The Chinese Restaurant Award list does not only list dishes that are from restaurants. It goes the extra mile to even include dishes from humbler places like food courts. So you see on the list dishes that will cost over $100 (eg. Alaskan King Crab) and simpler dishes like a $4 Xiao Long Baus from a food court.
There are a number of Asian food courts in Metro Vancouver. For us the best is the one in the Aberdeen Food Court. There is also the food court in Crystal Mall (Burnaby), the Richmond Public Market and Parker Place (Richmond) — all of which are always packed during meal times.
With so many great food courts, there is one that flew under the radar. It is the one located in the same strip mall on No 3 Road where Hon’s used to be. It is called the Empire Center.
I have a feeling not many people even know there is a food court in there. We were there three years ago when we tried the Snake Soup and Stewed Beef organ Noodles (see blog here). Since then we had never stepped into that food court.
Amidst some Chinese Herbal and Ginseng stores, this food court has that laid back feel to it. In some sense, it is quite dead for an Asian mall. Here, everything moves in a very slow pace — a world of difference from the other Asian food courts. So you can see customers enjoying their food while watching Chinese serials on the TVs hung from the ceiling.
Right in the middle of the food court, is a stall called James Snacks. I am not sure why this is called snacks when what they really serve are full meals.
Click on the image above to show larger view if you can’t read it.
Festooned all over the stalls are signs of their dishes. We were there for their Claypot Ostrich Rice. They call the claypot, sand pot which I think is a direct translation from the word “sar bow”.
Their claypot rice ranges from $6 to $9 and includes versions of:
- preserved sausage
- minced meat with dried squid
- diced chicken with dried octopus
- beef with preserved vegetable
- minced meat with salted mustard
- spareribs with black bean sauce
- free range chicken with mushroom
- frog with ginger sauce
- ostrich with BBQ sauce
Be prepared to wait! We were told that the claypot rice will require a wait time of 30 minutes. This is because they start cooking the rice in the claypot when you order, i.e. from scratch. The wait wasn’t that long for us but still it took 20-25 minutes for ours to be ready.
They will take down your name and call you when the claypot rice is ready.
It was super hot when served. The soy sauce is given on the side. The whole pot sizzles and steams when we pour the soy sauce into it.
The ostrich meat tastes like … well … like ostrich meat. LOL! I can’t describe it any better. OK, I expected it to be gamey but it was not. It is a little spicy. Suanne thinks that it could be from the white pepper.
Actually what I like most is the rice. It is dryish. The best part is the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot … lots of it and just like the Persian Tadig. The fragrance of the shittake mushroom permeates nicely into the rice giving it a nice flavour and aroma.
I don’t know how to describe this better. Well … you know … when I put a spoonful of the rice and ostrich meat near my mouth and just draw in a whiff, I can taste the aroma. Then tasting the rice and the ostrich meat is yet another sensation. And … then eating the crisp rice at the bottom is different.
OK, I declare that this is the best’est claypot rice I had ever had in Metro Vancouver!
We initially wanted to also order the “frog with ginger sauce” claypot rice but we saw the table next to ours eating rice directly out of a steaming basket which is wrapped in a large piece of lotus leaf.
It is called the Steamed Rice with Lotus Leaf and has two versions. James Snacks recommended the Spareribs with black bean sauce ($5.50). The other option is the chicken with black fungus.
This is equally as great as the claypot rice. The rice is topped with suey choy. The lotus leaf provides a subtle fragrance to the rice and helps keeps the rice warm longer. OMG … you gotta try this one too.
I can see why James Snack’s claypot rice is so good. They never cut corners. They do things the right way even though it is unconventional. The quality of the food is paramount.
For instance … they have a lot of take outs. For people who take out, they let the customer take the rice away along with the claypot!! The claypot is so hot that they pad it with cardboard. Can you imagine that?
They told me they take a deposit of $3 for take outs and is refunded upon the return of the pot.
I was highly impressed to tell the truth.
There are other stalls worth discovering at this food court. Right across from James Snacks, there is a stall that does extreme meat stuff. It is called Lai Leung Kee Delicatessen and they have things like:
- Beef Omasum
- Spicy Beef Aorta
- Pig Blood with Chives
- Tai Sze Snake Soup
There is also another stall called the Choi House Special Chicken and they have interesting items on their menu too:
- Beef Tongue in Bun
- Pork Tongue in Bun
We will most definitely coming back to this food court again to check them out!
This Post Has 19 Comments
Love that “tutong” (that’s the Tagalog word for the crust). My mother and I usually fight for the “tutong” — gotta check this place out with my mom one of these days. Thanks!
Hmmm … come to think of it … a lot of people loves the tutong, crispy part. Now, why hasn’t anyone created a dish with more tutong rice? You know, like making it on a flatter pot/dish or something.
