The third dinner in the Eight Great Tradition of Chinese Cuisine (8GTCC) dinners was the Cantonese cuisine. It was supposed to be the easiest of all dinners but as it turned out, it quickly became the hardest to organize.
All thanks to the hard work and perseverance from LotusRapper and Joe, they managed to pull off the most fun, educational and enjoyable dinner so far.
One of the problems with organizing a Cantonese dinner is simply bewildering choices. It would have been easier like the Hunan or the Jiangsu cuisine where there are just a handful of restaurants we could plan with. Not with Cantonese. There are dozens of very good Cantonese restaurants in Metro Vancouver. The initial shortlist of restaurants that LotusRapper and Joe came up with was SEVEN restaurants … ranging from homestyle restaurants to the more extravagant ones.
It took them a whole two months with countless visits to restaurants before we finally decided on what we want to do. We decided that it is only right that we host a more lavish one … in line with the reputation of the Cantonese cuisine as the most extravagant of the eight Chinese cuisine.
It is Cantonese cuisine that is well known for excesses like the shark fin soup, bird nest soup, abalone, king crabs, scallops and geoducks. They are the master of cooking the Alaskan King Crab and dishes that costs into the hundreds of dollars. We knew that if the cost of the dinner is too high, it would mean a lower response than the 70 people who attended the Jiangsu cuisine. After long considerations, we decided to pull the trigger and commit ourselves to the plan.
In all 26 people attended the dinner at the Red Star Seafood restaurant on Granville. It was a 10-course dinner which costs $62 per person (including tips and taxes).
The restaurant pull all stops to make sure we had a good time. We were given an entire private dining room to ourselves which was great because we could interact in ways not possible if we were in the general dining hall. Moreover, the restaurant assigned their manager and top waiter FULL-TIME to our party. That made a lot of difference. Each dish serving was accompanied by witty and educational quips.
Time flew. We did not realize that it took us just slightly over 3 hours to complete the 10 courses! The pace of the dinner was excellent. One dish is brought out one at a time with a proper introduction and follow-on discussions too.
Dish #1 was the Roast Suckling Pig. We asked the restaurant to bring the entire pig to show us before they take it back to the kitchen to chop it up. It was quite a sight and of course, this drew out a lot of cameras.
Red Star roast the pig in house on the day of the dinner. Each pig costs $280.
The suckling pig is served to be eaten two ways. The first way is with the crispy skin wrapped with scallions in pancakes. The thing is they have only enough scallions and pancakes where everyone has only two mouthful.
The sauce above is made in house and is meant for the suckling pig. It is a mix of hoison sauce, garlic and red fermented bean curd.
The suckling pig was meant to feed 20 people but since we had 26 people, everyone had a little lesser than what we intended.
Dish #2 is called the Fuzzy Melon Stuffed with Fresh Scallop with a Light Sauce. Each piece of this costs $6.50 and so we only get one each.
Someone was commenting that it will be more tasty if dried scallop is used. But then, of course, it would be more expensive.
Question: Why is dried scallop tastier, more desirable and expensive? Is it because it has concentrated flavour and shrinkage when dried?
Anyway, the scallop flavour balance well with the tender fuzzy melon. Like most Cantonese cooking, the emphasis is on … subtle flavour.
Dish #3 is called simply Soup with Chicken, Ham and Pork. Served from a large pot, we could pick up the smell of the soup as it is brought into the room.
The soup was full of flavour even though the broth is clear. It has that umami-ness that can be brought about with MSG but no MSG here of course.
We were told that the best part of this soup is the ham from the select part of pig. They boil the soup for 10 hours.
The meat is served on a plate and the meat is shredded for sharing.
Dish #4 is the Crab, Hong Kong Style.
The crab was pretty good but the best part is the “bits” of dried shrimp, chili, onion and garlic. It is quite spicy but this is perhaps what makes this crab so fragrant and delicious.
What is that stuff on the shell – crab fat? Can’t recall who now, but someone did say that this can be bought from Filipino store and that it is used on pasta. Is that right? What do you call that kind of dish? That sounded delicious.
The 5th dish, the Steamed Rock Cod with Scallion, Cilantro and Soy Sauce was disappointingly small.
While it was sweet and tender, it doesn’t go far when shared among 13 people on a table. I remember the restaurant did warn me about the availability of rock cods but I insisted that they must serve rock cod and not substitute this with any other fish.
The head was served on a plate. I thought it was for show but apparently not …
… the best part is the cheek. Yeah, it was just that small piece. The rest of the head are pretty much meatless … unless you eat the eyes too.
#6 was the Sea Cucumber with Chinese Mushroom and Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce.
This is supposed to be a delicacy and each complete sea cucumber costs $98. But am not surprised that this is lost on some people who does not understand the dish. Some enjoyed it. Some just don’t see the attraction here.
