August 2012

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Kam's dragon's beard candy

The dragon’s beard candy stall at Richmond’s night market. Photos by David Lansing.

So Mijune and I were gobbling up some serious crispy skin pork from Parker Place Meat & BBQ when Mijune spotted a place where they sell dragon’s beard candy. She bought a little four-pack of the stuff and I tried it. It was okay. Not great, but okay.

And then a few days later, we were at T&T, the Asian supermarket, and, again, we got some dragon’s beard candy. I liked it better this time.

So last weekend when we were pigging out at the Richmond Night Market, our last stop was the Kam’s Dragon’s Beard Candy stall.

Dragon’s beard candy is sort of like Chinese cotton candy—with a peanut cluster in the middle. What makes it interesting isn’t so much what it tastes like but how it’s made (and I think you could say the same about cotton candy).

Making dragon's beard candy

She’s holding a piece of dragon’s beard candy while the guy on the right is doing his magic making the sugar strands. Photo by David Lansing.

I stood watching the guy making the candy at the Night Market and Mijune tried to explain to me what was going on. Basically, the guy takes spun sugar that has been boiled and then repeatedly pulls and folds it over until he’s created hundreds of thread-like sugar strands, and then he covers the sugar strands in rice flour, to prevent sticking, while pulling the strands apart.

Once the strands are made, he hands them to a woman who cuts them into small pieces and wraps the spun sugar around a mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds, and coconut. That’s it.

Originally, Dragon’s beard candy was only made for the emperors of China (and called dragon’s beard because dragons are a Chinese imperial symbol). According to Mijune there are only a few hundred people in the world today who even know how to make it. So I suppose that also adds to its allure. Also, it doesn’t really hold up very well after its made. You kind of need to eat it fresh. Which also makes it seem more exotic.

Anyway, we waited in line for 15 or 20 minutes, watching the guy pull the sugar strands apart and it was like watching a magic trick. I couldn’t quite figure out how, exactly, he did it.

I asked the woman who was taking the sugar strands and stuffing them with the nut/coconut mixture how long it took the guy to learn how to make the candy. She said four years.

So it takes him four years to learn how to make the candy, and then we have to stand in line for 15 minutes to buy a package, and the whole thing is gone in like 30 seconds. The short, happy life of dragon’s beard candy.

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Singapore-style jerky

Mei Jan Hong in Richmond

The jerky girls at Mei Jan Hong in the Aberdeen Centre. Photo by David Lansing.

When I was a kid growing up in Oregon my dad would make venison jerky. It was as tough as it was salty. We’d take it with us when we went fishing since a slab would last you all day. It was like gnawing on shoe leather.

Yesterday I was walking through the Aberdeen Centre and my nose led me to Mei Jan Hong, a Singapore-style jerky joint. If you’ve ever had Singapore-style jerky you know it compares to the sort jerky sold in convenience stores that way a baguette compares to Wonder bread.

In Malaysia it’s called bak kwa and you can get it everywhere. In Malaysia and Singapore bak kwa is usually made from beef, pork, or mutton. At Mei Jan Hong, they make beef and pork as well as chicken or salmon. No mutton.

Usually there are two types of Singapore-style jerky: One is made from very thin slices of a whole cut of pork or beef; the other is made from scraps that are pressed and made into bricks. Jerky made from whole cuts of meat are generally leaner than the bricks of meat, but the bricks are easier to slice and work with.

Mei Jan Hong uses bricks and slices the meat into squares so it kind of looks like a very thin Wendy’s hamburger (actually, what they most remind me of is these frozen meat patties we used to fry up when we were in high school; they tasted great but god-only-knows what they were made of. Pink slime?).

At Mei Jan Hong, they air-dry the squares of meat in stainless-steel drying boxes (you can see the guy in the back doing this), then finish them off on the grill so you get this slightly-smoky taste (which was what lured me here in the first place). You pick your meat, then order it either sweet or spicy. I went for one of each of the pork and beef. The winner, hands down, was the sweet pork jerky which, to me, tasted like jerky char siu. Sweet, soft, fragrant and nothing at all like the jerky I remember from my youth. Thank god.

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Jang Mo Jib Korean restaurant in Richmond.

The dish with the egg on top is the dol sot bee bim bahb. Photo by David Lansing.

It takes me just about five minutes to walk from my hotel to Alexandra Road in Richmond. This is great because Alexandra Road is known as Richmond’s “Food Street.” They say that around a three-block radius of Alexandra Road are well over 200 Asian restaurants.


So I walk beneath the Aberdeen Centre Canada Line station, up No. 3 Road past the Parker Place Mall, and then hang a left at Alexandra and I’m on Food Street. And it is. A food street. There’s are Vietnamese pho shops and Thai noodle places and Hong Kong bubble tea cafes and Shanghai dumpling joints. But tonight I’m headed for Jang Mo Jib, a well known Korean restaurant.

