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 firstname.lastname@example.org) 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?