Poon Choi (Big Bowl Feast) from Wonton King

Updated 28th Sep 2010: this restaurant had been replaced with Taste Good Wonton Seafood Restaurant.

Well. I was quite surprised to learn that there are so many people who are fans of Chiu Chow cooking yesterday when I wrote on the visit to the T-Hut Cafe. Growing up in Malaysia, I always associated the Chiu Chow people as frugal and hardworking people. Many of them run small businesses and is a close knit community determined to protect their unique identity.

The Chiu Chows originated from the province of Guangdong (Canton), the province that is dominated by the Cantonese. There is another distinct ethnic group in Canton and that is the Hakkas. While the Cantonese calls themselves the “pun dei yan” (the local people), the very name Hakka is translated as “the guests”. Yeah, they had suffered through the millenniums as the guest of the land in Canton.

In many ways, the Hakkas are known as the Chinese nomads and without a clear place to call their own. Many of them lived in the fringes of society and adopted an agrarian lifestyle. So, it is not surprising that the Hakkas lived communally. But despite the relative size of their numbers, the Hakkas are surprisingly politically strong. Prominent Hakkas includes Sun Yat Seng, Deng Xiao Peng and Lee Kuan Yew.

It is the communal nature of the Hakkas that created an unique and delightful dish called the Poon Choi (translated as the Big Bowl Feast).

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LotusRapper and Joe discovered this dish in one of their several forays to Cantonese restaurants in their search of a restaurant to host the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner. It was in a restaurant called the Wonton King which we blogged about before (see here).

Wonton King is located on SE Marine Drive and Fraser.

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We were at Wonton King (twice!) as part of the scouting trip for the 8GTCC dinner.

Wonton King is a well-known Cantonese restaurant serving common Cantonese fare. When Suanne and I were there last year, we had their award winning soup called the Wine Chicken Soup (see picture here). It was marvelous.

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In our first visit to Wonton King, we discovered that they serve the Poon Choi. Apparently, they had been serving the Poon Choi for more than 10 years already but is promoted only during Chinese New Year.

We had heard so much about Poon Choi and that is what prompted the return visit to Wonton King to try this dish.

The Poon Choi came in two sizes. The smaller version serves 6-8 people and the larger one serves 8-12 people. The picture above is the flyer-menu from last year so the prices we were charged now is higher by $10.

Anyway, we know that this is not a published menu at the time of our visit. The manager fished this flyer out to show us when we told him we are looking for something unique and out of the ordinary for the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner.

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The few of us went back to Wonton King just to have the Poon Choi — just the Poon Choi and nothing else. Anyway, the Poon Choi need to be ordered 1 day in advance. Because of the elaborate preparation required, you can’t just walk in to the restaurant and say that you want this.

They use the normal tabletop stove burner. On it they place a perforated metal dish to prevent the bottom of the Poon Choi from being burnt.

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This is the first time I had Poon Choi and have only seen this on TV. So it was pretty exciting seeing the real deal for the first time. On TV, they use real old fashion basin but here it looked smaller than I expected — even though it is still a huge pile!

We order the smaller version meant for six people and this costs $83.88 … lucky numbers.

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The food are arranged nicely. We had to turn it around to see everything that is on the top layer.

The is what wikipedia says about the origin of Poon Choi:

It was said that Poon Choi was invented during the late Song Dynasty of China. When Mongol troops invaded Song China, the young Emperor fled to the area around Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. To serve the Emperor as well as his army, the locals collected all their best food available, cooked it, and because there were not enough dishes, put the resulting dish in wooden washing basins. By doing so Poon Choi was invented.

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I enjoyed this a lot. It has … BBQ pork, sweet and sour pork, broccoli, chicken, egg tofu just to name a few and all this is just on the top layer.

Poon Choi is a very popular Hakka dish. I heard that some other Vancouver restaurants may serve the Poon Choi but only on special request. Do you know of any restaurant which serves this popular Hakka dish?

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It does look good and nicely arranged in the beginning. But that did not last long …

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… that is when we start digging deeper. Not many of us can wait till all the top layer is done.

