Update 02-Jan-2011: T-Hut is reported closed recently. Refer comments on this post below.
Wait! Don’t go! Continue reading.
I know … the name of this restaurant, T-Hut Cafe, is a very unimaginative name … BUT, let me tell you … for the food geeks and those who like savouring all kinds of cuisines this is one restaurant you will want to take note of.
I know. One look at the restaurant, you would have brushed it aside as a hole-in-the-wall. They have the worse looking awning I had ever seen. For the casual passerby, they may even think that they are no longer in business.
From the name T-Hut Cafe, I actually thought that this is a Bubble Tea House. Would you not?
Even the red on yellow sign at the top of the door says “Taiwanese Snacks” and “Beef Noodles”. In the past life, T-Hut surely must have been a Bubble Tea House. They just did not bother to change the name … nor even the sign. It is misleading because they don’t serve Taiwanese Snacks or Beef Noodles here. No siree.
T-Hut Cafe, dear Friends of Chowtimes, is a Chiu Chow restaurant.
And a very authentic one at that too.
Suanne and I stumbled upon this restaurant about a month ago as we were walking along Fraser after having iced desserts in PinPin. I almost walked into the sandwich board placed outside the restaurant. That was when Suanne said that the three words shabbily painted on the board says “Chiu Chow Choy”. In English that means Chiu Chow Cuisine.
I can’t believe how bad a job they did with the sign. They just hand painted the three words over the board without even bothering at least to paint the background. Such shabbiness.
With what little Chinese Suanne knows, she managed to pick out some of the words on the hand written sign pasted outside the door of the restaurant. She saw words like:
- Golden … award … Chiu Chow … oyster omelet
- Famous … belly warming … pepper … sour mustard … pork stomach soup
Hmmm … those were the descriptions of a typical Chiu Chow cuisine.
We thought that was interesting but we did not even bothered to take down the address or even the name of the restaurant. We just knew it was on Fraser somewhere near PinPin with the intention of checking them out sometime in the distant future (given how long our to-try list is!).
A few weeks later, I casually mentioned this restaurant on the post on Cabin 5555 (see here). The next thing we know it, JS and Grayelf was already talking about checking this place out. Gosh, they are such dedicated foodies. So JS organized a chowdown in T-Hut and asked if Suanne and I wanted to go.
What kind of a question is that? LOL!
I made reservation for dinner. When I called, the lady who picked up the phone was clearly very proud of her own restaurant. Actually she was almost bordering on cockiness. She was talking to me like I already knew their specialty dishes and sounded a bit disappointed when I told her well, I don’t know what I wanted. I only wanted to make a reservation and was not prepared to order the dishes too. She was telling me I must pre-order the “Low Sui Ngap” (translated as old water duck). She went on rattling a few dishes which went swosh over my head. So yeah, because of her enthusiasm, I said sure … reserve a “Low Sui Ngap” for us and that we will order the other dishes when we get there.
So we met for dinner … the six of us. The inside of the restaurant is not much better than the way it looked outside.
The tables are small and cramp. And they can only accommodate two larger tables (seats 10 and 8) which were booked for the night already. The next bigger sized table is six which is oddly arranged with a couple of chairs jutting out to the corridor. Yeah, we were forced to take that odd table.
The lady was very chatty. And she has a very noticeable accent which I assume is Chiu Chow. She told us they are from Swatow and had actually been here for three years already … and all these while choses to operate under the radar. She also said that they do not want to advertise or promote their business because they cannot handle any more customer than they already have. He he he … lets see how this changes things after this post gets published on chowtimes.
I asked her for the menu. She brushed me aside and said “no menu” … and at the same time pointed to the wall. That is their menu. You may click on the pictures above to show it in larger image.
There are a lot of dishes but I know that the best of the best is the ones on the largest of posters.
The orange ones said something like … old water duck (again!) … American duck … special selection … small … Chiu Chow … sand … taro.
The red poster had words like … half deep fried … yellow flower fish … Chiu Chow … big … stir fry … vegetable … minced meat … fried rice.
