By Assunta Ng
What motivates me to travel long distances, spend lots of money, wait in hour-long lines, and even beg for it?
When my childhood friend from London invited me to a reunion in Vancouver, B.C., at one of the top Chinese restaurants in the city, I was thrilled.
B.C. Chinese food beats even several American cities. Weeks of anticipation for the trip made my mouth water. Like many Chinese immigrants, I used to drive with my friends to B.C. for lunch and dinner, before we headed back at the end of the day.
Driving six hours back and forth just for a good Chinese meal seems ridiculous to many people, but that’s the deal for many Seattle Chinese immigrants. You will find many cars with a Washington state license parked outside famous B.C. Chinese restaurants.
Never mind about the wait at the U.S.–Canada border. Never mind that we have to exchange currencies before we go.
We even bring back goodies such as pastries and groceries from B.C. I never return home empty-handed.
Shark fin in B.C.
The host for our reunion dinner was a Canadian Chinese couple. On our way to meet our friends, we passed by another Chinese restaurant surrounded by about 15 to 18 angry protesters yelling and blocking the entrance.
“Is this about shark fin?” I asked the host.
“You guessed it,” he said. “This has been going on for a month. Every Friday, they are there. They target Fortune Garden Restaurant because it’s at a visible location. Some protesters even get paid for doing this.”
“Getting paid to protest (the sale of shark fin in Chinese restaurants)?” I replied.
While Washington state has already passed a law last year banning shark fins, the Canadians are now talking about banning it and the protesters were trying to push the issue.
Ironically, when we arrived at the Grand Honour Restaurant, our host ordered shark fin soup with crab meat for 11 of our guests. Each person got a big bowl. My husband and I shared one bowl because it was so filling. Just for the soup, it could cost as much as $500.
What’s a good meal?
A while back, I would not resist lavish feasts like the one I had last Friday in Vancouver. This time, I discovered that I would not miss this kind of stuff for ages.
Today, I would be just as content to have wonton noodles, a plate of stir-fried bok choy, or a bowl of congee with my friends. A cup of clam chowder is also delightful.
I have developed a taste for simple foods. Expensive ingredients, such as bird nest, shark fin, or abalone are not the only food on my list. In fact, they are not even on my most-wanted list.
What I long for now are fresh ingredients, including tasty veggies and fruits, live seafood, and meat from naturally fed animals. I look for unsophisticated cooking styles that preserve the original taste of the ingredients. It means less grease, sugar, and sodium.
The trip made me realize that just healthy food can be delicious. You only have to develop the taste for it. Gone is my urge for rich and spicy sauces and extravagant food presentations. I prefer to order just enough food, rather than a full table of dishes that become leftovers afterwards.
What I didn’t notice before
It is surprising that the whole restaurant only had one type of customer, Cantonese. It’s typical of many Canadian Chinese restaurants. I couldn’t find even one non-Chinese out of the 150 diners.
You would think I felt comfortable. But actually I am used to eating with diverse people from diverse cultures when sitting in Asian restaurants.
What did I bring back?
In my old days, I would have shopped before I drove back to Seattle.
This time, I bought absolutely nothing.
Seattle has what the Canadian Asian community offers, from Asian grocery stores to Asian bakeries. I didn’t want to waste time shopping in Canada. Instead, we enjoyed a stroll along Vancouver’s long, beautiful waterfront.
I would rather spend my money in the United States. Our economy needs it. We even filled up our gasoline tank in Washington before we drove up north.
If I had a choice, I would choose Richmond over Vancouver’s Chinese food. It is not only cheaper, but less fancy.
Coming home, I appreciate Seattle’s Asian community much more. Our diversity is unique.
Proud to say, my taste is now more advanced — Pan-Asian. My latest discovery is Indian beans and spices. How about that? (end)