Anyway, the sea cucumber is succulent while the mushroom is smooth and slippery as it should be. They cut the pieces quite large too.
#7 is their award winning BBQ Duck. It was aromatic but I felt that it was not as good as the one I tried a week earlier. I was half suspecting that this might have been because they made it earlier in the day and not just before dinner hours. This time it doesn’t have that moistness and the meat is not as plump. While the skin is crispy, it was not as crispy this time.
Most of the feedback I got, though, called out this dish as being particularly the better one that night.
#8 dish is the Lotus Wrap Rice. Isn’t it beautifully wrapped. This looked like a mandarin’s hat (like this).
I was thinking that some people who are not familiar with lotus wrap rice finds it quite revolting eating from rice wrapper in dead leaves. He he he … I think people find this more palatable just because it is prettier …
… and there is a show accompanying it too. Yeah, the restaurant manager warned everyone to get the camera ready.
The rice was not too bad … lightly flavoured and all. According to Chinese traditions the “starches” are served at the end of the dinner and is usually unexciting. It is meant to be uneaten, believe it or not. Or at least you are to eat a spoonful only. This is to be a sign to the host (we’re talking about you, LotusRapper and Joe) that everyone had enough food already and they can’t eat another bite.
But then I ate this because I like rice.
BTW, I forgot to take a picture of the noodles (dish #9). That was the Noodle Soup with Prawn Dumpling. That was quite well executed even though it is a common dish.
The last dish was the Tapioca Pudding with Lotus Seed Paste, a very common Cantonese dish. What I like best is the very crispy topping.
So, there you go … the 8GTCC Cantonese.
The food in general did not completely wow everyone. It was generally good but not quite perfect. But then I know we set ourselves a very high standard. After all, this is a $62 dinner which is not something a lot of people will be willing to fork out. So expectations are high.
However, Suanne and I had a very good time and judging from the interaction among the people who attended, I thought everyone had a great time too. I do think this is a very successful dinner despite that it was not attended by 70 people. This dinner is a lot of fun … it is more intimate … lots of laughs and lots of learning too.
So, I want to say that it was a very good job from the part of LotusRapper and Joe. Not many people would have given so much unselfishly to put this dinner together and despite the ups and downs, they stuck with it and not give up. I must also recognize that they had put in a lot of their own time and expenses too in the many tasting exploration.
Oh BTW, I fail to explain to everyone why the Cantonese treasure the sea cucumber. I know some of you just don’t get it but here is the scientific explanation from Wikipedia. But first you need to look at how a complete sea cucumber look like.
Chinese folk belief in attributes male sexual health and aphrodisiac qualities to the sea-cucumber, as it physically resembles a phallus, and the defence mechanism similar to human copulation as it stiffen and squirt a jet of water at the agitator.
Now you know!
And to those who took the time to come to the dinner (a couple even drove all the way from Kamloops for this dinner and one all the way from the Big Apple), thanks for coming and making the event so enjoyable. The team look forward to seeing you at the next 8GTCC.
Here is some of the feedback of the dinner.
AC06 of Vanchow: “I think the winner for me was the roast duck (and I don’t even like roast duck usually — too sweet for me). This one was thin crispy flavourful skin with melt-in-your-mouth flesh. I think they got an award for it, and deservedly so. The suckling pig was really good too — served “Peking duck” style with itty bitty crepes, spring onions, and hoisin sauce — as was the fish, which was super fresh and tasty. The soup (which supposedly had been simmering all day) was a consomme and was very good — I would go back for that again and again, except it takes about 10 hours to make. The sea cucumber. Sorry, I just don’t see the attraction there. The starches at the end weren’t too exciting, but maybe they weren’t supposed to be, although the rice presentation was interesting.”
Cassandra of Good Life in Vancouver: Thanks for including me in the dinner. I found that it took quite some time, and that the food was not as good as I have had at Red Star before. I really liked trying some new dishes though and look forward to more exploration in the future.
Darlene: Really a nice dinner last night. Thanks a lot. The pace of food service and the intimacy of the room, made this an enjoyable experience. It was nice to be able to taste, savour and discuss each dish. For me, the real disappointment was the steamed rock cod – the portion seemed so small and I know there were several people who wanted more of this particular dish. The sea cucumber, mushroom and bok choi was, for me, an especially succulent dish and I was surprised that even Westerners enjoyed this too. The duck and suckling pig were also very good. The remainder of the dishes, while good, I did not find exceptional. Joe and Lotusrapper did a great job in the selection of representative dishes and thank them for your and their hard work. I’m looking forward to the next 8GTCC already and meeting up with the other foodies I’ve met during this series. Thanks again, for all your hard work