I love it when things come together. I went to a party last week and shared a lift home with Alexandra Gill, a food writer I’ve been enjoying reading for a while in the local paper, the Globe and Mail. I was telling her about my plans for ‘Asian Month’ a dine-around of ten different Asian countries and their cuisines in Metro Vancouver. (I’ve been inspired by walking around my new neighbourhood, the West End, in a few short blocks you could eat your way around Asia and I planned to make a good start by setting myself a target of ten new-to-me styles of cuisine by mid-April). Alex said that one thing not to miss was the short but oh, so sweet season of Alaskan King Crab. We swapped numbers and a few days later, I got the call… The Crab Had Landed.
I drove across Vancouver to Marpole to the Red Star Seafood http://redstarvancouver.com/en/ restaurant to join a table of 12 crab aficionados and had probably one of the most exciting meals I’ve had for some time. I’ll confess; I know less than nothing about Asian food, so very nearly every mouthful I ate that night was new to me and – apart from the red bean soup for dessert, which I found watery and rather weird – I loved it all. There was a great deal of intense discussion about exactly how much crab we needed. The largest was a 10 pounder and that wouldn’t be enough for our group but it seemed that the consensus was that two smaller crabs wouldn’t yield enough meat, so a large and a small was decided on. Then, a seemingly-furious debate kicked off about what else to have and how to have it. I sat back, beaming as the melodic Cantonese washed over my head.
The crabs were bought to the table in a huge bowl, waving their spiny legs. OK, so I didn’t expect them to be alive but hey – at least you know it’s fresh! One of Alex’s friends, Lee, was born in Hong Kong and was incredibly kind answering my questions all night, he told me that ordering was important; there needed to be a balance of cooking styles, of heat and spice, of vegetables, fish and meat – it would be a bad meal if everything was cooked the same. Imagine applying this to European or North American dining styles – so many meals are ‘a roast’ or a fry-up – greedy gal that I am, I love the idea of mixing everything up.
We had the crab five different ways; its legs came first, butchered into little cigars, served with steamed minced garlic. It tasted sweet and buttery – all from its own juice. Next my favourite, the crab knuckles fried with spicy garlic chips ‘hurricane shelter-style’. There was so much juicy meat, it was almost like a chunky cod goujon, but eye-poppingly hot. The knuckles were also cooked a second, milder way with spring onions, ginger and ‘first draw’ soy sauce.
A noodle dish next, delicate noodles tossed in crab sauce, then a Portuguese baked rice dish, sweet with coconut milk and flecked with crab meat. The noodles and rice were presented at the table, stuffed into the head of the crab and then taken away and bought back in small bowls. Two different vivid green veggie plates, pea tips with garlic and gai lan (chinese broccoli) with ginger. Lee showed me the care that the chefs had taken as every single stem had a small leaf attached, just as it was meant to. Beautiful.
I was dizzy with food at this point. Everything so new and so delicious. We also had a peking duck, first the skin with pancakes and a plum sauce, then the rest of the duck, chopped which went into a crisp lettuce leaf with another spoon of that lip-smacking plum sauce. Finally, the best sweet and sour pork I have ever tasted. I’ve never enjoyed Chinese food in the UK – and yes, before you say so – undoubtedly I was just going to the wrong places, but it feels like there are no wrong places to eat Asian food here in Vancouver. The city has an almost 20% Asian population – that means the different Asian foods available are going to be authentic, fresh and plentiful. This is a great start to ‘Asian month’ – I cannot wait to see what else this city has for me to tuck into and I’m already excited about the arrival of the King Crab next year.