This is how I would sum this place up. It is not that it is totally unjustifiably expensive. It is just that we did not expect a small restaurant like this would serve high end Cantonese food.
I mean … just look at the size of the restaurants. From the outside you would even think that this is a hole-in-the-wall. Moreover, it is not located in the section of town where there are high-end restaurants.
Located in the strip mall just across the street from the Richmond Public Market, the Hoitong Chinese Seafood Restaurant had apparently been operating here for the past two years. It is located at the far corner of the mall and rather inconspicuous.
We had walked past this restaurant many times before and each time we peek into it, we noticed that it a bit posher than one would expect. I suppose the dead giveaway should have been the word “Seafood” to their name.
It is a really small restaurant. They only have 2 big family sized tables and 5 medium sized one. The chairs are comfortable. Why, they even have a chandelier on the ceiling, although a small one.
The word “seafood” on their name and the setting should have given us the clue that it could be expensive eating here. For a place this size, it is manned by a captain and a waitress — both looked very professional just like the senior managers in more established restaurants. They are even in suit and tie.
It was kind of unreal actually. Everything is like what you would expect in big posh restaurants like Jade Garden or Shiang Garden except that this is a hole-in-the-wall sized ones. You don’t normally see such Cantonese seafood restaurants this small. They are mostly big operations. So unreal.
They have proper table cloth and cloth napkins with communal chopsticks already set on the table.
And when I saw the menu … oh wow … they do serious Cantonese cuisine dishes here. I did not take pictures of their menu but I can tell you that the cheaper average dishes ranges from $16-$20. Even the Yong Chow Fried Rice is $16 where you could get this for $8 in some HK Style Cafe.
They also have a section on their menu for sharkfin at $60 a person. Their most expensive dish is the Stir Fry Sharkfin with Crab Meat and Scrambled Egg which is $76. Oh … we would have ordered that if not for the fact our boys hate scrambled eggs for dinner. LOL! Just kidding … but $76 for scrambled eggs?
Yeah, they also have a wine menu.
Here is one more thing … when we ordered the dishes, we asked for four bowls of rice. The server told us that she will only take the order of rice AFTER the dishes were served. That’s how it is in expensive restaurants, isn’t it? Rich people who dine in these sort of restaurants shun rice … and even if they order rice, they will take a couple of mouthful. Sigh … we are not at that level of sophistication yet … WE WANT RICE … NOW!
The Captain recommended Crab Meat and Fish Maw Potage. The menu said that it is $20. Considering that the sharkfin soup is $60 PER PERSON, I really had to ask if the $20 is PER PERSON or a serving big enough for the family. It was … $20 and came in a big bowl.
I felt cheap asking that question but I was not about to pay $80 for four bowls of soup for the family.
I must say that the captain is very professional and gave us impeccable good service. They were very quick to fill the bowl for us for seconds the very moment that the bowl is empty.
Excellent soup. I like the fish maw. Maw is the bladder of the fish, isn’t it? I think the Chinese call it fish stomach.
The soup was delicate in taste and rather thick with lots of crab meat and fish maw. Surprisingly Arkensen asked for seconds because he usually doesn’t like Asian soup. Not like his dad.
We were not sure about this dish. When we asked for a recommendation, the captain told us that their Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple is favourite dish of their customers.
I don’t know … sweet and sour pork is one dish I would automatically not consider because the perception is that it is too westernized and not a dish I would order in a place like this. We went through a few other options on the menu with the captain and he was rather convincing that we should get it. “You won’t regret it”, he said.
Nanzaro actually blurted out that “sweet and sour pork is not Chinese”. That is the perception I guess but it is an authentic Chinese dish, is it not? I mean, this is not like chop suey or ginger beef or fortune cookies kind of Chinese food. Anyone care to comment?
The dish is visually pleasing with a very nice tone of colors of green and red peppers along with the yellow pineapples.
Well executed. The meat is not in a cube form but more flat pieces. The outside is crispy as expected and the sauce is sweet and tangy.
We like it. But with every bite we keep asking … is sweet and sour pork an authentic Chinese dish? If all westerners love sweet and sour pork, it can’t be … LOL!
We actually ordered the Bean Curd Roulade, Lohan Style but there seemed to be miscommunication and we ended up with the Steamed Scallop on Tofu with Black Bean Sauce.
Oh well, that’s fine. We like this and decided to just have this.
We like the sauce which has a tangerine peel flavour. The scallop is flavourful and compliments so well with the silky smooth tofu. I think this dish is $17.
The free dessert was better than the normal red bean soup. They served us Tapioca with Taro in Coconut Milk.
Traditional hand written receipt. The bill came to $75 with tax and tips.
