Yesterday on Twitter I put out the call for congee, and quickly received many great recommendations. Several people mentioned Tsim Chai Noodles, found in (another) little strip mall off Westminster Highway, and I decided to check it out. I had a simple meal – a bowl of mushroom and chicken congee with a side of Chinese donuts – but it got me thinking.
First of all, this is not the only meal I’ve have in a strip mall restaurant with multiple other restaurants around it. It continues to astound me just how many places there are to eat in Richmond, and just how many are filled with people every day of the week. The population density isn’t even that high; Richmond only has about 200,000 people, yet a huge number of its 800+ restaurants are regularly busy. When I grew up, eating in a restaurant was a very special occasion, and while Prince George has just under half as many people as Richmond does, I KNOW there aren’t 400 restaurants there. People eat out, but not nearly as often, and there are fewer locally-owned restaurants that offer inexpensive food. In Richmond, they abound. I suppose what I’m curious about is this: How do residents of Richmond define their city’s ‘dine-out’ culture? If you were born and raised there, how often did your family eat in restaurants?
But now, onto Tsim Chai Noodle House. For service and décor, this restaurant sits somewhere in between Lido and Michigan Noodle Shop, and has an equally long menu filled with noodle soups, congee, fried rice, and side options. There were many groups eating together, but I also noticed I wasn’t the only one alone; at least 3 others dined solo while I was there. That goes to show that at places like Tsim Chai, you don’t always have to eat family-style.
I chose the Chinese mushroom and chicken congee ($5.75), which came garnished with peanuts, chopped green onion, and thin slivers of fresh ginger. These three toppings added so much to the dish I wish there’d been more.
Even though the chicken was a little bland, I’d most certainly get the congee again, even just to use it as a dip for the Chinese donut ($1.75) which I also ordered. Oh. My. Goodness. Get ready y’all, I’m about to wax deep-fry poetic.
These little chunks of fried dough were tender on the inside, had a golden, crispy exterior, and were far saltier than the ones we tried at Suhang. Suhang was amazing, but Tsim Chai wins the donut race by miles. The problem with dining alone is that if you have a moment of utter euphoria, like I had while eating these, there’s no one to turn to with wide eyes and say “HAVE. YOU. TRIED. THIS. ITSCHANGINGMYLIFE.” Instead, I had to remain silent in my revelatory moment, mustering every last bit of willpower I possess to refrain from eating the whole plate. I ate half of it, then stared longingly at the remaining pieces, wishing that in some weird flip of the universe, deep-fried things became good for us and doctors would have scolded me for not eating all of it.
The history behind these donuts is fascinating; often called “youtiao” or “you tiao” (deep-fried breadsticks), folklore has it they evolved during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when the well-respected general Yue Fei was framed for treason by a traitor named Qin Hui. The general was executed in prison, and grieving citizens took to frying two strips of dough – one representing Qin Hui and the other his wife – and called the snack “yàuhjagwái,” Cantonese for ‘oil-fried devil’ or ‘oil-fried ghost.’ The name was eventually simplified, and the two breadsticks fused together. Dipped in warm soymilk (as we tried at Suhang), youtiao is one of China’s most common breakfast and snack foods. While there’s many different accounts of this story, here’s an interesting site that gives a more detailed explanation.
Later in the day, youtiao also inspired me, though my revelation was less politically-motivated and more about my tastebuds. While sitting on my bike at the intersection of Hollybridge Way and Landsowne Road, I had an idea (which I consider to be a flash of genius) and immediately emailed my friend Emily. Why? Because a) I miss her, b) I knew she would be excited about it too, and c) because she could help me out with it. It’s going to take a few days for her to get back to me with the favour I asked, but I’ll share it with you then. Sorry to make you wait!
Vegetarian options available