STYLE

Book celebrates Vancouver’s Asian food scene, described as best on the planet

05/23/2012 02:29 EDT | Updated 07/23/2012 05:12 EDT
So famous for its vitality and versatility, Vancouver’s Asian food and restaurant scene has been labelled world-class and even praised as the best on the planet.

To celebrate the distinction, “East Meets West” by food writer Stephanie Yuen (Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95, paperback), takes readers on a tour of the city’s most exciting eateries and shops, many of them hidden gems and elusive to the uninitiated.

The 55-year-old Hong Kong-born author was an ideal candidate to compile the book as she has lived in Vancouver for more than 30 years. She is a freelance food journalist who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

Residents and visitors to the west coast city can enjoy myriad cuisines from China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and India. These are scattered throughout the Lower Mainland along with many Asian supermarkets, strip malls and specialty shops.

“I have eaten in every one of the restaurants I chose for the book and developed a database of them I compiled prior to being approached to write it,” Yuen says.

She also approached chefs and owners of the establishments in an effort to include their recipes in “East Meets West,” she said in an interview.

But Yuen found “it is not easy to extract recipes from Asian chefs as most of them don't write them down. The recipes are up in their brains.

“Sometimes if the chef is in a good mood he will write a recipe on a paper napkin or on the back of a bill, and that is a wonderful moment,” she says with a chuckle.

Yuen traces the history of Asian food in Vancouver dating back nearly two centuries to the 1870s and '80s when the Chinese were imported as labourers for building Canada’s national railway.

“The earliest ones were Chinese smorgasbords started by Cantonese cooks who fed the millworkers, but most were eating only what they prepared at home,” Yuen writes. But beginning in the late 1960s, driven by an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong, vital energy was injected into Chinatown. A number of retail shops, grocery stores and restaurants successfully made it a destination for all things Asian, she adds.

Expo ’86 saw more immigrants from Asia flow into Metro Vancouver along with a culinary wave that has garnered praise from cuisine luminaries who have come from afar to taste its wealth of delicacies.

As Mark Schatzker wrote in Conde Nast Traveler, “I've eaten Chinese food all over North America and in China and the best I've eaten in the world was in Vancouver. Hands down.”

Yuen includes a quote from Mark Bittman, food columnist for The New York Times, who wrote, “Vancouver’s Asian food scene is so good and so vast as to have few rivals in North America.”

She has included chapters on a guide to Asian ingredients, tips for cooking and serving, 88 restaurant recipes from dim sum to soups, vegetables, rice, noodles and desserts.

Most appealing is the guide to the location of supermarkets and eateries along with their websites.

Yuen can also be found writing about Asian food on her blog, beyondchopsticks.com.

MORE:cpStyle