This is a fine Cantonese restaurant and serves good food. It is small and that is what makes it rather unique.
Joyce of VanFoodies.com has a review of the same restaurant here. I like you to take a look at what she ordered … shark fin, abalone, goose feet, sea cucumber, squab, and crab claws. If I paid $75 for our simpler dishes, I can’t imagine how much her meal costs.
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My grandfather swears by this restaurant. He goes here at least once a week and has basically the same meal with a few dish variations…it’s his fave place in Richmond/Vancouver.
You definitely have to make a reservation ahead of times, and you can “pre order” a lot of stuff to make sure you get it…the waitresses are super attentive and calls everyone in our family by name since we are regulars.
I miss going to hoitong weekly now that I’m back home on the east coast!
What a coincidence: I just cut out a newspaper ad for Hoi Tong a couple of days ago, with the intention to visit. It is a small ad — so I assumed hole-in-the-wall, small prices. LOL
Its a mom and pop operation with the wife manning the front and the husband the kitchen. I just dont understand how they can charge so much. Its a small restaurant with few employees. I’m sure their overhead is fairly small yet their prices rivals that of Kirin and Sea Harbor. I made a mistake of eating there once and I regretted it. I’m spent over 50 dollars for 2 lacklaster dishes. The seafood chowmein came with the wonton noodle type of noodle and not your usual crispy egg noodle. I actually read that blog post by Vanfoodies thats why we went there.
Sweet and sour pork can be an authentic dish, it just may not appear or even taste the same as the common western style Chinese dish. There’s a great Sichuanese cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop called “Land of Plenty” in which she describes a restaurant in Chengdu that does “Deep-fried strips of tender pork dressed in a dark, tangy sauce that is light-years away from the synthetic-looking orange confections served under the same name in the West.” Actually I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but it looks delicious.
My mom makes this version and it’s not breaded liked the western version.
The size of this resto is actually a bit of a draw for me. Sometimes the cavernousness (is that a word?) of Cantonese restaurants is a bit daunting, especially if the acoustics are bad which is often the case. Did you find it a bit more intimate? And did the food compare favourably to food you have eaten at similarly priced but larger establishments?
Hi Grayelf: Actually, the food here is pretty good and on par with what I think I’ll get in bigger established restaurants. It is just that I did not expect it to cost that much for a place this small. You don’t find many small restaurants charging prices like that … maybe not for Chinese restaurants. I must add that they uses very expensive ingredients. And yes, this is a good place for an extended family dinner … the ones that you have grandparents and grandchildren together. For people where money is not an issue, this is a restaurant they will like. I would too if only I am not just a salaryman. Ben
“Its a mom and pop operation…I just dont understand how they can charge so much. Its a small restaurant…”
When it says seafood on the sign, always be aware it can be very expensive regardless the location, size, and appearance/decor inside and outside. People who run the restaurants always feel that they can price it higher because seafood ingredients can get expensive. They will tell you things are not exactly in season or fishermen didn’t catch good amount of fish recently, or oil spill kills fish. Whatever.
But I did notice that pricing in the restaurants is more like wild wild west here in Vancouver than in the US. Here some owners price whatever they want, they don’t even take a look at the ingredients, restaurant size, location (is it in a more upscale mall or dirty stripe mall), and ambiance(decor, appearance). They just price what they feel like it. And if the business is no good due to unreasonable pricing, they refuse to believe it’s the stupid pricing and they will be out of business sooner or later. I find restaurants owners are more temperamental than rational in Vancouver.
In the States, hole-in-the-wall restaurants are always inexpensive, always. Price is always based on the ingredients (rare, expensive or common stuff), ambiance, and location. They don’t price themselves out of the market because they want to compete and stay in business forever.
Its not necessarily true that having the word “SEAFOOD” means high prices. There are a number of restaurants in Richmond and Vancouver with that that word and they have reasonably affordable prices. Anyway, I find it amusing that Hoi Tong which advertise themselves as a seafood restaurant will recommend the sweet and sour pork as their most popular dish. I wonder if thats what most of the diners can afford. Even then the price of 17.00 for a simple sweet and sour pork is a bit steep.
I always wondered about that word Seafood. Around here it seems to mean that the prices will be higher, but it doesn’t mean the place will have a nicer interior or any more seafood dishes than another place. I usually stay out of places with Seafood in the title, because they often are in poor condition.
I thought maw meant mouth, so a fish maw soup would be made from the head.
Here’s the actual dictionary definition, which includes stomach or gullet. It is a very old word.
