Like oh so many Vancouverites, neither Dana nor I actually grew up there. She hails from Sarnia and I from Prince George, but we both fell in love with East Vancouver. Two years ago, I moved into a big blue heritage house in Strathcona, the city’s oldest neighbourhood.
It borders the east side of Chinatown, an area I’ve walked through countless times, and have seen change, even in two years. It’s guarded by an impressive gate on Pender, and home to an eclectic mix of people, businesses, and noble – if somewhat crumbling - buildings. The Chinese grocers, herbalists, and souvenir shops are still there, but there’s a new generation - both Chinese and non-Chinese - moving in. Some call it gentrification, others call it revitalization, and as with changes in any community, most everyone has an opinion on it.
Many of these new businesses combine the old school with the new. There’s The Keefer cocktail bar, which features “Apothecary style drinks” utilizing various ingredients from local Chinese herb shops. There’s also the acclaimed restaurant Bao Bei; it serves nouveau Chinese cuisine and employs this woman, Helen, who was featured in the wonderful “Helen Dreams of Dumplings” by Warren Lane Pictures:
Bao Bei and The Keefer have both extended their patios onto Keefer Street for the re-vamped Chinatown Night Market.
It runs on weekends throughout the summer, and is an ever-changing mix of dim sum vendors, bubble waffle-makers, curios, clothes, food trucks, fruit pies, and vintage goods from shops like Duchesse.
There’s a stage with nightly entertainment, outdoor ping-pong tournaments, and open air movies. Vancouver’s Night Market is tiny in comparison to Richmond’s two battling giants (which I wrote about many times while blogging for Tourism Richmond), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a different vibe.
This year, there’s a new booth at the market that perfectly represents Chinatown’s upcoming generation: Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. If that name doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.
Winner Winner specializes in Singaporean-style chicken and rice, and was started by Stanley Yung and Chen Wei Lee, both chefs. It’s a fun place to visit: a rubber chicken
gets squeezed with each order, and your chicken, rice, and two sauces (chili and
ginger/scallion) are dished up for six bucks.
This style of poached (or in this case, sous vide) chicken is also known as Hainan
chicken, and is a favourite Chinese comfort food. The tender chicken is infused with flavours of ginger and scallion, and served with rice (sometimes cooked in chicken fat)
and two sauces – chili, and ginger scallion.
Funnily enough, it took most of my year in Richmond to come around to Hainan chicken – it may be age-old comfort food to some, but I really disliked it at first, and that’s probably because the chicken skin isn't crispy. By the end of the year I’d completely come around, and my Winner Winner Chicken Dinner was the bomb. I followed it up with a pecan chocolate pie from The Pie Shoppe, which you must
try if you live anywhere (I repeat, anywhere) near it. We’ll be talking more about them later.
Yes, times in Chinatown are a-changin’, and we’re going to talk about some of the shops there in upcoming posts. For now, here are some of our favourite places to visit while in the area, and one further bit of advice: if you want excellent, more traditional Chinese food in Vancouver, visit Richmond!