May 30, 2010 | | Comments 26

Chinese Laundry Kids Stories at Foo’s Ho Ho in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Suanne and I had such a wonderful time last week that I decided to write about this blog post out of sequence.

LotusRapper alerted us to this event in Chinatown that truly intrigues me. As you know, I had been doing a lot of research on Chinese cuisines through the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine (8GTCC) project. While the 8GTCC project deals with the tradition Chinese cuisines, I was really convinced that outside of the traditional cuisine, there lies a a lot of branches of Chinese cuisines that needs to be legitimately called Chinese cuisines for what it is worth.

For instance, the Chinese cooking in Malaysia and Singapore presents dishes that you will never find in China (eg. bah kut teh, laksa) and yet it uses the same common cooking techniques. There is also a branch of Indian Chinese cuisine of which there are a few restaurants around Metro Vancouver.

And then there is the North American Chinese cuisine with its fortune cookies, General Tso chicken, chop suey, egg foo yong, ginger beef, just to name a few. I would assume that the Chinese in China would not recognize such foreign created cuisines as Chinese cuisine. But I think we should recognize them as distinct branches of Chinese cuisine which had adapted to the local environment over the generations.

Foo’s Ho Ho is one restaurant that Suanne and I had always wanted to visit. It is always low on the priority list when there are so many great restaurants around the city. We only wanted to go to Foo’s Ho Ho not for its food but for the nostalgic, historical aspect. So when the event presents itself, we instantly called to sign up.

It was a very educational night for me. I was surprised to find out that Foo’s Ho Ho is that big with two dining halls split over two floors.

The event was well attended too. There has to be at least 100 people who attended this event organized by the Friends of Foo’s Ho Ho. The Friends of Foo’s Ho Ho is a group of committed people who aims to support the iconic Foo’s Ho Ho restaurant when it fell on bad times after the passing away of the owner last year.

Last September, this restaurant was on the verge of closing down and people come together to form a Foo’s Ho Ho society to raise fund through such community dinners to help to revive it and make history comes alive.

You may click on the image to get a larger, more readable version.

In those hey days, there were actually two separate competing restaurants on the same street. There was the Foo’s and the Ho Ho. Foo’s and Ho Ho had to merge to survive and so today we have Foo’s Ho Ho.

Foo’s Ho Ho has seen better days. I was remarking to Suanne that we don’t see a lot of the platings of these design anymore. I am guessing it might not be easy to replace them once they break.

Foo’s Ho Ho started in 1955. In those days, it was the grandest of Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. This is where people would host wedding dinners. It is perhaps like the Kirin and Sun Sui Wah of today. So it holds a lot of nostalgic value to the “Lo Wah Kiu” … the old-school Overseas Chinese.

Suanne and I felt out of place to tell the truth. A lot of people who attended this event is “Lo Wah Kiu”. We were seated next to some elderly ladies who so proudly professed that they are old-school. We had some nice chat but the event got started. We would have loved to hear the stories of their lives in Chinatown of their younger days.

Yeah, everyone seems to know each other except us. But despite that we enjoyed that night and soaked in the nostalgic stories narrated by various people throughout the program-filled night.

The Friends of Foo’s Ho Ho put up these community meals and events once a month. For the night, the theme was Chinese Laundry Kids with stories from real laundry kids growing up in North America. They managed to invite two authors of Chinese history books.

The event started off with an old video on Chinatown and the Chinese laundry business called the Eight Pound Livelihood (the 8lb refers to the weight of the irons used in those days).

The first speaker of the night was Elwin Xie who shared his experience growing up in the Union Laundry in Vancouver.

I hope I am not boring you but there are food further down this blog post.

There are two other speakers who graced the event. John Jung, Professor Emeritus, Psychology, UCLA, from Georgia wrote a book on Chinese Laundries and spoke of his experience growing up in a Chinese laundry and of his research on a follow-up book on Chinese groceries and Chinese restaurant.

There was also a book reading by Judy Fong Bates, a former teacher, who wrote her short stories series of books on the Chinese culture in North America. One of her books, the Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, was selected as the book to read in city of Oregon recently.

Are you still there? LOL! Food coming up next …

This is an eight-course dinner for $30. The menu is based on what is called village style cooking. This is old school Americanized Chinese food which you don’t find a lot of anymore. Some of the dishes are reminiscent of what my mum used to cook at home when I was young.

The first course is the Appetizer Platter which has Deep Fried Ribs, Chicken Wings and Squid. With all the talking, by the time the first course is served, we were really hungry. You know, I want to defend … the food here for what its worth … lest food snob make any disparaging remark about it. Placed beside some of the best ribs, chicken wings and squid (or for the matter all the dishes below) against the ones we had in Foo’s Ho Ho, the food here will pale in comparison. For what it is worth, these food have nostalgic value and had been enjoyed by lots of people.

