However, the crazy part is that these days, I feel some “ownership” over it.)

The premier of Ontario is 韋恩 and I am 慧恩. :)

韋恩

Our May trip to California: dining perspective

Boy, it has been a busy week. Yesterday, I remarked to NPY that we were traveling just a week before. While I got out my overall trip recap, the food posts are still outstanding. I’m getting around to this one because it’s shorter than the food post that I’m also drafting for the other blog. :P

Wong Lee Bakery [Yelp]

On our first full day in San Francisco, I dragged NPY to the storefront of Golden Gate Bakery and we could tell from the street corner of its block that it was closed. And I swear it’s the same sign I saw last year in April. NPY thought the bakery was closed for good because when you peer in between the gate and through the hazy front door, it looks like display cases are askew – not like they were just closed for the day.

It turns out that the bakery is run by two elderly ladies who apparently don’t need to open every day and they will take long vacations even during high season. There is even a website you can check, Is the Golden Gate Bakery open today? to save yourself the trip. So I will check ahead of time next time and roll-forward this To-do item!

So we continued to wander around Chinatown and hit jackpot on Jackson Street at Wong Lee Bakery. There was a small line which was processed quickly and gave us time to decide what we wanted to order. It was great to have the mix of dim sum and bakery and we could get a cold drink to boot!

On the first day, we ordered sticky rice bun, an egg tart and one of their “Grand Opening Special” cold milk tea bubble tea for $0.99. I was wary that “sticky rice bun” came in a bulky and filling doughy bun but it was really just a thin dumpling skin which is the best sticky rice-exterior ratio. The egg tart was okay and the tea was great value.

On the second day, we looked for a different spot to try and walked along Grant to no avail. We ended up back on Jackson Street and across the street from Wong Lee at a take out dim sum join. I ordered a zongzi and perhaps because I asked for it for takeaway and unwrapped, she stuck me with a cold one. While it was filling and pretty tasty, NPY wanted something else so we went across the street and were back at Wong Lee. From what I can remember, we got another egg tart, a couple of buns and $0.99 milk tea.

By the third day, we thought we would make it a streak and I went straight to Wong Lee to load up before our long road trip to Los Angeles. We finally tried their dim sum properly with an assortment of siu mai, shrimp dumplings, daikon cake and a savoury chicken bun. And a $0.99 milk tea. It was all decent and I really enjoyed the chicken bun which was chockful of ingredients and a half of a hard-boiled egg.

 

 

The House

Last year, I visited San Francisco solo for several days and stayed at my cousin’s place and overlapped with her just one evening. She and her husband took me out to The House and had a splendid dinner. Thereafter, when I talked to someone, it seemed like the place to go and people who also visited that summer (it certainly helps when a friend spends a few months there and gives you a reason to visit) were all going to The House. It made it easy to pick a restaurant during our three-day stay as NPY had not yet gone to The House.

I was late to make a reservation for the first night we were in town and the next evening was Mother’s Day. But it worked out in that we passed by the restaurant on our way back to the hotel after a day of walking around (so many hills!), left our name and then returned after freshening up an hour later. We got a two-top by the window and could watch the people walking by.

With three diners, we tried at least seven dishes dishes. With just the two of us, and with us having snacked/eaten all day long, we were limited to three. Time to choose wisely!

Funny enough, I ended up ordering the fried salmon roll again. It is delicious and filling and good value. Because I knew it would be a winner with carbs and a juicy steak, I ordered the warm wasabi noodles with angus flatiron steak. the noodles, as I had been warned on Yelp, were short on strong wasabi flavour. And since it would be a turn from what I had tried before and rave reviews, I ordered the Kurobota pork chop with pomegranate currant sauce. I’m ever so happy to have pork chop with something other than apple sauce. NPY thought it tasted Chinese and I put my finger on it when I finally identified as tasting like cha siu (roasted pork) glaze. Which is delicious. NPY concluded it The House is less fusion and more Americanized (but tasty) Asian food.

