Heading to one of these Asian malls in Vancouver is the quickest way to immerse oneself into a totally different culture. Aberdeen Centre in Richmond feels very much like Hong Kong. My family have been visiting this place for years – the food court is excellent and there’s a great Asian supermarket and, best of all, there’s the largest Daiso in North America within. (Daiso’s a 100 yen shop chain in Japan; in Canada, everything’s $2. They sell amazing things and are as far removed from pound shops as is possible.)

Anyway, we first needed lunch. The restaurants all looked fantastic there and some even had ginormous queues that lunchtime but we headed to the popular food court on the top floor. Among the teppanyaki, noodles and juice stalls was this gem – Saboten, a cutlet chain from Japan.

Saboten Express

I immediately ordered a Saboten set, which included a bit of pork tenderloin (melted in the mouth), pork loin, and a prawn. Each had been crusted in the flakiest, crispiest panko crumbs and were fried beautifully. The only downside was the pre-ground sesame seeds (to be mixed into the tonkatsu sauce) – these had lost some of their flavour. But considering that it was from a food court, this was all excellent!

Saboten Set

From another stall, I ordered shengjianbao – the juicy pan fried pork buns that are a specialty of Shanghai. Many tables seemed to have an order of either these or the steamed xiaolongbao from the same stall.

Shengjianbao

Over to another Asian mall. If Aberdeen Centre was Hong Kong, The Crystal Mall in Burnaby (next to Metrotown) felt like mainland China. We headed there on New Year’s Day in search of a bit of adventure – neither of us had ever been but we’d heard good things about it.

Market

Again there were some restaurants (all packed and with queues outside) but we again headed straight for the food court. It may look empty below but be rest assured that you’ll be fighting for a seat close to midday.

Food Court

There were so many options that we ended up running around buying bits and pieces from various stalls. From a northern Chinese food stall, we had hand pulled noodles in soup with stewed pork ribs. The lady manning the stall pulled those noodles right there and then! They were wonderfully smooth and chewy – it’s a shame the broth was a little dull though.

Hand Pulled Noodles with Pork Ribs

From a Sichuan stall, dry wontons with chilli oil and fried peanuts. This was insanely good and burning hot and crunchy and tasty and yes, just excellent. They’re addictive – you can’t stop at one!

Dry Wontons with Chilli Oil and Peanuts

From a Xinjiang stall, we got a few skewers coated in chilli and cumin. There’s aubergine and the usual lamb/mutton and, quite interestingly and totally inauthentic, pork skewers too!

Skewers

We saw a woman walk by with bowls of hot tofufa (or dou hua) – extremely silky soft dessert tofu served hot and with syrup. That was it! We packed up the rest of the food that we couldn’t finish and my father ran over to the stall to order some. It was perfect – warm, silky, smooth, soft, and with just the right amount of sweetness.

Tofufa

The malls are certainly good fun and both are close to Skytrain stations, making them easy to access for the tourist who’s looking to see something a bit different in Vancouver and who’s depending on public transport. And you’ll eat very well!

Pacific Plaza has been billed as the new Oriental City, a place I still miss ever since it closed almost two years ago. Last Saturday, a couple friends and I headed up to Wembley in search of it and we certainly didn’t expect to find it sitting between a number of giant bed and bath shops in Wembley Park Retail Park, located in the shadow of Wembley Stadium. It’s quite easy to get to, it being close to a number of bus stops and a short walk from Wembley Stadium Rail or Wembley Park underground station.

Pacific Plaza

The main draw at Oriental City was the fantastic food court and I think Pacific Plaza has recreated that nicely on the first floor, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. As for stalls, there are SeleraMu (Malaysia), Hot Korean, NP Star Snack Bar (Malaysian/Singaporean/Japanese/desserts), Nambu Donburi-Ya, Spicy Thai, China House (dim sum and lots of Sichuan and roast meats), Sawadee Thai and Shan (Asian?).

From SeleraMu, we tried this nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk and various little dishes).

Nasi Lemak

This was excellent and one of the best dishes on the table. There was a good coconut milk scent in the rice, the sambal spicy but not overly sweet, and the fried chicken was dry yet crispy with moist meat. The ikan bilis (little anchovies) were not freshly fried which was a bit of a downer but overall, a very good nasi lemak.

Another winner was this takoyaki from the Snack Bar (the humourously pushy salesman in the front gave me a deal! 9 for the price of 8 – 3 for each of us apparently). If you’re not familiar with them, they’re balls of grilled tender batter filled with a chunk of boiled octopus (the tako) and topped with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce. These were cooked fresh when I ordered and took a little while to come but they were worth the wait – hot, tender and so moreish.

Takoyaki

This kimchi jeon (pancake) from the Korean stall also went down a treat – lots of punchy kimchi in it.

Kimchi Jeon

Other tasty little dishes we tried included a spicy fried chicken and bibimbap from the Korean stall (both alright) and an equally alright but I don’t regret buying it mamak kway teow goreng (Indian-style fried flat rice noodles) with lots of prawns from SeleraMu. In fact, we didn’t have any major lows on the table – everything was definitely tasty.

Not everything is ready in the food court: yet to open are a juice bar, a Vietnamese stall, a Japanese ramen stall and an Indian Vegetarian stall. There are a few kiosks still free too.

On the ground floor, there’s both the excellent Japanese tableware shop that used to be at Oriental City (now called Doki Japanese Tableware) and a new Japanese bakery called Tetote Factory. This latter is just a tiny slip of a place (most of the space is the working bakery – you can watch as they form the buns and bake them) but the smells emanating are just amazing. They’re all so friendly too and happily consented to my snapping away in there.

The Counter

Loaves of various breads, little individual buns (both sweet and savoury) and cakes are all beautifully displayed on the counter. I left with one each of the two buns below (fig & orange and a curry bun) as well as a thick slice of coffee and hazelnut brioche. The buns were beautiful – lots of moist fig chunks in a proper chewy, crusty bun and the curry bun was chock full of a thick Japanese curry. Less successful was that brioche slice as it needed more egg and sugar for me.

Buns

Though it’s still quite out of the way for most Londoners and it’s smaller than Oriental City was, I reckon Pacific Plaza is still worth a visit. And it will be even better when the supermarket opens on the ground floor – and I’ll definitely be back!

Photos of all that we ate and all the shops and stalls too can be found in this Flickr photoset. There are a few great posts on Pacific Plaza also on the blog Will Eat For Money: an early visit and a more recent one here.

Pacific Plaza
Engineers Way
Wembley, Middlesex
HA9 0EG

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