The second course is a simple Vegetable Clear Soup. A simple concoction of carrots, mushrooms and daikon.

I like simple soup like this at home. For me, I usually put steamed rice into the soup. I just love to eat it this way since I was young and never outgrew it. LOL!

Course 3 was really interesting. I was looking at it and at first glance I thought this is some old style omelette.

Apparently it is Deep Fried Chicken on Sticky Rice. Very interesting. I saw a poster outside the restaurant that said this is Foo’s Ho Ho signature dish. It has a sticky texture and the sticky rice flavour overwhelms the chicken.

I love this homey dish. Suanne makes it at home and my mum makes it once a week at home too.

It is called Steamed Pork with Preserved Radish. The pork looked like it is hand chopped because it is very coarse. This is best served with steamed rice especially with the saltish juices.

This is next followed-up with Stir Fry Bok Choy topped with Braised Mushroom which I like too.

As for the Curry Potato with Sliced Beef, I was not too keen about. For me, anything that has the word curry in it must be spicy, this is not. You know, the version of this dish I like a lot is the one with pork and cooked with soya sauce. It will look the same as above except darker.

The Steamed Fish (I think it’s pink salmon) with Black Beans was great. It must be a big fish considering the large piece of salmon in this dish.

The last dish was a vegetarian Dish consisting of glass noodle, bean curd sheet, gingko nut, snow peas, wood ears, carrot, suey choy.

The world is moving on and over time, it will be harder and harder for Foo’s Ho Ho to stay in business. On one hand, we don”t want to see restaurants like these change. Their charm is in what they are. But if they don’t change, the world will pass them by.

I applaud the effort of the Friends of Foo’s Ho Ho to protect this iconic corner on Pender and Columbia. They said they organize these events once a month. If you are interested to be kept informed of these events, you may contact Jacqueline Young (email thinkyoung@shaw.ca) who is the co-chair of the Friends of Foo’s Ho Ho.

BTW, until I was told last week, I just realized that the Foo’s Ho Ho neon sign above is chosen by the very uber foodie in Vancouver for his avatar. Do you know who that is?

Foo's Ho Ho on Urbanspoon

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Categorized Under: Cantonese/SouthernVancouver

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  1. Ed Lau says:

    The old sign is a Vancouver landmark. I remember it as a kid heading to Chinatown…asking my parents or grandma what the heck chop suey was…

  2. Crispy Lechon says:

    That would be fmed. I was surprised to find that his heritage is Filipino. I thought he was Chinese. Just like I was surprised to know that Dylan is Caucasian.

  3. waercress says:

    I’m glad that you about about Foo’s Ho Ho. The owner-cum-chef passed away last year due to cancer. His wife has taken over the business and cooking since; and she was originally from Vietnam and of Chinese heritage.

  4. I LOVE this place. My father took me here when I was very young. Said he used to visit it in his teen age years. The food was amazing. I haven’t been there in awhile but I have fond memory’s sitting there with wide eyes looking at all the glorious food that would arrive at your table. The smells, the people, the colours. Always amazing.

    Good article.

    Corey Allan Hawkins

  5. LotusRapper says:

    Thanks Ben & Suanne for posting this in detail AND taking videos of Prof. John Jung and Judy Fong-Bates’ presentations.

    I thought the evening was very well spent, very educational, and poignant and with a strong sense of community and camaraderie, regardless if one had Chinese heritage or not. The event is part of a very worthy cause and I invite anyone who’s interested in the history of Chinese heritage in Canada/BC/Vancouver and who would like to see cultural heritage institutions such as Foo’s Ho Ho preserved along with many many other legacies of the pioneering Chinese community to sign up to their Facebook page:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vancouver-BC/Friends-of-Foos-Ho-Ho/252555775193

    I only wish they had more dishes that glowed in the dark, like S&S pork (very fitting to John’s book), lemon chicken, fried wontons etc. ;-)

    Re: video of John …… holy cow I have so much grey hair !!

  6. LotusRapper says:

    Todd Wong (Toddish McWong of Gung Haggis Fat Choy) has a couple of good references to Foo’s Ho Ho and the original Ho Ho’s. BTW, Todd did a splendid job MC-ing The Laundry Kids event:

    http://www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com/blog/_archives/2009/7/12/4253641.html

    http://www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com/blog/_archives/2009/9/10/4316692.html

    http://www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com/blog/_archives/2010/5/28/4540084.html

  7. Wow, the restaurant looks large, modern, and well-lit, almost belying its history. (They moved to this new location, I guess?) The picture in my head was that of a greasy-spoon Chinese-Canadian diner. I would love to try that chicken with sticky rice.

    It’s great that we still have these old institutions with all their culture and history. I can just imagine how barren the cultural and culinary landscape of Vancouver would be without these long-standing restaurants. I hope they bought the building!