Sorry those were some of the smattering of words we know. LOL!
I told the lady boss I can’t read Chinese and she told me don’t worry, she will decide for us! Frankly, that works for us because she seems like she sounded so confident she knows what we wanted.
Actually, we were at her mercy.
The first dish that came is the one I pre-ordered the day before. This is called the “Low Sui Ngap” … the old water duck which is a very traditional Chiu Chow dish.
The “old water” refers to the … soya stock (or sauce) that remains in the stove and continuously replenished by adding new sauces to existing … never made fresh. Legend has it that some really authentic ones have the same sauce made in the same pot for decades. That is what “old water” mean!
The sauce is really great with steamed rice. A fan-toong (rice bucket) like me immediately asked for steamed rice. Yeah, the sauce is NOT to be wasted. It must be savoured before the first piece of meat.
The duck meat was everything I expected it to be. It was flavourful and the meat lean and tender with a nice clingy skin on it. Half of the plate is made up of boneless breast meat (very good) and the other half is bonier (that is boney-er if you know what I am trying to say).
The dip given was simple vinegar which gives the duck a twist in taste. Great start!
The Chiu Chow discussions on the Cabin 5555 blog post started over the Taiwanese Oyster Omelette (which I was saying is not how I like it). JS pointed out that Chiu Chow style oyster omelette are famous and is distinctively different. It sure was.
The oyster omelette serving was large. It is clearly very crispy on the outside, quite unlike the Taiwanese variation which is starchy. It is also not egg-y.
They have lots of small fresh oysters in the omelette. Overall the dish is not great. However, it is authentic and good. It is made the way it is meant to be made Chiu-Chow style.
This will appeal to the food geeks … especially the ones who likes to dissect the dish. Especially people like JS … and Grayelf … and TS … and Ben. Suanne and Mr Grayelf was just there for the ride. Mr Grayelf was just glad that there are food on the table. Suanne? Well, she was just glad that she did not have to cook and do the dishes that night.
Here is their other specialty. The Pork Stomach Pepper Soup.
She made sure we heard “No MSG” when she served this on the table.
Actually the Chiu Chow food here is not the refined type. This is really homestyle food, just like the way they make it at home. So, yeah … the presentation is a bit rough at the edges. I can’t even describe the food as delicate, fine or exquisite. I can only use words like tasty and satisfying. In other words, it is comfort food.
The pickled mustard here is crunchy. The soup was peppery and delicious. The pork stomach was chewy. I was thinking they should leave a bit more of the black pepper in the soup. I just love biting into the black pepper because it gives a burst of pepper-i-ness (oh man … I know I am slaughtering the English language but at least I think you know what I mean).
The lady owner said that kids from 3 years old to 80 year old seniors will like this. She was so poetic when she said that. LOL!
That Chiu Chow Fried Rice has dried shrimp, wood ear, eggs and some kind of preserved vegetables in it.
It doesn’t look pretty. The rice was like broken rice. At a glance one could even mistaken them for couscous.
It was good. Again, it was not great. And again, it was made the way it was supposed to be … chiu chow style, no more no less.
Grayelf was observed poking around this dish. She … errr … took the dish from the middle of the table to her side and had a really closer inspection of the dried fish (the dark brown pieces). With us it is OK but such close inspection might raise some eyebrows with more traditional Chinese. LOL!
This is called Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with ‘Tai Tei Yue’. The smokey dried fish was quite hard to chew on. This dish is nothing special about it.
BTW, Grayelf, you did not quite like this one, did you? I did not ask but what are your thoughts?
I learned that the Chiu Chow cuisine is the only Chinese cuisine which has a formal section for dessert. Dessert plays an integral and distinct part of the cuisine.
The lady owner said this like three times … each time repeating that it takes a long time to make this and that we are lucky they have this for us. So, if you want to try this, I think you should pre-order this dish.
The name of the dessert is “‘Wang Sar Yu Toe'” — translated as Deep Fried Taro coated in Sugar.
