Suanne and I met up with Charles of Mamak Cafe a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to show him the claypot rice place and catch up with him after the event we had at his restaurant. We were so busy before and during the event that we did not manage to really chat. Charles said he hardly ever come over to Richmond and wanted to have a closer look at the food scene here.
Moreover I wanted to also blog about another CRA2011 award winning dish. So we met up at Parker Place to grab a pound of siu yook before we walked over to the adjacent strip mall.
If ever there is a food court in Richmond that I would call my favourite, I would say it is this one in the Empire Center. This is where King Buffet, Bushair, Sunway and Shiang Garden is located.
The reason why Suanne and I like this place is because it is relatively unknown. It is slow and quiet(er) than the other food court. We come here when we want a slow leisurely meal.
There are not many stall here and to us that is part of what we like. Even with the lack of stalls, the stalls here are unique and very good. Nine times out of ten, we could come here either for:
- the Claypot Rice in James Snack
- the Chicken from Choi House (see link)
- the Meat Organs from Lai Leung Kee (same link above)
The other stalls we are not quite interested in as much.
Our object coming here is the stall called James Snack. The English name is weird. They don’t serve snacks here. What they are famous for is their claypot rice and also the steamed lotus leaf rice.
You see, the name James Snack is a direct translation from the Cantonese name Jeem-See-Lack. That sort of mean … “James is awesome”. Am not kidding.
They don’t have a big menu. Everything they have is what you see above. Basically they have two items:
- Claypot Rice, with 10 types of ingredients
- Steam Rice or Dish with Lotus Leaf, with 5 types of ingredients
James Snacks had won the Chinese Restaurant Award for best Food Court Dish for two consecutive years. With so many food courts around, I find it kind of strange that the CRA decided to award this stall the same award again. With so many food courts out there, it is as if that there are no other food courts worthy of winning the award this year. Unless some NEW spectacular food court stall coming on stream this year, logic says that James Snacks will win this award again next year.
You know what I am saying?
But in any case, I gotta to hand it to James Snacks. I like their claypot rice (which they call it Sand Pot Rice) and they are good. I just hope that the CRA would have spread their love around a bit more.
So we got this year’s award winning dish which is the version with chicken and sausage. Listen to this … last year they won the CRA award with the same dish except that it was with ostrich meat. Sooooo … does that mean that chicken and sausage is better this year than ostrich. Will we see the version with frog and ginger sauce win next year?
You know what I am really saying?
The claypot rice came with suey choy and shiitake mushrooms. It has a gingery flavour. The best part was the chicken. The Chinese sausage (lap cheong) was steamed.
You know, when I was young I made this at home. My version is different in that I pan fry the Chinese sausage separately until it is crispy and then I add it on the rice. It made this a million time better. 🙂
Apparently there are TWO versions of the award winning Chicken and Sausage Rice. We were told that we can have the chicken with bones or without. Gosh … that got us thinking hard and fast. So which version is really the award winning version? Boneless or with bone?
You know what I am saying?
So we made a fast guess. We think the award winning version is the chicken with bones even though it is cheaper at $6.75. The boneless option is a dollar more.
What makes this great is that James Snack make you wait at least 30 minutes for this dish. You can call in to pre-order to cut down on the wait. James Snack will only start making the claypot rice from scratch upon order. This will ensure that you will get a steaming hot pot of rice.
Hey here is a tip … do you know where you can buy a claypot like the ones above for just $3? Or if you are too cheapskate to even spend $3, you can rent it for free?
You can do that in James Snacks!
You see, you can order these claypot rice take away from James Snack. Even if you have it take away, they will NOT take the rice out from the claypot and put it into a styrofoam box for you. No. They will give you the entire claypot so that you can properly retain the heat and all … for a $3 deposit. Fancy huh? So next time you want a claypot just remember to thank Uncle Ben for this brilliant idea.
You’re welcome, in advance.
We already knew about the wait time and we were OK with that. It was good time too to chat while waiting. Even when we got the claypot rice, we tipped the lid slightly and then let it sit for a lot longer while it cook further. We like drier rice and the extra patience will pay off!