I’m having dinner with Stacey Chyau who really knows the food scene around Alexandra Road. Stacey was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada a little over 20 years ago. The good thing about dining with someone like Stacey is that you can let them do the ordering.

Jang Mo Jib is an interesting place. It was a Japanese restaurant and lounge before the Moon family turned it into a Korean claypot and bbq place in 2005. But the building itself, to me, looks like a Swiss chalet.

Stacey says Jang Mo Jib means “mother-in-law’s house.”

“In the Korean culture, a husband always looks forward to eating at his mother-in-law’s home because he knows he’s going to be spoiled and well-fed.”

Seafood pancake

The seafood pancake at Jang Mo Jib Korean Restaurant.

The first thing Stacey wanted me to try was the hae mool pah jun which the menu says is “assorted seafood pancake.” Well, it was round like a pancake but to me it looked more like crispy hash browns. Stacey sliced it into wedges and spooned on a little soy sauce with chopped scallions. Fabulous.

We also got the gam ja tahng—pork back and neck bones served in a hot pot with green onion, vegetables, and potatoes in a broth—but the main attraction for me was the hot pot with an assortment of beef, preserved vegetables, sautéed kimchi, and a fried egg on top called dol sot bee bim bahb. It was tasty but it was also quite beautiful. So much so that neither Stacey or I wanted to break the egg on top and ruin the composition of the dish. But we did.
Jang Mo Jib (Alexandra Rd) on Urbanspoon




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Meeting Mrs. Rambo in Idaho

Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Idaho:

Perhaps the scariest residents of Northern Idaho are not the cougars, the bears, or the wolves, but some of the people. Many of them live off the grid, up in the hills, where the government won’t be able to find them. I see a few in town from time to time. Even these off-the-grid people seem harmless to me — at least the ones I know. They might sympathize with Randy Weaver, but mostly, they just want to be left alone.

They can be a bit extreme about it, of course, so you do not want to trespass. Which leads me to my favorite story about a North Idaho woman. I didn’t catch her real name, but my friends affectionately christened her Mrs. Rambo.

We had intended to go for a hike on one of the region’s many trails, and rode in a pickup up the pock-marked gravel road to the trailhead. We noticed two things: first, that the trail was blockaded due to grizzly bear sightings. Second, that the trailhead also contained a tent, constructed next to a pickup with faux cowhide seat covers. We pulled out the map and started looking for another trail nearby.

But apparently we were not leaving fast enough, because a largish woman waddled up from the creek where she had been fishing, over to her truck. She pulled out a gun, and fired several warning shots into the air. Then she started yelling that we were on her trailhead. “This is our trailhead,” she emphasized. “We were here first.”

Mr. Rambo had come up from the creek by this time as well and was standing back apologetically. Mrs. Rambo came over to our vehicle, sans weapon, and tried to nudge us back in.

For some reason I was not actually frightened by this situation. Worried, yes, but Mrs. Rambo was so rotund, and so clearly drunk, and her fake cowhide seat covers were so tasteless, that it was hard to take her seriously. My friends were chuckling, which enraged her further. “Go!” she cried, waving her hands in the air.

My friends made a show of folding their map up and we left.


Seafood Kingdom, Richmond, BC

Alvin Fung at the Seafood Kingdom stall at Richmond's Night Market. Photos by David Lansing.

Just the other day I was reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about how there’s a glut of East Coast lobsters this summer. The story noted that prices for lobsters at some docks in Maine have fallen to as low as $1.25 a pound—70% below normal and nearly a 30-year-low for this time of year.

Good news for consumers, right? Not according to WSJ. They say consumers aren’t likely to see any bargains this summer because “retailers have fixed costs that limit big price drops.”

lobster at Seafood Kingdom, Richmond Night Market

The $6 lobster Motoyaki at the Seafood Kingdom stall. Photo by David Lansing.

Well, that’s not true at the Seafood Kingdom stall at the Richmond Night Market where, on Saturday, I not only got half a grilled lobster for $5.95 but I also got a whole abalone in oyster sauce for $6.

I don’t know how you can top that. In fact, I don’t know how they do it, even if lobster is going for only $1.25 a pound wholesale (you still have to ship it to Vancouver, keep it alive, and then you’ve got your operational costs).

I asked the guy who served me my lobster, Alvin Fung, how they could afford to do this. Alvin, it turns out, is the director of a special project by the seafood retailer A&J Specialty Seafood, and that project happens to be finding a way to expand their wholesale operation into retail as well.

Alvin explained to me that they can sell lobster and abalone for just $6 because they don’t have to deal with a middle-man—they are the middle-man. “We’re trying to introduce the public to our products,” said Fung, who told me that the lobsters, which are Ocean Safe, come from Nova Scotia, and the abalone is farmed in New Zealand.

They were both good although I definitely was drawn to the grilled lobster motoyaki. But I had to try the abalone since I haven’t had fresh abalone in—god, I don’t even know when. A long time. But next time I think I’ll just spend my $12 on two lobsters and skip the abalone.
Seafood Kingdom on Urbanspoon

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