Maw : the receptacle into which food is taken by swallowing:
1 a : stomach b : crop
2 a : the throat, gullet, or jaws especially of a voracious animal b : something suggestive of a gaping maw
Hi etranger: Actually the word “Seafood” in a Chinese restaurant name is also to mean that they serve Sharkfin. Many high end restaurants still uses the word “Sharkfin” in HK but they change it to seafood to be politically correct. Anyway, see here for another definition of maw: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_bladder Ben
The wiki site says the swim bladder can also be used to make a waterproof glue. I wonder if in the soup it functions as a thickener?
Makes sense that Seafood = Sharkfin. Though I think people here are not that aware of the environmental fragility of sharks. I had sharkfin soup at a Cantonese wedding once. It was good but other than the texture, not that unusual. What is it that makes it such a big specialty?
“…It was good but other than the texture, not that unusual…”
I feel the same way. Especially when I saw the news program about the fishermen losing their limbs by get catching sharks and getting shark fin, it broke my heart. The whole village is full of people without an arm or leg. Not to mention they get paid peanuts. Some middlemen are making huge profits and taking advantage of these poor fishermen.
Hi etranger: I think the sharkfin’s popularity is because it had always been associated with luxury and also unfounded belief that it has medicinal properties. It could have its roots during imperial China where such hard-to-get delicacies are reserved for the Emperor. Actually, the sharkfin does not taste anything special than say, the wonton soup. I know some people will hate me for saying this but the sharkfin soup is a way to flaunt one’s wealth. Ben
Regarding Sweet & Sour Pork, the dish does originate from China so in that sense, it is authentic chinese. But the version commonly seen in North America was created by chinese cooks that were here to work on the Railroads n. It was adapted to use ingredients available in North America at that time (late 1800s to early 1900s).
The original version would have been light and crispy (the North American interpretations tend to firmer, and border on crunchy) and they would not use pineapple chunks, nor pineapple juice as the “sweet” component of the sauce. Instead, it would probably have been sweet pickled vegetables, with the picking juice as the “sweet” component, and rice vinegar for the “sour” component.
Thanks Ming. Yours is the best answer I had come across so far on the question of “is sweet and sour pork a traditional Chinese dish”. Ben
I think this raises a topic for discussion:
What is “authentic” cuisine?
What criteria needs to be met to qualify as “authentic”.
Does it have to originate from the “mother land”, and remain true to the original recipe? Can a chef not innovate if he is away from the mother land? And if he can, is it still authentic?
I would say authentic means it originates from the “mother land” and remains true to the recipe. Most people I know who complain “It’s not authentic!” use the same standards.
In my opinion, chef can innovate to certain points to still stay authentic. If he adds ingredients that don’t belong to the original recipe, then it’s no longer authentic. If he just makes it crunchier or has different presentation, as long as it still tastes pretty close to the original one, it’s still authentic.
The thing is that the in the homeland, the original recipe can change, but the expatriates want it the way they remember when they lived there.
I’ve had a lot of foreign exchange students and I’ve noticed that a lot of people in the Seattle area make traditional Swedish and Norwegian foods in the authentic way for holidays, but the kids who live in those countries today don’t know those foods.
So I think the authentic cuisine of an area is a picture in time, affected by available resources, and does change.
This restaurant, in my opinion, is average. The restaurant itself also smells pretty foul (or at least it did a few years ago) because they used really, really old carpet instead of tile/linoleum. However, I will never, EVER go back there again because of one (horrible) experience:
Around two years ago, we had a pretty fancy 8 person+ dinner there. One dish we ordered was just a boiled chicken (in Cantonese: white chopped chicken), served with soy sauce and chopped garlic + onions to dip. It was mediocre. We used both dipping sauces, but not enough to finish it all off (half of each left).
So we finished our meal and paid. However, when we were about to leave, we caught them pouring back our USED and dipped sauces back into large tupperware containers. Caught red handed, we confronted them about it, and it turns out they reuse the sauces… there ended up being a heated argument, but ultimately we left and vowed never to go there again.
If you don’t mind eating other people’s scraps, then by all means go to Hoitong. They dress it up all fancy and charge exorbitant prices pretending to be a high end restaurant, but even street shops in Hong Kong don’t sink that low.
Now that’s something unforgiveable.
Hi akwok: I find that hard to believe. It’s not that I am doubting what you’re saying or anything like that. For the kind of prices they charge for the food, I fail to see any reason why they would want to re-cycle dipping sauces. I mean, dipping sauces are the cheapest component of a dish. Urgh! Ben
I’m with Ben. I dont think they are atupid to do that out in front where a customer can see it.
It wasn’t in front of us; they took it to the little table right next to the kitchen (behind the counter). I suppose it was ‘luck’ that I happened to tilt my head and glance over that way.