The crust is the part I enjoy immensely. Charles said that if he is to make it at home, he will add Chinese wine at the end … hmmm … sounds good to me.
Nope. The above is not finished food. We had not even touched it yet.
It is James Snack other dishes. As a matter of fact, I prefer this over the claypot rice. This is called the Steam Rice with Lotus Leaf with Spare Ribs in Black Bean Sauce ($6.25).
The food is served in a dim sum steaming basket and wrapped in dried lotus leaf.
Although a lot, the spare ribs were boney with little meat but it is delicious. The rice is also fragrant from the lotus leaf. Yeah, you gotta inhale the steam from the rice and you will catch a whiff of the lotus leaf.
Charles and us talked a lot. It is to be expected. We were reminiscing about the food in Malaysia and how many different type of food that Vancouver had not tried before.
And of course, we talked about my dream to open a Bah Kut Teh shop one day. Just a pipe dream but I enjoy conjuring in my mind what a perfect BKT shop would be like … from self-serve individually packed tea, to choices of pork cuts, to types of soup, to condiments and most important of all, all you can drink soup. LOL!
Charles and us had a lot on common. We were frank talking about his Mamak Cafe and the challenges he is facing and also the successes he is having too. For me, I enjoyed hearing about these things because it does give me a different perspective of a restaurant operator.
Truth is, I have great respect for people who work in the restaurant industry. Sometime people look at them as the “enemy” and passes judgment left right and center. But I do know too that they are some of the hardest working people around … long hours, no holidays, facing ire of customers. Yeah, maybe I will talk more about this next time … or maybe some of you who runs a restaurant can share with us here in the comments below.
This Post Has 21 Comments
My wife loves this place, she used to work nearby and we would always go there. Thumbsup!
Dang ! U are making me drool ! Can u pls gv me the address ?
Nevermind..i just saw the address…just got too excited
I really hope CRA keep giving the same awards to the same restaurant, then people won’t take the CRA seriously anymore.
I help operate my family restaurant business. I started as a bus boy, then a waiter, bartender, delivery guy, manager, sous chef, currently an inspiring pastry/baker chef. In the 7 years since we’ve open our restaurant the menu has changed. We’re no longer Sichuan cuisine but Mandarin cuisine, which I believe is a little bit of everything? In the future we want to change the Sichuan Cuisine, into a name or title that represent Shanghai, Cantonese, Beijing cuisine, and other type of Chinese cuisine in one defining word, if that is even possible?
For service, I prefer the modern fine dining approach, rather then the typical Asian restaurant service. However, we’ve had over 60 waitress and waiter in the last few years and only 5 of them we’re to the fine dining standards! Finding a loyal, harding working, and dedicated server is really tough for any industry.
The secret to running a successful restaurant is loving what you do. I love seeing the customer smile, I love surprising them with small treats, I love hearing criticism & feedback, I love hosting and helping to create parties.
A…….doug ?? I got lost a little bit but I think ure at the wrong blog ?
Ben, did u mean talking to Charles? Your post said James.
I like the empire food court too. The ngau chap stall is one of the best in the city if u like that sort of food.
Another place for sand pot that I try besides James is at phonm penh. You get to stir in soy sauce and the vinegar/chilli dipping sauce into the rice. It also takes 30 minutes to prepare, so calling ahead is recommended.
Hi TimeToChow: Hehehe … I was typing James (Snacks) so much I just went on just typing James at the last part of the post. LOL!
BTW TimeToChow: I sent you an email last week, I think. Did you receive it?
I think its a good marketing strategy (intended or not) to use the sandpot itself as the take out container. People returning them will tend to order again since they are already there. I have done it myself a few times.
There is another sandpot place in Victoria drive that looks like a better place for it than James snack. It has more variety such as pork belly (yummy pork belly). Here’s Buddhagirl’s post on it.
BTW Ben, do you know if the new Shanghai place in Empire Centre mall that took over Pho Viet’s place has opened already?