    • LotusRapper says:

      JS – what you see is the original Ho Ho location. Upon the Louies of Foo’s (Foo’s used to be kitty corner, where Peking Furniture is now) purchasing of Ho Ho’s, they moved to the current spot.

  8. wyn says:

    In our Twitter conversation to which I did respond but it evaporated on Hootsuite (still on Twitter.com), I said that I found out about the dinner too late, just the day before, and already had plans. Had I known that you, Suanne, and LotusRapper were familiar faces, and had more notice, I would have gone.

    The food looks fantastic in that the “entree” (last four dishes pictured) are very, very similar to what I would have eaten at home, cooked by my mother: not glamourous, not pretty, but hearty and delicious. She would made the pork dish with Chinese mushrooms instead of preserved vegetables and would not even have garnished it with the cilantro–which I am adamant is a “restaurant” and not very Cantonese touch. It’s great to learn that a restaurant in town would serve truly home-style cooking but who wants to go out for that if they can prepare their own family’s recipe and other dazzling restaurants boast of “fusion” and New Age creations?

    Thank you for sharing the YouTube videos of John Jung and Judy Fong Bates. JJ was hilarious in his frankness of the Chinese way of not adorning their restaurants and adapting whatever building they rented. And I look forward to reading JFB’s memoir–a long waiting list already at the library. I almost didn’t need to go after viewing your video and seeing food that are so familiar to me!

  9. LotusRapper says:

    Wyn, too bad you couldn’t make it.

    I also recommend getting JJ’s books if you don’t have already. I bought two (Chinese Laundries, S&S – Life in Chinese Family Restaurants) that night, then ordered the 3rd online (Southern Fried Rice) later on. Haven’t been able to put them down.

    • John Jung says:

      Wow…thanks for the support of my books, LotusRapper! I was pleased to see the enthusiastic community support for Foo’s Ho Ho, and feel priviliged to have been a participant.
      I also thank Bob and Suanne for this coverage, not only of Judy and my presentations, but for providing a detailed account of the dishes served and for championing the preservation of Vancouver’s historic restaurant.

      John Jung

  10. Pinoy Gourmet says:

    A bit of Historical Trivia about FooHoHo,Former Prime Minister Trudeau considered one of Canada s greatest Prime Ministers loved going to FooHoHo whenever he was in Vancouver and He would spend hours watching the Chinatown scene,for those of you unfamiliar with Canadian History,He was the one responsibile for changing the law to allow the None Europeans to Immigrate to Canada.Some Historians consider this his favorite Chinese restaurant,When told by some critics that the Chinese food overseas was the real thing,He answered Yes,But that food was not native born Canadian

  11. LotusRapper says:

    A visual trip down memory lane(s) ……..

    http://www.vancouverneon.com/p_chinatown.htm

    • el_lobo_solo says:

      Great link. I was thinking about the heritage neon angle with that photo from the 1950-60s in the write-up. I still miss Ming’s neon sign from the 80s. Very fond memories of that place.

  12. Bill Barilko says:

    Yes I remember that was PE Trudeau’s favourite here in Vancouver, have walked by a few times in the past few months, maybe it’s time to stop by for lunch.

  13. Pinoy Gourmet says:

    It is said that during his visits to the restaurant,He developed his interest in Multiculturalism that ultimately led him to change the Immigration law of Canada to allow the None European people to enter Canada.Think about it,All our cultural diversity can trace it roots to Foo s Ho Ho,The restaurant is worth saving

  14. grayelf says:

    We hit Foo’s Ho Ho when we’re heading to Tinseltown to see a movie, though it’s been a while. I always order the lemon chicken here as it is an exemplary version of that often-misunderstood dish :-).

    I used to go to Foo’s regularly when I was in college but I remember it being on the same side of the street, just a bit further west, a long a skinny space.

  15. I agree, most if not all of these dishes look like something served at home! Quite interesting how sticky rice and fried chicken can be put together though. Never have seen that anywhere!

    • LotusRapper says:

      Going by appearance alone, I suspect they take a deboned butterflied chicken, press hard against a bed of sticky rice, throw into large deep-frying wok, then cut it up later.

      I gotta say that dish could have used more flavoring.

  16. [...] had been a long while since Suanne and I were in Chinatown. The last time was when we attended the Chinese Laundry Kids event in Foo’s Ho Ho. That event vetted my interest in the storied past of [...]

  17. Shirl says:

    There should be a book on the Chinese restaurants that have gone in Vancouver. Marco Polo, Golden Rickshaw, Hong Kong Kitchen, Diamond Head, WK Gardens and more.

    I feel sad for the loss of these places yet thrilled that Chinese food is more sophisticated but we can’t forget that we have roots and memories in the home style cooking. It may not be grand but it is served with no pretentiousness and big portions.

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