Ditto for the tutong. I usually order the sparerib rice hotpot and I get some soup with beef entrails from Lau Leung Kee. I would then drown the “tutong” rice with the soup. Yum!!
BTW, you can call ahead to order the hotpot. They would ask you for the pick up time and then cook it 30 mins before you arrive.
Hi Crispy Lechon:
You’re right. The best of both worlds. Why didn’t I think of that? BTW, there is this chicken stall at the furthest end of the food court … they have very interesting menu. Have you ever tried that before?
I saw that chicken place however I just finished eating a sparerib hotpot dinner from James snack and so I had to give it a pass.
Mijune did a review of that place when they were still in their original place in Admiralty Center food court.
There is now another chicken place that took over their spot in Admiralty center. I’ve been there several times and they do serve good steamed chickens. You can also get them in different cooking styles in addition to Hai Nan.
i love love love the crispies at the bottom of the claypot
whenever i have time to make rice with claypot i always make it so there’s the crispies
using claypot to make rice is actually not that difficult 🙂
What?!? Using claypot to make rice is actually not that difficult? Why … that Suanne … she made me think it’s a big deal making it. I am going to show her your comment and expects claypot rice (with nice crisp burnt rice) at home next week. I’ll let her know “Carol said it’s easy”.
The trick is to spread a little oil at the bottom of the clay pot before you put in the rice. This will keep the rice from sticking at the bottom and it will also create a good crust. Cook it till you see steam holes on top of the rice. Then add your favorite topping (chicken, spareribs, chinese sauage) and cook some more until the meat is cooked. You can also precook the meat before adding it to the rice.
I think the hard part is that we are now so used to cooking rice in a rice cooker. Cooking it on stove top requires more attention. It’s very easy to burn the rice.
i’m a “pot bottom rice crispies” fanatic and found this place a couple of years ago. Definitely one of the best clay pot rice in town – the other good one is from a restaurant in Continental Plaza on Cambie Rd in Rmd… Lam Chu Kee? i’m not sure if that’s the official English name. Their clay pot rice is awesome too, even better pot bottom crispies but the accompanying meat is a bit saltier… skip the soy sauce if you try it there.
my fav from this place is actually the pot with the ginger (yeah it pairs with frog… which is like chicken with A LOT of softer non sharp bones). The ginger makes it sooo aromatic. Never tried the lotus leaf rice there but will sure do next time!
i never knew this place is called James SNACK in English, good to know! maybe they pick the word “snack” to pay a pun on their Chinese name… which is “Jim-See-Lack”…. Jim See is just James… and “Lack” sort of means “awesome”, or “good at something”, so….
Hi Baldtomato: Ahh … the Chinese name sounded nicer and has a ring to it. That James Snack name just confuses me. BTW, we had been to Lam Chu Kee before but did not order the claypot rice. http://chowtimes.com/2009/01/14/lam-chu-kee-restaurant-on-union-square-in-richmond/
Thanks for your post Ben! Had tried several version of their claypot rice before, but not the lotus leaf one. Thumbs up for this place which I stumbled across last year by chance. Looking forward to having crispy rice claypot in HK’s Temple St this Sep……a must when visiting HK!
Hi HM: Although I been to HK several times before, it was during the pre-chowtimes era. So, I had never paid much attention to food there before. It is only lately that I began to pay more attention to them. Have a nice trip to HK. Share with us your fooding exploits!
Hey Ben, yes very looking forward to my trip esp Yung Kee’s roasted goose & century eggs as well all those popular Macaunese food! BTW, agree with Carol that homemade claypot rice is not difficult after all. After I read your post, I made “Lap-mei” rice i.e. assortment of Chinese sausages, duck, pork, etc….all you need is a well-seasoned claypot and “patience” (pass this on to Suanne)……..hahaha…..
My trick for the rice not to stick or burn is to constantly stir it on high heat until it bubbles (approx. 5 mins) and then turn the heat to the lowest, throw in all your ingredients, close lid and simmer for at least 1/2hr. I don’t normally pre-oil my claypot otherwise the final product will be too oily. Do not pre-cook your meat…it’s not the same. Before serving, pour in your sauce and let stand for a few mins with lid on so that the crispy rice soaks up the sauce.
tutong rice! besides the Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, i think the Persians also really like the ‘crispy rice.
carol is right, using claypot to make rice is not hard.
can make lap mei or claypot style rice on your rice cooker too for those who dont have a claypot. same principal applies for both method. though the clay pot does have better flavor..
make sure you have a good seal and not allow too much steam to escape AND cook over low heat for longer period is best, I feel. low heat also prevent it from burning too early..
yung kee roose goose is a must every time in HKG.
Was just there the other day, totally walked by this stall. Oh well, time to go back :).
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