   

Plentea [Yelp]

We stayed in the Hilton San Francisco Financial District (thank you Air Miles and mum generously donating them for our use) on Kearny Street so we were walking on it and explored in the evening. Two restaurants that intrigued us are Ramen Underground (but we were always full from dinner already) and Plentea. The first time we passed by during the day, there was a queue out the door for Plentea. When we passed by later in the evening, there was a sign on the door they were closed because they ran out of bubble tea. The same thing happened the second evening where they ran out of bubble tea and were closed by 10 p.m. I joked that we should try to have bubble tea for breakfast to get to try it.

On our last evening, a Monday night, they were still open when we went in on the evening and I was so happy. Then we saw the prices and decided only to order one drink. We were full, anyways. Why is it so pricey, a basic bubble tea starting at $5.

While we waited for a long time for our drink as only one staff was trained to make the green tea matcha smoothie and he was busy re-doing a drink for what appeared to me to be a fussy customer, I saw on a blackboard the offer for a discount if you bring back your bottle.

You mean we can keep the branded milk bottle? We looked surreptitiously around and it does appear so. Well, then it is a better price in that case. Interesting business model.

 

Yummy Bakery and Cafe [Yelp]

We kept walking by this bakery on Jackson Street on our way to and from Wong Lee and on our last morning I supplemented our larger order with Wong Lee (eight hours of driving ahead!!) with a visit to Yummy Bakery. I picked up a mocha bun because it is novel but it wasn’t so great in execution. And when I saw a bun fashioned into a crab like Boudin sourdough is and it was filled with NPY’s favourite, red bean paste, I had to get it. It was so cute and it was better than the mocha bun.

BCD Tofu House

The last time I was in LA, I did not have the savvy to visit Koreatown for food. But since then, I have watched K-Town Cowboys (lol) and enjoyed several dinners in Koreatown in New York (and many more in Toronto) – it’s a good bet.

A day before we went to BCD Tofu House, we drove through Koreatown en route to somewhere else and I was hugely impressed – it went on forever. The next day, we were back and located BCD Tofu on a less cluttered part of the strip.

The Koreatown location of BCD Tofu (for there are many) is open 24 hours a day and the dining room is one big and clean room furnished with a dark wood interior. It was entirely different from my imaginings of a cramped dive.

We had plenty of choices for tofu soup options and NPY and I happily ordered one each. I got vegetable toppings and medium spicy. NPY got a soy bean paste – which is unheard of in our parts for tofu soup – with no spice. The banchan were plentiful and we were pleased to see the whole fried fish we each got.

I wonder if BCD has different pricing in the late night because I was surprised each tofu soup was not dirt cheap. After the plenty and variety of the banchan was factored in, I certainly am not complaining about value. But it’s not Toronto with Canadian prices and super value!

Palms Thai Restaurant

One more re-visit for LA was to go to Palms Thai. You can tell that when I last visited LA and it was with my sister, she was visiting some lists of cheap-but-well-rated LA restaurants. Palms was among them (so was Diddy Riese and C&O Trattoria). It was the restaurant I planned for when we would be in Hollywood, to keep our costs under control and get in an Asian (i.e., rice was present) meal.

I ordered our “staple” assortment including a red curry (chicken), pad thai and steamed rice. I ordered a large steam rice which is highly unusual but it was really cheap! Oh, and a Thai iced tea because I was bugging NPY all week starting in San Francisco to get Thai iced tea. Best to get it where it would be made best!

The rice and curry arrived in giant bowls by comparison to most Thai restaurants I’ve been to. There was plenty of rice for three servings each. The curry was lighter on flavour than I would like and super simple on ingredients – just chicken, red pepper and green pepper. Nonetheless, it hit the spot after a week of traveling and eating out all week. The pad thai came later. Bean sprouts took up half the plate but there was enough to be sure. It was heavy on the tomato flavour and not spicy in the least. I loved how they offered as the “meat” both steamed and fried tofu and the big chunks of tofu that was present when I ordered steamed.

Our May trip to California: dining perspective