See the piece at the bottom right? That is the taro … usually at the base of the Poon Choi and the favourite of many people, just not me. The taro is not creamy but still has crunch to it.

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The lower layers are more moist and the sauce, I like a lot. Great with rice.

I also enjoyed the duck web.

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Actually the best stuff is at the bottom … pork belly, pork rind, daikon, bamboo shoot, lotus root, bean curd skin.

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He he he … look at the folks. We had to stand up to get at the food. I guess it must have looked funny to the other customers in the restaurant because we almost ate the meal standing up. LOL!

We were here partly to check out this interesting dish and partly to seriously consider doing this for the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner. At the end of it, we decided that it would not be a good idea at all. I think this could result in a free for all the moment one person start to throw aside civility and start digging for the best stuff. Moreover, while this dish is comfort food and very traditional, it is not something that is presentable. In short, this is the kind of food you have with your family and where people don’t mind eating this communal style.

Yeah, this is the communal of communal Chinese food.

While Poon Choi is not Cantonese, it is a cuisine unique to the Canton province. However we also felt that the Poon Choi will not sufficiently and truely represent the traditional Cantonese cuisine.

Scratch that for 8GTCC Cantonese. Back to square one.

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There was all we had … just the Big Bowl Feast. Nothing else. Well, if you count the grated ginger and green onion dipping sauce as the other course, then yeah, we had two courses.

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Oh wait. Make it three courses. The free red bean soup comes with the Poon Choi too.

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It was also kind of expensive I think. The above is for 6 people. I was trying to work out in my mind that if we assemble this ourselves, it might come up to less too.

Still it is a fun feast. Good to try at least once in a lifetime … and just so that one can say been there, done that with Poon Choi.

Let me rewind back a week … and let me take you back to our first dinner in Wonton King.

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Wonton King has a very nice and interesting menu. There are a lot of traditional Cantonese dishes. Go ahead and click on it to show a larger image to see what I mean.

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Wonton King was one of the shortlist of EIGHT restaurants for the 8GTCC dinner. So we visited this place partly to meet and discuss the direction of the project and partly to check out the food.

We started off with their signature “Lo For Tong” which means old-fire-soup. In it are “fern got” (kind of root vegetable), beans, mushrooms and pork ribs. It was good. It has deep flavour and sweetish. It also has tangerine peel flavour in it too.

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The above is the Mushroom and Pork Ribs from the soup. It does not look appealing, huh?

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The “Low Sui Ngap” is similar to what I blogged about in T-Hut yesterday. We ordered 1/2 a duck. It was certainly meaty but the sauce, it was not as good as T-Hut. The sauce was much lighter … not “low” enough.

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Each piece are beautifully sliced. See the layer of fat under the skin. Gorgeous, eh?

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The Black Bean Steamed Fish Head was very boney. So boney that it is hard to really enjoy this although the black bean flavour is really nice. The sauce here is also infused with tangerine peel which is not normal.

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The Ginger Juice Stir Fry Chinese Broccoli was pretty crisp but otherwise quite normal.

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The free dessert soup was the Taro and Tapioca Soup.

The food above was $70 before tips. So it was not terribly expensive compared to the Poon Choi.

I want to call out that both LotusRapper and Joe who are leading the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner was putting in so much effort to put the dinner together. They had gone visiting restaurants on their own and in small group. But Wonton King did not quite pan out for the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner.

Guess where we went next.

Wonton King Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. Corsica

    Not loving the communal Chinese food…It only works when you are sharing between 2 people or with your family. With other people, AWKWARD.

  2. Carina

    Hey Ben,
    Love your post! I’m BBC (british born chinese) Hakka, family from Malaysia, we dont really eat often Poon Choi, had a couple of times only during chinese New Year. Really tasty!
    Thanks for the info on prominent Hakkas had no idea. I keep thinking our language is dying as many Hakkas I meet dont even know how to speak the Hakka language..as being nomads they seem to adopt the language of the land.. I speak fluent Hakka and dont speak Cantonese or Mandarin, so communicating in restaurants, is pretty challenging!!!