The taro was creamy and melts in the mouth. It was also sweet obviously from the sugar coating. Suanne loved this for sure. Me? It was OK.
I think Chiu Chow folks will know how to appreciate this a lot.
The hand written bill has that same matching look all round with the restaurant. It worked out to be $20 per person.
Lots of food for sure. We even had a little bit left over to take home.
On the way out, we saw the remnants of the previous business sitting lorn-fully at the corner. Seems like you can order Bubble Tea here but seriously who does?
We also picked up the business card on the way out. This is interesting … it appears that they print the “Big Four King Signage”. The four are:
- Oyster Omelette
- Old Water Duck
- Pork Stomach Pepper Soup, and
- The Taro Dessert
All four of them distinctive to the Chiu Chow cooking.
So yeah, go try it out so that you know what Chiu Chow cooking is all about.
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Ben, I forgot to tell you that I ordered the so-called Chiu Chow oyster omelette at Jubilant (#47) the other week. It’s just EGGS and OYSTERS. Still not quite the “oh ah chien” I’m looking for and so the search goes on. . .
Certainly, the food here is very homestyle Chiu Chow, quite different from the “banquet”/high-end Chiu Chow, but I found it quite enjoyable as well. Thanks for spotting the restaurant!
I had been told about this crypto Chiu Chow place in a bubble tea shop by a local Chinese food expert, but he thought it might have closed so I never followed up. Good to know it is there.
Thanks for the review Ben! Chiu Chow cuisine is one of my favorite and something I dearly miss (had that on nearly a weekly basis when I was in Hong Kong). Just made a reservation to try it out!
Whoa! That’s fast Cici. LOL! Let me know what you think. Ben
The Chinese characters for “old water duck” is lu3shui3ya1 which translate to brined/marinated duck. It sounds similar to the Cantonese pronunciation for “old water duck” but it’s a different tone and different characters. By the way, the dishes looked tasty. I’m always interested to find out why restaurant operators choose not to have an English menu. Limited English fluency? An exclusiveness when your customers are restricted to Chinese-literates? Bear in mind, there may be a two-tier pricing when there are two separate menus for English vs Chinese customers.
Hi Lily: You know, I don’t think there is a 2-tier pricing because they actually have the prices written on the “menu” on the wall. BTW, thanks for clarifying the “old water duck” pronounciation. Ben
Thanks for the post, Ben. This hits the ol’ heart strings for me, as my grandparents are from Chiu Chow. Can’t wait to try the Chiu Chow style oyster congee.
My Chinese reading skills aren’t the best, but I noticed not all of the dishes posted on the wall are Chiu Chow (I think I see a chili oil wonton posted, for example).
Hi Joe: Oh yes, the congee. We noticed that too but alas we had too much food. I would love to try that one day but given that we hardly make return visits to restaurants, it will be a long time until we go back again. Sigh. Ben
My Dad’s from Chiu Chow, hence I am as well. I’m definitely going to go here because my dad really misses this kind of cooking. THANKS!
Oh dear I miss Pork Stomach Pepper Soup sooo much! I always have it when I go back home to my grandparents in those little stands on the streets and they are the yummiest!!!
I can already imagine the T-hut owner lady screaming at you Ben, for giving them too much customers and business! =D
Too bad there is no English menu. I would love to try this place but…
You can speak to her in Hokkien. Some similar words and sounds to Teochew/Chiu Chow and most likely she’ll understand what you want. She does speak several dialects of Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese/Teochew) and she can speak English.
That’s a good idea. My Hokkien is a bit rusty but I think I can still communicate with it. Incidentally, is Chiu Chow cuisine similar to Fujian (Hokkien) cuisine? I remember eating really good oa-chiens (oyster omellette) in Ongpin. (Manila Chinatown).
Chiu Chow cuisine is somewhat closer to Hokkien cuisine than Cantonese is to Hokkien — but of course still not the same.
Can she speak Chiu Chow, because my dad would be all over that lol.