Hi Crispy: No, the last I went there it had not yet opened. The inside is still a mess although I see work is in progress. There is a name board already up. It is called Shanghai Fusion Restaurant. I am not sure of the inclusion of the word “Fusion” is a good idea in Richmond. We’ll see … Ben
Too right about this great food-court! Tried it out this week for the first time, but only had time for Choi’s chicken due to parking.
You could see how folks were taking their time enjoying the food.
Decent HK Tea from the Hong Kong themed stall beside Lai Leung Kee.
I’ll make a point of stopping here any time I visit Imperial Hobbies!
Hi Thomas: I had been a while since I saw your comment. Glad you like this food court. We noticed that this place is a lot busier since last year. It used to be quite dead. Ben
The food court is basically the only reason to visit that mall :p
Although we do buy our plane tickets from a store in the mall.
We also love Sunway just outside the food court!
“The food court is basically the only reason to visit that mall”
We used to go to Empire for the sheer entertainment of the old guy that used to help park cars…..haven’t seen him around for years though!
however that claypot rice looks pretty inviting, might have to check it out.
Ben, I’ve been following your blog for a while now; it makes me so happy. I live in California (I’m English born), and I enjoy learning about the Vancouver/Richmond culture as much as I do about Chinese cuisine.
I miss the Anglo-Chinese cooking of my homeland very much and often try to reproduce it here. Also, I live on the central coast of California where there are mainly Chinese-buffet style 🙁 or nothing at all!
I just want to say thank you for your blog.
Looks like a place I’ll have to stop by and check out soon! I’m in Richmond at least once every week or so.
Plus, I love what the name translates to 😉
Hi James: About time you adopt a Chinese name, just like me adopting an English name. Shall we call you “Jeem See Lack” from now on then? Ben
Works for me! Some of my Indian friends call me ‘Sanjay’ LOL!
It was indeed a pleasure meeting up with you and Suanne. Thanks inviting me to enjoy the ‘Siew Yoke’ and the clay pot rice at ‘James See lack’. It was indeed good and i enjoyed it very much.
I wish to thank again all you supporters that has attended the Mamak Event and reader of ‘Chowtimes’ for their support. Business has been good since the event. I get customers coming from Port Moody and Coquitlam just for lunch after reading your post. I do get feed back from your readers that come to Mamak and one of them even taught me how to make good Laksa.
Although I am an Anthropologist, I have been off and on in this business for the last 20 years and it is indeed a very tiring job. You need to love food and have the passion for it to venture into it. Even during my off days, I will do some research to see how we can improve and please customers. I appreciate positive and negative feedback and most off all comment on how to improve on the dishes. It is through the customer’s comment that we can develop a better dish. I enjoy getting comment and advice from customer’s as they are the one paying for the food and we as restaurant owner has to make them happy. We too sometime have our off days where we deliver food that are not up to the standard that we do. For instance the undercooked chicken in the event. These are the common mistake that we make but we should not be judge based this. What I am trying to say is that we are not perfect and we do make mistake.
I understand that some of you are concern that my new neighbor is ‘Fresh Bowl’. To tell you the truth, I am also worried as they have put in a large investment to create a nicer environment to enjoy the food. Some of you know that I am formally the Head Chef that started Jonker Street with Tommy. Since I left giving them all my own recipes and training, they have created ‘Fresh Bowl’ with a consultant to cater to the ‘yuppee’ customers who they say will not mind spending $1-2 more on their food. I do not have to say much about the food at Fresh Bowl as most of you have already tried it.
One again Ben and Suaane thank you so much for hosting the event and I look forward to another food adventure with you. One of your reader call ‘Buddha Girl and Boy’ called to asked about BKT. I will probably do it one Saturday in March with minimum 20 to maximum 25 people and it will be done the Malaysian way sipping Chinese tea ( you can bring you own tea leaves ) and enjoying BKT. Let me know if this will work.
Hi Charles: I have so many things on my plate that I can’t really help organize. I was just thinking that perhaps Buddha Girl and Buddha Boy would like to take this up. I am more than willing to help BG/BB but it is just that I can’t take the lead on this. Not sure if you know it but both BB/BG are bloggers too. Their blog is Food for Buddha (kekeke … Buddha eats pork! LOL!). Ben