    1. Ben

      Hi Carina: So you are a Hakka-Moi-Joo. I gotta practice my Hakka with you someday. Although I am not Hakka, my best friends in school were Hakka and they all use Hakka with each other. So I know the dialect quite OK. Ben

      1. HM

        Hi Ben, I just read your post of you wanting to practice your Hakka……LOL! Maybe we should start a language exchange group for Cantonese, Mandarin, Hakka, Teochiu, Hokkien & Malay (anybody??). I do speak those dialects, but pity I don’t read Chinese. Just barely manage to recognize some characters! Back to “PoonChoi”, I find the WK version overly westernise (esp the charsiew & s&s pork). The ones I had in HK’s New Territories had roast pork, chicken, taro duck, sea cucumber, abalone, fish maw, pig rind, prawns, dried scallops, mushrooms, etc, but I guess being “Poon Choi”, anything goes! It’s a great dish to do at home espcially for CNY dinner!

  3. LotusRapper

    Was there last night for dinner with family. Had 2 lbs of crab (on special @ $9.99/lb), beef & gold mushrooms hot pot and a braised pork belly and sweet pickled mustard cabbage hot pot, all washed down with a dose of their “old fire” soup. Mmmmm.

    1. LR, do you frequent Wonton King on a regular basis? That is, can you compare how the food was, say one year ago, versus today?

      1. LotusRapper

        Well I’ve frequented WK in the past two months alone [wink], three visits including last night to be exact.

        And before that, the previous time was probably around 2001/2002 timeframe as mentioned here:

        http://chowtimes.com/2009/06/07/wonton-king-on-se-marine-drive-vancouver/

        I would go back again. Soups are awesome. And their A/C (Grayelf …. you got your ears on ?) was running smooth all evening 🙂

        1. grayelf

          Adding Wonton King to the A/C list on CH. Thanks LR.

      2. Ben

        To tell the truth, JS … When I was in Wonton King last summer, I was quite impressed with them. I particularly like their award winning soup. As I remember it, the setting was a lot better too. The last two times we went, they don’t have that ambiance anymore. But still, it is a very popular/busy restaurant as you can see the day we were there for the Poon Choi. Ben

        1. Oh long, long time ago, maybe 8 to 10 years ago, we went to Wonton King maybe 3 or 4 times a year. It just fell off our radar, for some reason — and the reason is not that their food wasn’t good. The food, as I recall, was quite solid and the manager at that time, Eric, always provided us with great service. Recently, when we had the poon choi, Eric was no longer there. (I later saw him a week or two weeks later working at Jade Seafood in Richmond, when we had dimsum.) Wonton King has been at that location at least 20 years and glad to see they’re still going. They changed ownership about a year ago but maybe the kitchen stayed with the same personnel.

    2. Ben

      Hi LotusRapper: I think Wonton King is to you what Nine Dishes is to Dylan. LOL! Ben

      1. LotusRapper

        Only if I went there 3-4 times a week, and stayed til the early morning hours, LOL

        (just joking, Dylan)

  4. Novi

    This is a great post Ben. My father is Hakka and spoke highly of prominent Hakkas. Lee Kuan Yew was still in power when we lived in Singapore, as a child I respected him and still do for all he had done for the country. In Singapore my dad took the whole family to eat Niang tofu (braised tofu) at a hawker stall quite often and we made Yum Gu Gey (chicken cooked in salt) at home, both are Hakka dishes. But I am new to Poon Choi, so thank you for this.

  5. Ryan

    Since you’re in that stripmall, you should really try the Greek place on the very corner some time.

  6. grayelf

    Hey Ryan! Tell us more about the Greek place. I parked in front of it for the poon choi feed and wondered if it was any good. I lament the general sad quality of Greek food available in Vancouver these days and would love to find somewhere reliable…

    1. Ryan

      It’s called Panos Greek Taverna, and the food there is pretty good.
      We haven’t been there in a few months, but last time, we ordered the half chicken / ribs and the lamb. The servings are large, the service is fast, and the waitress we had was very knowledgeable of all of their food.
      I haven’t been to too many Greek places (There’s one near UBC, one on Broadway and Cambie, the one in Richmond near Red House, and one or two more) but this one is definitely my favorite. I’d recommend this place for sure.

