This trip back to Vancouver was a bit of a wander down memory lane, with my taking the time to slow down and reminisce each time I revisited someplace familiar. One of those places is Kam Gok Yuen, an old-school Hong Kong style restaurant located in Vancouver’s Chinatown. My parents favoured this joint for ages (my father still does) and I remember eating there since I was young. One of the waitresses still recognises me even though I now return only once a year – she’s seen me growing up throughout the years and I think she too has a daughter about my age. The restaurant itself used to be located near the library, I think, but relocated to its current position sometime since I moved over 10 years ago.
How about a feel of the place? Splitting the two large windows in front is the main entrance: on the left hand side, you can see all the Cantonese style roast meats hanging while on the right, a man boiling noodles and dumplings is just visible through the steamy window. These are the two strengths of their menu and really the only dishes we eat there! When you enter, you’ve got to wind your way around the scrum at the counter (they’re paying for their meal and/or ordering things for takeaway) and grab a seat at one of the tables or booths lining the left hand side. This last visit, I got a booth (score!) with my father but most of the single diners tend to grab a seat at one of the large tables in the middle (they end up being communal tables). Actually, look around the large room on a weekday lunchtime and you don’t feel like you’re in Canada anymore.
Every table is set with soy sauce and their homemade chili oil – the latter is absolutely fantastic with loads of aromatics in the mixture.
Chinese tea is complimentary and the table setting is complete with chopsticks, Chinese spoons and small sauce dishes. This sauce dish is essential for you to mix together your favoured combination of soy, vinegar and chili oil (I like their chili oil neat) and allows for double dipping – why don’t London restaurants offer them?
A menu will be offered to you but if you’re a regular, you’ll already know what you want. I almost always go for their sui kau mein – large prawn, pork and black fungus dumpings wrapped in wonton wrappers served in a noodle soup. Their noodles are beautiful – thin, yellow and with a good bite. There are no soggy noodles here. Don’t forget to eat it all with that magnificent chili oil!
My father, having recently had their sui kau, opted to have wonton noodle soup instead. These were almost all prawn and though smaller than the sui kau, you do get more in one order. Again, delicious.
When my brother visits, he always orders either char siu (barbequed pork) or siu yoke (crispy roasted pork) or both on rice. These roast meats on rice can either be ordered in a bowl or on a plate – the latter is a larger portion but we’ve found that the bowl is enough for one person. Each order is drizzled with a delicious soy and roast meat juices sauce and you can ask for extra on the side.
The bill will be delivered to your table sometime during your meal and when you’re ready to leave, you take that bill to the counter (join the scrum) to pay. Service at the restaurant is curt but I’ve never found them to be deliberately rude – they’re just very busy!
What my family has been doing for a while is ordering the roast meats to takeaway – like most places in Vancouver, these can be ordered by weight (does any restaurant offer this in London?). Having tried a lot of the Chinese roast meats throughout the city, this place serves the best, we think. The char siu is tender, not fatty, and yet so flavourful and the siu yoke is meaty, again not too fatty, and topped with very crunchy skin. The noodles can also be purchased as well as jars of their heavenly chili oil. With these three things, kon lo mee, a dry noodle dish served with the roast meats, can be had at home (I’ll have to blog this one day!).
Kam Gok Yuen
142 E Pender St