For this installment of “Artist Eats,” we asked Howie Tsui to share his favorite place to eat. Howie is a Vancouver-based artist who “uses imagery from traditional Asian ghost tales, Buddhist hell scrolls, ancient bestiaries, Hong Kong vampire films and the Sino-Japanese War to satirize the climate of fear in contemporary culture.” Continue reading for his answer.
“Despite the moderate Pacific climes here, winter or faux-hiver is still enough of an excuse to warm thy innards with hot, wet, incendiary comestibles. As a recent transplant to Vancouver, these dishes are by no means etched within my genetic DNAs just yet, but do strike deep chords within me solar plexusses. I present to you a survey of Honest Fiery Bowls/Bowels!”
“Laksa King in Hastings-Sunrise is actually a Burmese-operated spot that offers up traditional dishes like mohinga and lahpet thoke (multi-textured salad featuring pickled tea leaves). But when I go there, it’s always for their laksa, a Malaysian noodle dish, that’s anchored by a rich broth of punchy curry spices and creamy coconut milk. A melange of characters coalesce in this capcaicik brew including simmered curry chicken pieces, a hard-boiled egg, ghetto shrimp, tofu puffs, bean sprouts and some jalapeños to ante up the headrush. Choice of rice veremicelli or ‘yellow’ flour-based noodles. I choose vermicelli as I’m cutting down my food coloring intake.
“Another deeply comforting honest bowl can be had at Mui Ngo Gai near Kingsway and Victoria. They go all in with their take on Bun Bo Hue (originating from the old capital in the middle of Vietnam) by including delicate homemade pork meatballs and congealed cubes of pig blood, accompanied by slender comrades sliced beef shank, brisket, and the usual veggie accoutrements of bean sprouts and cilantro. All buoyed above round, spaghetti-sized rice noodles, which are not as chewy as the flat vermicelli in pho, but no less effective at propelling inadvertent broth shrapnel to the eye at the tail end of an aggressive slurp. The key is the broth, which keys in at saturated levels of savory, spicy and sour while maintaining a clear and light stock.
“Long’s Noodle House on Main and 33rd is a tight little Shanghainese spot. They achieve echelon-esque with their wine chicken and XLBs (xialongbao/soup-filled dumplings), but my motives lie elsewhere, mostly as a scout for my mom. She obsesses over the Shangainese version of dandan mein, which is originally a Szechuan noodle dish of thick flour noodles, slathered with a spicy and salty gravy of ground pork, pickled mustard greens and chilli bean paste. The Shanghainese version uses thinner flat noodles, and dials up the lubrication via the addition of a creamy pork stock, sensualized by sesame paste (tahini chinesi).
“To conclude, I’ll go corporate, stylized and boutiqian with Santouka Ramen on Robson in the West End—a pillar of the global umami oligarchy and a case study of savory excess. Perhaps the least honest of all the bowls featured, but ain’t honesty really a facade for the most deviant of transgressions? Santouka’s most fiery offering is their Spicy Miso Ramen. All the signs of lab-tested, ramen OCD-ism are present. Perfectly chewy noodles of the wavy variety, a creamy, rich broth of emulsified pork fat and bone marrow from what must be the result of distilling a dozen hogs worth of flavor into a concentrated syringe-size for direct main vein injections. The slices of pork melt on the tongue upon contact, oozy soft egg yolk straddle the line between liquid and solid, crunchy menma (pickled bamboo), and the design-y fish cake replete with swirl. Heat comes by way of the chilli bean paste and chilli oil. Equal parts Tubesceamer and Rat to what is already a deep and thick tone in guitar parlance. This is a four times a year kind of bowl. Anymore and my heart will surely seize.”
2546 E Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V5K 1Z3
Mui Ngo Gai
Vancouver, BC V5N 2T3
Long’s Noodle House
4853 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3R9
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7
Laksa King photo from here; Mui Ngo Gai photo from here; Long’s Noodle House photo from here; Santouka photo from here. Artist Eats logo made by Taylor McKimens.