My time in Vancouver is short, one full day to be exact, so I decided to spend my day in one neighbourhood, Chinatown. An interesting choice, right? I mean, how could I, or anyone else for that matter, spend an entire day in Chinatown. Well, I’ll tell you how!
The plan was to leave the OPUS Hotel first thing in the morning, and walk over to Chinatown, then explore. It was a pretty simple plan, walk directly to Chinatown, eat at The Union, Phnom Penh, and Fat Mao. Explore. What really happened was that as I decided to walk to Chinatown via Gastown and when I noticed that TUC Craft Kitchen was just opening for brunch, I decided to make a small detour – plus my thigh was started to bother me, a side effect of walking sideways through a moving train for three days.
TUC Craft Kitchen has been on my foodie radar for a few months, and I was delighted when they had a window seat available for me, as one generally needs a reservation. The décor is rustic industrial, galvanized steel stools with a chunky wood bar, white country style chairs with small square tables made with wooden tops and iron bottoms. I kept my order small, knowing I would be eating my way around Chinatown, and decided to skip the Chicken & Waffles (the portion was huge), and order Crispy Egg & Bacon, and Pork Crackling.
The Crispy Egg & Bacon is slightly similar to a Scotch Egg, in that the egg is wrapped in a meat and deep fried. Traditionally a Scotch Egg is wrapped in sausage meat, coated with breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried. At TUC the egg is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, making it taste like a gooey and slightly smokey bacon and egg sandwich. While the crispy egg and bacon were delicious, my favourite of the two was the Pork Crackling – braised pork belly that is deep-fried – which is served with a star anise red wine reduction.
Feeling satisfied, and rested, I left TUC and started walking towards E Pender, and Chinatown. The plan? To hit up The Union, Fat Mao, and Phnom Penh. And to wander the streets of Chinatown and force my brain to believe that yes, I will be flying to Asia in less than 24-hours. As the muscles in my left thigh began to tighten and slow me down, I looked for a place to rest, and decided to visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park before returning to E Pender to look for New Town Bakery, a place that serves a $1.50 prawn turnover – which according to my friend Ruby, is a delightful little snack.
The park is the free portion of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden (admission to the garden portion is $14), and a nice spot to sit down, reflect, and enjoy a little bit of peace and fresh air.
Returning to E Pender, and my desire to discover all the treasures Chinatown has to offer. I was on the lookout for New Town Bakery, but when I heard of a currywurst restaurant nearby, I had to visit. A place selling German street food, in Chinatown, was almost too good to be true.
Bestie, which opened after a successful Indiegogo campaign, is a joy for the mouth. I love the vintage look and feel of Bestie, something that I think works really well in Chinatown. Knowing I had other places to visit, and foods to eat, I kept my order small-ish; currywurst with fries and a side order of spicy peanut slaw.
It was good, the curry ketchup was tangy, the sausage was delicious, and the spicy peanut slaw was a little hint of the flavours I am returning to in Asia this week. Feeling a bit full, and in no condition to eat a prawn turnover at New Town Bakery (next time, Ruby), I decided to wander through the streets of Chinatown, peeking into shops.
At first, the smell hits me in the pit of my stomach, it’s been a couple years, but the smell eventually fades, and I feel as though I am somewhere I belong. I walk past fish shops and watch a Chinese man in a yellow plastic apron stack fish, and then breath deep outside a meat shop with roasted poultry hanging in the window. I think about stopping for Dim Sum, but remember I will be in Hong Kong soon, and decide to wait until I get there. I eventually walk up to Union Street to try a restaurant that has been on my ‘Must Eat Here‘ list for the past six months, The Union.
This is the main reason for my visit to Chinatown, I’ve even spent time studying the menu online, and I already know what I want to order, the Pork Belly Bánh Mì. While some claim that The Union is in Strathcona, not Chinatown, I disagree. The street sign and lamps are that of Chinatown, therefore it’s in Chinatown (well, right on the border).
The restaurant has high ceilings and an industrial chic kind of feel. Tables are wooden a-frames that promote communal eating, and gigantic mint green lamps hang from the ceiling. The bar on the right has seating, complete with galvanized steel stools. I choose to sit at the bar, as the stools have backs, and get ready to order my pork belly bánh mì, except I seem to have forgotten that it’s Sunday and brunch is still running, and it’s not on the brunch menu. After some deliberation, I decided to go with the breakfast bánh mì and cross my fingers that the food is as good as everyone claims it to be. It is.
I choose to sit at the bar, as the stools have backs, and get ready to order my pork belly bánh mì, except I seem to have forgotten that it’s Sunday and brunch is still running, and it’s not on the brunch menu. After some deliberation, I decided to go with the breakfast bánh mì and cross my fingers that the food is as good as everyone claims it to be. It is.
One look at my breakfast bánh mì and my mouth begins to water. A fresh french baguette filled with daikon carrot pickle, cucumber, bacon, a fried egg, and sriracha mayo, the breakfast bánh mi is now my favourite sandwich. It’s crunchy and gooey, and if I had space in my stomach I would have ordered another one.
I continue to walk along Union, with no intention of stopping anywhere else, but find myself drawn to a small cafe selling crème brûlée. How could one NOT stop?! As it turns out, it was a fabulous decision. I ordered the salted caramel and opted to include a topping of popcorn, drizzled with caramel. Sinfully delicious.
Needless to say, I was stuffed by the end of my time in Chinatown, and there are still many places to shop and eat; Fat Mao, The Ramen Butcher, and Phnom Penh.
Til next time, Vancouver.