It’s unfortunate they don’t have English-language menus. While I’m sure she’d offer to explain to non-Asian language-speaking customers what the offerings are (if not too busy), it’s still a somewhat exclusive and unfair practice.
The menu is very limited — and if you talk to the proprietress, I’m pretty sure she’ll point you to the same dishes that we had that night. When we were there, there were two other tables during that time and the dishes they got were the same as our dishes. I’m thinking those dishes are their specialties, available, and some of the other dishes on the wall are probably not always available. I wouldn’t be surprised if she refuses to serve the other dishes up. LOL
Maybe she’s aspiring to be the “9 Dishes” of Chiu Chow 😉
Our family loves the oyster omelette from Phnom Phen. How does it compare?
Hi Scooby Doo: I had never tried the oyster omelette from Phnom Penh before although I heard very good things about it. Maybe JS had tried the ones in Phnom Penh before and is able to compare it to T-Hut’s? Or maybe even Grayelf? Ben
I haven’t tried the oyster omelette at PP because I don’t like oysters too much (though I didn’t mind them at T-Hut, because they were surrounded by crunchy goodness!). I believe js said elsewhere she hasn’t tried the PP one either. Maybe fmed has? I do know that whenever we go they are nearly as popular as the wings, with many tables ordering them. I also remember they are served with lots of cilantro.
The oyster omelette at PP is probably the second most popular thing on the menu after the wings. It is good but not great (IMO). The best I’ve had was at VIP’s kitchen (the now closed Chiu Chow restaurant) in West Van.
As an aside, Phnom Penh’s food is best described as Chinese-Cambodian (specifically Chiu Chow). Many common Cambodian (and Vietnamese) dishes have Chiu Chow origins. Cambodia’s ethnic Chinese are mostly Chiu Chow. (I think this was mentioned somewhere else on Chowtimes….maybe by _js_?)
Ben,Do they have an English Menu???
Hi Pinoy Gourmet: I asked for the English menu too and the lady told me no. They don’t even have a menu in Chinese. The “menu” is basically all there pasted on the wall. For a place like T-Hut, I think you should just have the four dishes mentioned on their business card. That is their specialties. Ben
Could rename themselves to “4 Dishes” 🙂
More mysterious and fun than “T-Hut” 🙂
Taiwanese Oyster pancake (starchy) and Chiu Chow Oyster Omelette (much more eggy) are just totally different dishes. So you can’t really compare the two.
btw. I’ve been to this restaurant a while ago. My bf is Chiu-Chownese and he wasn’t very happy with the dishes. It’s prob as good as we get in Metro Vancouver now, since the much better Chiu Chow restaurant (V.I.P. Kitchen) in N. Vancouver is closed down.
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Haha….Ben, now I know where they are after reading your post! When you mentioned Chiu Chow food along Fraser in your Cabin 5555 post, I was wondering you must be mistaken….now, I must try their duck & pig stomach soup. Like you guys, I only recognize some Chinese words, but thanks for the tip!
Hi Ben, went to T-Hut today, had basically the same dishes as you minus the fried rice & dessert, but we ordered a fish dish which wasn’t what you would expect for $22! My dinner party said I make tastier version! LOL!! You were so right about the chatty lady owner & she also pointed out the soup having no “msg”! It was really good, lots of peppercorn. Overall, I still prefer the oyster egg from PP.
Hi HM: What was the reason you did not order the dessert? Was it because they don’t have it available or you’re just not into desserts. I thought that the dessert is very unique (not that I like sweet dessert very much myself) and worth trying just to know what its like. I don’t think you will easily find it anywhere local. The way I describe T-Hut is that the food is good … not great. It is an interesting restaurant that one should go and have a different experience, that’s all. Ben
I think that dessert was my favourite item from our CC dinner. Really different, at least for me, and tasty, not to mention deep fried which is key for me :-).