I saw what I saw, and after arguing with them about it they pretty much confirmed our suspicions.
I have nothing to gain from posting my experience, so it would be illogical (and a waste of time) for me to lie about it anyways.
Perhaps it was a previous owner (it /was/ 2 years ago), or maybe they were in a bad financial situation. But it is what it is.
I believe akwok and I work in the restaurant industry. I’ve read crazy store at dinehere.ca, urbanspoon, yelp, and other food bloggers. Some of the crazy things done by restaurant and told by people from there experience have come true because it happen to me. However, same kind of crazy stories can be said about anything from Hospital, Zoo, and Walmart places.
I feel like a foreigner reading the posts of chowtimes. Currently living in the City of Toronto, the prices of our meals (chinese) are not THAT pricey. Sometimes if you are lucky enough, you find yourself in a restaurant with a list of specials starting from $4.99. Are the meals in Vancouver really that pricey? I am planning to visit my brother there but the price of things is scaring me. Haha.
Hi Park: Vancouver is not a cheap city but please don’t use what you read here about Hoitong as a comparison. There are other places that are much cheaper for sure. Ben
I believe what akwok is saying regarding some restaurants as I have heard stories from waiters etc. that some restaurants reuse white rice (that other ppl have not finished) and make fried rice out of it. This is similar to how cooked bean sprouts were often reused in pho restaurants.
However, put it this way…..you nvr know what goes into your food unless the ppl are caught red handed (like what akwok saw). What you don’t know won’t kill you, but once you know, you’ll nvr go back to that restaurant again.
LOL, that is something I have never heard of before — reuse of white rice for fried rice. I am going to use this to scare our boys out of ordering fried rice next time. Hopefully it will end their constant ordering of that dish every time we are in a Chinese restaurant. Ben
I don’t know about “reuse” the white rice. I do know that Chinese restaurants use leftover white rice to make your fried rice. Back in the days I was a student, one of my classmates worked in a Chinese restaurant after school. He told me “Never order fried rice in the restaurant. It’s always leftover from yesterday. Not fresh.” I never order fried rice for the rest of my life.
It’s pretty much common sense that you don’t use freshly cooked rice to make fried rice. Freshly cooked rice is too sticky and mushy to be made into white rice. The rice that has been sitting there for a while is already harden, it won’t be mushy when you pan fry it. So it doesn’t surprise me they use leftover from yesterday to pan fry.
I never ordered fried rice and never will for the rest of my life. It’s just gross. If the rice gets a little sour because it’s being sitting for too long. You wouldn’t notice because all the strong seasoning. I won’t even order fried rice in a Japanese restaurant. I just don’t like the idea that I am eating something that I don’t know how long it has been sitting there.
Some Thai restaurant re-used pineapple for there fried rice and was caught red handed by the media.
Reuse the ‘rice’ for fried rice is just a fact in restaurants. It’s unthinkable for asians not reuse the rice, it’s almost sacrilegious not to do so, don’t you think? Until this day, I am still cleaning off my rice bowl because what our parents said – farmers work very hard to harvest every single grain of rice. I know it’s against the health code but you know the rest of the story.
Hi Connie: I don’t know your definition of re-use of rice is but I think Christine meant the reused of rice that were served to customer and have not finished by the customer. Ben
Thinking about this, I think I’m ok with the restaurants reusing the leftover rice from the rice bucket. Its a way of reducing waste. But having said that, I dont think its acceptable to reuse leftover rice from the customer’s dinner bowl.
Ben – ‘re-use’ I sure hope is not more than taking the leftover rice from the big bucket but you really never know what’s possible in the kitchen sink if you read the Kitchen Confidential Book from Anthony Bourdain.
I love fried rice too (maybe I should hang out with Ben’s boys!) too much to stop ordering it because the rice might be a little over the hill. To me, it falls into that category of food that ONLY works with leftovers, per a poster above re not using “fresh” rice.
Another dish like this that I’ve yet to have a really stellar version of outside of Mexico is chilaquiles. They MUST be made with leftover masa harina tortillas that are a bit stale, cut up and deep fried. Restos here try to use tortilla chips which are not the right consistency at all, and are too fresh.
I don’t see health hazards that would scare me of in using leftovers that have stayed in the kitchen. I’m not a fan of the re-collection of discarded rice buckets (or sauces, or whatever) from patrons’ tables…
Terminology suggestion here. Food from patrons’ tables really are not “leftovers”: they’re “garbage” and should be thrown out accordingly. Unserved, unused rice from the kitchen is “leftover” rice and perfectly acceptable to use in fried rice.
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