Update 15-Nov-2009: Aroma Garden is now closed. In its place is a hotpot restaurant. However, Aroma Garden has now moved to a new location 5 minutes walk away and is now known as Bushuair Restaurant. The menu in Bushuair Restaurant is identical to Aroma Garden.
I … errr … get very excited easily.
So you gotta learn how to look beyond my excitement while reading my blog. This is one more restaurant that really excites me. Bear with me OK?
I was driving past the new Aberdeen Skytrain station on No 3 Road when I spotted this sign above — Mao-Ze-Dong’s Most Favoured Dishes. I am not sure about you … but for me, I am a true sucker for taglines like these. So, last weekend we went to check it out.
We got confused. The sign outside by No 3 Road says that the restaurant name is Aroma Garden. However, in this strip mall, there is only ONE restaurant with a sign that says “Gordon Park” and “Xiangcai Museum”. We had to walk out to the sign and match the Chinese characters. The Chinese characters matches but the English translation is downright different.
What is this thing about “Xiangcai Museum” anyway? Anyone knows?
Anyway, I am going to call this restaurant Aroma Garden based on the receipt we had. Aroma Garden is located just at the Aberdeen Skytrain station and tucked right at the back of the strip mall. You can’t see the restaurant from No 3 Road. You gotta drive in. Parking is at a premium here during dinner time.
Aroma Garden is a very Chinesey restaurant. You will likely find mostly Mainland Chinese customers speaking Mandarin here.
I like the decor here which looks authentic Chinese with lanterns and wooden window frames.
This is a Hunan cuisine restaurant which explains the Mao Zee Dong reference. Mao, you see, is Hunanese. I am almost a Hunan race. Bet you don’t know that. I belong to the Hu-man race.
LOL! Alright lame joke.
The restaurant is filled with the distinctive aroma of Sichuan peppers. Their menu is a colorful catalogue with pictures which helps us decide our choices. This helps especially when their English translations are horrendous.
The first thing we try to look for in the menu is any reference to Mao’s favourite dishes. We only found one that says “Mao Pork Braised in Brown Sauce”. This is $10.
So we asked our waitress for other Mao’s dishes. She laughed! She said … EVERYTHING in the menu is Mao’s favourite dishes.
The Mao Pork Braised in Brown Sauce is amazing. It is layered pork with a really thick layer of pork fat at the top. The fat layer really melts in the mouth and is really fat-fat-fat fat. Despite it being so soft and fat, it still retain it’s shape perfectly and did not break during the cooking.
It has a slight spiciness with a pronounce flavour from the star anise, chili and ginger. There are potatoes at the bottom of the pot too. I know this is not a healthy dish but it sure was delicious.
Rice is different here. You could get a bucket of steamed rice or you could order the “Immortal Rice Bowl” that you see above. It came served in a clay dish very much like those that is used to serve Tapas in Spain or perhaps like the water bowl that your dog drinks from. Right in the middle of rice is a piece of red date. Unique don’t you think?
But it is so hard to eat from the dish. Firstly it is shallow which makes it hard to pick up the rice even with a spoon, let alone a chopstick. And you look so uncouth lifting up the dish and eating from it like a normal Chinese bowl. Moreover, there are so little rice here too.
We had to order more. This time we asked them to bring a bucket instead.
Beer Duck sounded really good. This is $16 and served in a clay pot. It has red and green peppers and also slightly spicy. The duck was understandably boney but it also had very little meat.
While this tastes good there is no hint whatever of the beer as the name of this dish says. Maybe all the beer evaporated during the cooking.
Our waitress recommended the fish above. Always be cautious on trusting too much of Chinese waitress recommendations. They often recommend their most expensive dish.
It is called Duojiaozhengyu which costs a whopping $36. So we said it is too expensive for us. She said she can make a smaller portion for us for $20! Twenty bucks is more like it.
Suanne thinks that the word Duojiaozhengyu is translated as Many Chili Steamed Fish. It is Ling Cod fish head and is very fresh with lots of meat. You just gotta work at peeling off the bone layers.
The Chili is awesome — hot and lots of it. It was so hot that Nanzaro and I choked over the chili — fantastic!
Don’t bother to learn how to spell this other dish. It is called Xueligongroumo. Suanne translates this as:
Xueligong = the name of the vegetable (what is it in English?)
Roumo = ground meat
The vegetables are chopped and cooked with some minced pork and chili bit. It is crunchy all round with the odd bite that is spicy if you happen to bite on a chili! We like this … $11.
I think Hunan cuisine is very much like Sichuan cuisine except that it is lighter in the use of oil.
The bill came up to $72 before tips. This is for the four of us in the family.
The restaurant is full of customers the night we were there. So I think it is a popular restaurant to those who know them. I won’t be surprise if this is the ONLY Hunan cuisine restaurant in Metro Vancouver. Are there any Hunan restaurants you know of?
We ordered way too much food. On hindsight, we should have ordered three dishes and it would have been more than enough.
So what do you think? Does it look like a place you would like to check out? I hope you will like it as much as we did.
We shall return.
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Actually, the main difference between sichuan and hunan cuisine is the spice. Sichuan is mala whereas hunan is just la [numbing v. pure spice]. There’s a generous use of dried peppers. Hunan can even be said to be spicier and oilier than sichuan. I think that the oiliness depends on the restaurant, since oil is central to xiang Chinese cuisine.
Xiang cai = lit. aromatic vegetables [in context: extremely delicious dishes], so basically, a great restaurant.
I think Alvin Garden in Bby is another Hunan restaurant in Metro Vancouver.
Dou Jiao Zheng Yu
means chopped chili steam fish
xueligong is a kind of fresh green mustard
“Xueligong” is a young mustard green. Some know it as the preserve snow vegetable but much more fresh.
Xue-li-hong (or shi-li-hong) is snow cabbage or Chinese mustard greens.
“Xiangcai” is the Mandarin pronunciation of the 4th and 5th word of the restaurant’s Chinese name. It basically means Hunan cuisine (“xiang” is the abbreviation for Hunan province, whereas “cai” is cuisine). As for “museum”, I think the owners were trying to find the equivalent for the word “Guan” (the last Chinese word of the restaurant’s 6-word Chinese name, which means “house”), and their poor English translation leads them to the word “museum”, which in Mandarin is “Bo Wu GUAN”.
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I love the menu translations there….I would like to try the “Wild Speculation Beef Salamander” next time I’m there LOL.
Ben, you must go to Alvin Garden (I prefer to still call it by its old name “The Xiang”).
Another Hunan places is Hu’s Hu Nan on Kingsway. More of a family run joint – I have not been able to successfully dine there though – it has either been closed or had a closed family dinner happening each time I tried.
BTW….it is called “Gordon Park” after a well-known Hunan restaurant in Taipei run an influential chef of Hunan cuisine named Peng Chang Gui (he is often called “the father of modern Hunan cuisine”).
I don’t know it they two establishments are related (perhaps through a restaurant group).
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Mao was a mass murder. And the lack of English suggests a lack of interest and respect towards Canada.