Hi Ben, you are right. The food is good, homestyle, comfort food. This place is a hole in the wall, but I do find the lady owner abit pushy. She didn’t give me a chance to enquire about other Teochiu dishes besides the ones she carries, not even after I told her I’m very familiar with Teochiu cuisine & spoke Teochiu to her! LOL!! In the end, I gave up & left it all up to her. We didn’t have the taro dessert simply because we had this many times before in HK and I think the order is too big for the 5 of us. However, we will definitely try T-Hut’s when we have a bigger party to do it justice! BTW, I’ve made reservations for Teochiu food in Kowloon City in Sep, so I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. T-Hut’s duck was certainly authentic, but I would preferred if it had been goose instead… Hmmm……have you tried “lo-sui” goose webs, gizzards, livers & intestines before?? Dunk these in “taopan” chili sauce & it’s so heavenly!!
This is an amusing restaurant to eat in!! I have been there several times and it’s always fun to hear what’s happening around. It is operated by a husband and wife team. Most of the time, we just pre-book a table and let the wife decide what we will have. Most of the stuff on the wall menu needs to be pre-booked anyways, so we gave up looking at what to have. They buy their supplies the day of depending what you pre-order! They don’t buy extra food, so everything is fresh daily! They rarely take walk-ins as they are swamped with their reservations already. On a good day, the chef will come out after he is done cooking to clap and compliment his own food!!! They do have an attitude but I guess when you make decent chiu-chow food and you are doing this ‘for fun only’, you can do that. Btw, the bubble tea is for show only. It was from the owners before hand and they never bothered to remove it or want to learn how to make bubble tea.
Hi Sylvia, can you tell us the other dishes that you pre-order or order aside from their 4 specialties? Thanks.
Hi Sylvia: Good to know about this from your perspective — that you also let the lady owner decide the dishes for you. This reminds me of a thought I had a couple of weeks ago — about Chinese “omakase”. I would certainly love to go to a Chinese restaurant where I let the restaurant surprise me. Of course the Japanese does it and to some extend the western food too (in underground kitchens). So, T-Hut is pretty close to that “omakase” concept. I was wondering if anyone knows of any Chinese restaurants that would do omakase-style. That would be fun. Ben
Hi Ben just wanted to say i love your blog i read it everyday. hehe I personally love t-hut because my parents are chiu chow and this restaurant is probably the only restaurant in Van you can get the closet chiu chow home style meals. Sure was comforting for my parents,Just wanted to share the differences between normal oyster pancake you get in chinese/taiwanese are that they are made with normal eggs and the chiu chow styles ones are actually made by black century preserved eggs aka (pai dan) and flour thats why they got that gooey chewyness.
Did you try the Chui Chow fish ball rice noodles in soup. This is one of the representative dish from Chui Chow.
Hi Peter: No, we did not. Did you mean fish balls in vermicelli (not rice noodles) in a milky type broth? Like this one: http://bit.ly/aQYNGs … We had that in Jubilant. Ben
I went to this restaurant 2 weeks ago, I love their stuff…… I’m Chow Chou-nese myself, n their dishes are very authentic. =D
Any one know where I can find This dsert like chiu chow fried noodle wher you eat it with sprinkled sugar and vineger? I know it’s easy to find it in Asia but seems like no restaurants serves it in Vancouver.
Hey Ben – tried to take my folks to T-Hut this past week, and it seems to have disappeared! Drove up Fraser between 45th and 49th a few times just to make sure I didn’t miss it by accident, but I think there’s a new place already in the same spot. Any word on if they moved somewhere else?
Hi Joe: No, I have no idea if they had closed. Oh, that’s a shame if they really are closed. No idea, man, if they moved somewhere else. I’ll see if I can find out. Ben
Hi Joe – I walked by T-Hut a week before Christmas and they seemed to be there. I even went in and asked if they have a menu I can take home. The man (owner ?) was the lone person there (around 5:45pm) and told me all their dishes are posted on hand-written (Chinese only) banners on the wall. I was a bit disappointed in that their operation is geared to attract Chinese-fluent customers only, by design or not.
T-Hut is gone – replaced by a restaurant called Alk-o-Bar that purports to serve “international cuisine”.
