Chinese culinary arts celebrated in Vancouver

09:34, November 22, 2009      

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Like all international cities, Canada's Vancouver is home to a full spectrum of global authentic cuisines. Right now, at the center of attention are Chinese cuisines.

For the past six weeks, Vancouverites have been polling online for their favorite Chinese restaurants. The results of the 2009 HSBC Diners' Choice came out Friday. Close to 10,000 voters have identified which are the most popular Chinese restaurants in Vancouver.

Craig Stowe is the founder and director of the Edgewater Casino Chinese Restaurant Awards, under which HSBC Diners' Choice is an important section. Having traveled the world extensively, Stowe realized that the Chinese gourmet capital outside of China is no other place but Vancouver, his home town.

In Stowe's opinion, "Vancouver Chinese cuisine is only second to Shanghai and Hong Kong."

"In Vancouver, there is a redeemable high quality of Chinese food, and everybody has multicultural friends," Stowe told Xinhua." Many years ago, my Chinese friends used to laugh at me when I made dining suggestions. They would say, no, no, there's where only westerners go."

Soon after, Stowe accumulated rich knowledge about authentic Chinese cuisines. "First of all I do not shy away from restaurants with indistinguishable Chinese names," Stowe admitted. "And then Irealized it takes an organization to elevate, recognize, and celebrate the good Chinese food here."

That's when Stowe started pushing for a formal channel to recognize the excellence of Chinese culinary arts in Vancouver. He founded the Chinese Restaurant Awards in 2008.

Another aspect about Chinese dining that Stowe learnt about is, unlike the dining culture of westerners, the way that Chinese dine has always been tied to categories, because different foods are served in different restaurants.

"What's your favorite Chinese restaurant?" Stowe would ask.

"For what cuisine?" would come the inevitable answer, Stowe said.

"And that's why it makes sense to divide the awards into practical categories," Stowe explained.

But whichever category it is, there is one common element amongst all restaurants that always impresses Stowe. "Chinese dining is not only for people and friends, it's also for businesses. Culturally, business takes place at a round table in restaurants."

Compared to last year, many of the winners to this year's annual HSBC Diners' Choice are new to the Awards. "This shows the dynamic side of the market," Stowe said. "There are a lot of good restaurants, and opinions are fresh every year. Undoubtedly the winners are leaders in the categories. We believe what the people have chosen are the best choices."

The winner to the Best Fine Dining Restaurant category is Northern Dynasty. This restaurant serves Sichuan, Beijing and Shanghai cuisines, and is famous for its ingenious design of food in terms of fusion and health. Signature dishes include Braised Whole Pork Hock with chunk fat removed, and Sweet and Sour Squirrel Fish with local fresh groupers as the main ingredient.

Under the category of the Best Northern Chinese restaurant, the winner is Shanghai Wonderful Restaurant. Last year its Boneless Duck With Eight Treasures already won a Critics' Choice Signature Dish Award. Its menu shows wide choices from the common Juicy Pork Buns to the tricky Shrimp on Crispy Rice, all with very affordable prices.

As for the Best Cantonese Dim Sum Restaurant category, the winner is Empire Chinese Cuisine. Providing more than 70 choices of classic and new Cantonese dim sums, this restaurant is a favorite for tea goers. It also attracts diners opting for rich banquet items like Shark's Fin Soup, Braised Abalone in Whole, or Sauteed Geoduck.

The complete 15 categories also honor excellence in the bests of Taiwanese cafe, Hong Kong style cafe, congee house, noodle house, hotpot fare, vegetarian cuisine, barbecue shop, bakeries, dessert place, casual dining, best service, and best dining environment.

Conrad Leung is not at all surprised to see all types of Chinese cuisine developed, improved and flourished in Vancouver in the recent past.

Leung is the head of the Asian Culinary Arts Department in Vancouver Community College since 1975. This is the first North American professional training program for cooks and chefs in Asian culinary arts.

"As the door to the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver has always been the best place to experiment with mixes of Asian and western foods, but it is not until now that we see a maturity of the dynamics between chefs and the general public," Leung said. "The professional chefs are ready to infuse new methods to their cooking, and the general public, as gourmets, are ready to accept new tastes."

Adding to it a wealth of fresh local products including seafood and vegetables, a stage for excellent Chinese food is set, Leung said.

"Situations have changed a lot over time. Thirty years ago, the main-stream non-Chinese population only accepted some form of chop-sui as Chinese food," Leung recounted. "Now the general public have widened their sense of choice to diversified authentic Chinese foods."

Leung is also pleased to observe a gradual international integration of culinary techniques.

"In the conventional food industry, the same discipline goes for European schools of cooking, including Italian, Russia, French, and British," Leung explained. "Now, they are fast taking in Chinese cooking techniques. Steaming, saute, pan fry are Chinese originated but are now accepted and even featured in menus by high-end restaurants."

"Even from point of view of recreational cooking, we are seeing products like bamboo steamers, woks and soy sauce taking more important roles in the home cookware market and ingredients market," Leung stated.

On the other hand, Chinese chefs have been learning from their western counterparts to complement shortfalls.

"Years ago I often met Chinese chefs who insisted on an our-food-is-the-best kind of mentality. Now Chinese cuisine is generously absorbing distinctive characters from western food," Leung said. "Obvious examples are the emphasis on presentation, and the inclusion of western sauces."

"I believe food is going in an international direction. Just like pizza is no longer Italian, sushi is no longer Japanese, fish and chip is no longer British, very soon noodles and rice will no longer be Chinese," Leung said. "It's so always nice to share enjoyments."

Source: Xinhua
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