On Tsim Chai Noodles and “Oil-Fried Devils.”

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!

 

Tsim Chai Noodles

Suite 50 – 8251 Westminster Highway, Richmond BC

604-273-6288

Cash only

Vegetarian options available

 

 

25 Comments

  1. Kai

    Bravo!! Impressive research into the history of ‘youtiao’. Other than those who have taken courses in Chinese history, I bet few would have any idea on the background of this common breakfast snack.

    Reply
  2. Beric Maass

    My first congee experience included slices of – what I know as – chinese sausage: salty and fatty, adding that layer of shine to the entire soup. I had it for breakfast, at the end of a 13 hour flight to Taiwan. Nothing has come close yet.

    Keep on eating :-)

    Reply
  3. Laurette

    You got to try the youtiao wrapped in rice noodle sometime. At another Congee place they give you 2 sauces to squirt across it to eat like that. The first congee place you wrote about do that. I have just discovered this resturant (Tsim Chai) a couple of weeks ago as well for early dinner. BTW thank you for the history lessons.

    Reply
  4. Kelly

    I know it sounds gross, but I also like “youtiao” dipped in coffee, that’s my version of coffee and donuts. Try it sometimes with one of the MANY Chinese / English breakfast places in Richmond.

    Reply
    • C.Lee

      Chinese donut dipped in hot sweetened soya milk is very good too.

      Reply
  5. Mary

    Your blogs continue to get better and better Linds. I especially share your thinking about Prince George restaurants – or lack there-of! How can Richmond support so many and PG so few? Maybe we are all such great cooks here in PG that dinner out pales in comparison?! LOL! Loved the background info on the donuts – glad it’s your waistline and not mine. Great work, you continue to educate and entertain!

    Reply
    • C.Lee

      Are you implying that people in Richmond don’t know how to cook?

      Actually I think it is the convenience plus the fact that there are so many good and inexpensive eateries are the reasons why folks here eat out a lot. Also the residents here are more affluent than say Prince George so they can afford to eat out a lot.

      Reply
      • Rosie

        I might have to disagree with the affluence factor.

        But it’s a different culture — Richmond vs. PG. Richmond has a lot of cultures where eating with friends and family, especially in large groups, is a social norm. It just seems normal to go out to eat to spend time with friends and family.

        Reply
      • Lindsay365

        Mary wasn’t implying the people of Richmond don’t know how to cook – she was simply making a joke about just how FEW restaurants there are in Prince George compared to Richmond! I think @Rosie makes a good point in that Richmond has more cultures in which dining together is a social norm, and given the many affordable options available to them, do so more often.

        Reply
      • M.

        Mary clearly was making a lighthearted joke, not implying anything even remotely negative. Given that Richmond is not especially more affluent than PG, I don’t agree with that as reasoning. Rosie’s point makes complete sense and is a very sound explanation.

        Reply
        • GS

          M you can’t be serious!
          How many 1 million plus houses are in Prince George?
          How many German Sports cars?
          Statistics Canada always ranks Richmond among the 3 most affluent cities in Canada.
          Prince George is not even in the ballpark.

          Reply
    • Kai

      Patrons to Richmond’s restaurants aren’t limited to its 200,000+ residents but come from all over the lower mainland, so the number would be close to a million. Besides, eating out is a favorite Asian pastime.

      Reply
      • Jen

        I agree with Kai- I don’t live in Richmond, but I drive/transit there at least once a week for the sole purpose of fulfilling my hunger. Everything is located so conveniently close that I never have to worry about plan b, or even plan Z for that matter. Eating is such a big part of Asian culture that affordable dining simply make people go out more often.

        Reply
  6. Rosie

    I’m a 30-something Chinese-Canadian, born and raised in Richmond. Growing up, I pretty much ate only Chinese cuisine with my family. We ate out all the time (all the time, meaning weekly…BWAHAHAA) at Chinese restaurants: congee, noodles, or dim sum for lunch; Chinese seafood restaurants for dinner.
    Richmond is great for Asian food — more so than ever before. But I’ve found it lacking in other cuisines unless you really like your chain restaurants.

    Reply
  7. GS

    I’m happy to hear that the Richmond restaurant scene is doing well, which means more tax income and employment.
    Many Caucasians think that there are so many empty Condos and Houses in Richmond because the owners are overseas.
    Turns out they are just out eating!

    Reply
  8. Kathy

    Amazing history lesson who knew you could learn so much from cuisine. Keep up the stellar work it is fascinating reading.

    Reply
  9. kc306

    I also recommend the wonton noodles at Tsim Chai Gai. It’s terrific. This place is my favourite haunt for chinese “comfort food”.

    Reply
  10. LHSL

    Try the donuts dipped in chili oil, if you don’t like too much spice you can dilute it a little with vinegar, both are usually on the table in noodle houses. I have often wondered too why so many restaurants can be so busy. But then I remember that eating out with extended family, multi generations for special occasions or a quick bowl of noodles with my immediate family has always just been what we do. Could it be that many of the dishes we order are too time consuming to do at home? Because we also do Christmas dinner at home, with the traditional turkey & stuffing, mixed with favorite family Chinese dishes.

    Reply
  11. GS

    Hi Linds,
    Congee and Chinese Donuts.
    It does not get any more basic than that.
    For a Caucasian you have Chinese comfort food down pat.
    I hope that all the fancy/smancy Foodbloggers out there take notice.
    The best food is usually the simplest.
    No Russian Caviar with Truffle Oil for me.

    Reply
  12. Katy

    I can never eat Chinese donuts without feeling guilty but they are so good!

    Have you tried the won-ton noodle soup at Tsim Chai Noodles? It’s my favourite place to get it. When my grandpa was dying at the hospital years ago, he kept on requesting his favourite foods and these won-ton noodles were requested multiple times (the other popular request was KFC chicken). :P

    I use to live in Richmond but I moved downtown and what I miss so much is the quick and easy access to yummy Asian eats.

    Reply
  13. Katy

    Oh, try Banzai Sushi next door!

    Reply

Leave a Reply