Thanks fmed, Joe, LotusRapper. I had updated Urbanspoon to indicate that T-Hut is now closed. But when I went to Urbanspoon, I was kind of shocked a comment made on Urbanspoon about chowtimes. Sigh … Here is the US link http://goo.gl/QYbGb
Sorry Ben. That John S is real piece of work:
“First off before I review my experience with t-hut, why would you take a picture of the dirty awning and think it would generate interest and an appetite for this small crack in the wall on Fraser St., where there are so many other choices.”
Keep doing your warts-and-all reviews Ben, John S can get his reviews from Yelp.
Thanks Ben. It’s too bad about T-Hut. I’ll have to tell you about the one time we did make it in another time.
Don’t fuss about John S too much. I’m not sure how he got from his “picture of dirty awning” complaint to “preferential treatment” conclusion: his comment on the former should’ve logically negated the latter.
I read all of John S reviews on Urban Spoon and they are characterized by abusive hostile reviews of where he dines.Ben dont go down to the level of Trolls.Keep on the high road and I can vouch you dont have them as friends,Remember when I complained about them and you clarified you did not know the management
I told my mom about T-hut and she said they just moved down to Richmond in Dec. New name is called Jc Kitchen and apparently they now have menus! Address is 103-11782 Hammersmith Way. Ph#: 778-297-6113.
Thanks for news, Sylvia. That location is kind of odd if you ask me. We’ll check it out. Ben
Hey Sylvia: JC Kitchen doesn’t seems like they serve what T-Hut serves. Their website http://jckitchen.zzl.org/index.html says that they serves lasagna, beef dip and things like that. Secondly, T-Hut doesn’t speak/write English and the website is entirely English. Could your mum have been mistaken? Ben
LOL the preserved vegetable in the chiu chow fried rice is olives. its called oh gah nah chai (spelling it like my mom says it haha) but its super homestyle. my mom makes this stuff. you buy the oh gah nah chai in a jar from great one in richmond.
PS. I love your site! I’ve been reading it on/off for over three years now and funny thing, I went to whiteside elem with your kids! small world huh.
Food For Buddha just reviewed T-HUT/JC Kitchen:
Hi LotusRapper: Yeah, I saw that. It wasn’t much of a place isn’t it? Doesn’t seem to have the soul of T-Hut. Yeah, I think I have to let it go … T-Hut the way I know it is no longer gonna be back. 🙁 Ben
nah, that is not what “old water” means. You misunderstand the name of this dish.
In “Lo Sui Duck”, the Chinese character for Lo is 滷, while the Chinese character for old is 老.
滷水鴨, or Lo Sui Duck
滷 mean marinate.
滷水 means the sauce with all kinds of spices and herbs in it.
I don’t know why or how i came across this post but it sure brought back memories of a horrendous dinner at this place a couple of years ago. Granted, I’m not a fan of this style of chinese food but was forced to go here for a family dinner. As we had over 20 pple in our party, they basically “closed” their restaurant for our family meal. The food was alright – i enjoyed the duck and the oyster dish but the service from the owner was downright obnoxious. She kept hanging around our tables and interrupting into our conversations. In some cases this could be seen as friendly or charming but trust me, it was neither here. She openly insulted my uncle, who is from the Chiu Chow region, by questioning whether he was really from that region and whether he knew anything about the cuisine. She kept berating him the whole evening, and when one of my aunts inquired about the congee (which took forever to arrive), she made side remarks about it being the best and that my aunt had no patience. And yes, the cook came out at the end of the evening to clap for his own food. The kicker was the meal seemed outrageously expensive considering there was no alcohol consumed, the dishes being extremely small, and utter sh*thole the place is. If I remember correctly, we were charged something like $50 for 2 plates of the dessert taro which I didn’t really enjoy anyways. I almost feel like they jacked up the prices to justify having to close the restaurant for our group.
Anyways, for what we paid and got, and considering the off-putting nature of the service, i’m not sorry that it’s gone. Not that I would have ever gone back anyways.