      1. Crispy Lechon

        Panos is actually in my list of restaurants to try. Mijune of Follow Me Foodie did a favorable review of the place. BTW, for those with the Entertainment coupon book, they have a coupon there.

        1. HM

          For good Greek food, try also downtown Stephos, always a line-up & only accepts reservations for parties >6.

  7. whitespotfantoo

    did people use communal chopsticks?

    1. Ben

      Hi Whitespotfantoo: LOL! I know what you are thinking of. Yes, we did use communal chopsticks. The blacks ones are the communal ones while the “personal chopsticks” are white. Ben

  8. Crispy Lechon

    “Guess where we went next.”

    Geez this suspense is killing me. I can’t even go out of the house and enjoy the rainy Saturday. When are you going to post the next restaurant? Will it be it for the 8GTCC Cantonese? I don’t want to be left out of the reservation so I’m anxiously waiting for the next post.

    1. LotusRapper

      You know what, CL, the next dinner you’ll feel very at home at.

      Now how’s that for adding more some killing suspense.

      1. Crispy Lechon

        You mean it will be held in Ben’s house and Chef Suanne will be serving terrific home cooked dishes? I’ll go for that for sure. I heard through the grapevine that it will be held next Sunday. That’s just a week away. I’m getting excited.

  9. Crispy Lechon

    This restaurant is now closed for renovation under new management. Not sure if they will keep the Wonton King name. We tried to go there this evening for dinner but we’re out luck. Too bad I was really looking forward to the 9.99/lb crab.

    1. Ben

      Hi Crispy Lechon: Oh? Wonton King had just closed? This is strange because business was quite OK during the time we were there. Ben

  10. LotusRapper

    WK is currently closed, apparently for renovations and under new management, according to “Foodtopgrapher”. Let’s hope they come back bigger and better. Or just better 🙂

    1. Ben

      Hi LotusRapper: Actually Crispy already provided the same update of Wonton King’s closure on 09-Aug already. It was just two comments above yours. He he he … I would be happy if they only come back, never mind better or bigger. Whew! Luckily we did not have our 8GTCC Canto there, huh? LOL! Ben

      1. LotusRapper

        Drove by today and happend to look in to the parking lot. WK is now called “Taste Good Wonton Seafood Chinese Restaurant”.

        Yikes, what would have been the alternate names ??

        Didn’t get to read their Chinese name, probably something much more poetic and eloquent than the English ….

        1. We ate there a couple of weeks ago. Had the eggplant with minced pork hotpot, geoduck congee, and chicken jellyfish salad. Their chicken jellyfish salad is a bit more unusual, different than the ones I’ve had at other restaurants: more honeydew and cantaloupe strips, different (not vinegar-based) dressing. The eggplant dish was a tad on the bland side and the congee tasted like congee. The old wait staff still there.

          1. LotusRapper

            Would you say that overall, the food is better or worse than when they were under old management ?

            That chicken jellyfish salad …… how would you compare it to Koon Bo ? Any sesame oil flavour ?

          2. I liked the old and original Wonton King. There have been a couple of ownership changes ever since the original owner sold the business (can’t remember when now, but maybe five years ago?). This recent incarnation is, I think, the third owner removed from the original. I thought the food we had a couple of weeks ago was merely okay, so I don’t feel compelled to go back anytime soon. Of course, we might not have tried their best dishes.

            The chicken jellyfish salad was certainly different than Koon Bo’s that it doesn’t seem fair to compare: they’re like apples and oranges. The Taste Good version was sesame-paste-based (not sesame-oil) with hits of black and white pepper. I thought it was good nonetheless. I liked the honeydew and melon in the salad. It was also a big serving for 6-7 bucks. I thought it would be appetizer-sized.

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