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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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Takoyaki at Bakudanyaki in Richmond, BC

Takoyaki at the Richmond Night Market. Photos by David Lansing.

Back to the Richmond Night Market where Mijune took me to the Daikichi Bakudanyaki stall. These guys specialize in giant takoyaki balls. Takoyaki us a ball-shaped dumpling (or fritter) and is usually sold in Japan at yatais, which are small, mobile food stalls (the word literally means “shop stand”).

They say the first guy to make takoyaki came from Osaka and they’re still considered something of a regional specialty there (you can find them in Tokyo, just not as easily; in Osaka they’re everywhere).

Daikichi Bakudanyaki at the Richmond Night Market.

Daikichi Bakudanyaki at the Richmond Night Market.

So here’s how you make a takoyaki: You make a sort of pancake batter from rice flour and wheat flour and cook it in a special mold and then stuff it with squid or octopus (originally in Osaka it was just octopus) and then maybe some cabbage, pickled ginger, rice, and green onion. At Bakudanyaki, they also put a quail egg in it, which is kind of interesting.

So the inside of the takoyaki is pretty much the same. What differentiates one takoyaki from another is the sauce that goes on top. Each yatai vendor will usually make his own sauces and they can be as creative as the cook. At Bakudanyaki you had your choice of curry, chili mayo, wasabi mayo, original, and the special of the day was pizza. I don’t know why you’d want to put a pizza flavoring on your seafood fish ball, but there you go.

Mijune and I ordered several different takoyaki balls just so we could taste the different flavor toppings. I’m not a big curry guy so that definitely wasn’t my favorite. I liked the original, though I’m not sure what was in that. But my favorite was the wasabi. The cream sauce really cut the bite of the wasabi so it didn’t blast your mouth but definitely added a little kick to savory innards of the takoyaki ball. Good stuff.

Here’s a short video I took of them explaining what takoyaki is and how they make them.

Richmond Night Market on Urbanspoon

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What is bubble tea?

Bubble tea at Zephyr Tea House Cafe in Richmond, BC

Bubble tea at Zephyr Tea House Cafe in Richmond, BC.

Yesterday I wrote about having lunch with Mijune at the Zephyr Tea House Café, this Taiwanese-style bubble tea place in Richmond. Several people wrote me and asked: What the hell is bubble tea?

Good question.

Here’s what a place called the Bubble Tea Café says: “Bubble tea is a drink made from a blend of tea and natural flavors served over sweet and chewy pearls. These pearls are also known as ‘bobas’ and are made from tapioca starch and taste faintly like caramel-flavored Jell-O.”

I don’t know. That doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it? Tapioca starch that tastes like caramel-flavored Jell-O? Yuck.

Wikipedia says bubble tea is “a Taiwanese tea drink that originated from tea shops in Taichung, Taiwan during the 1980s. Drink recipes may vary, but most bubble teas contain a tea base mixed with fruit (or fruit syrup) and/or milk. Ice-blended versions of the drinks, similar to slushies, are also available, usually in fruit flavors.”

Mijune says there’s a real dilemma in finding the best bubble tea places in Richmond (and there are dozens and dozens of them). At places like Zephyr Tea House Café, the drinks are made with house brewed black and green teas, “but they have a very limited amount of fresh milk and fresh fruit flavors. It’s such a double standard.”

Yet she acknowledges that at true Asian places powdered milk and powdered fruit flavors are “expected and normal. And some drinks just work better and at times even taste better with the artificial powders.”

But you never know until you try them. To read more about her thoughts on bubble teas (and the Zephyr Tea House Café) check out her blog here.

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At Zephyr, Mijune orders for two

Zephyr Tea House, Richmond, BC

The food awaits my arrival at Zephyr Tea House Cafe. Photo by David Lansing.

I might have mentioned that Mijune doesn’t bother to listen to me when it comes to deciding where to go eat or even what to order. I could take this one of two ways: outrage or with a shrug. I prefer the latter.

Yesterday she told me to meet her at Zephyr Tea House Café for lunch. Which was fine with me since it’s just down the street from my hotel. She also tells me to be there promptly at 12:30. “Don’t be late!”

So exactly at 12:32, I walk into Zephyr. And there’s Mijune sitting at a table with at least half a dozen dishes in front of her.

“You’re late,” she says. “I ordered without you.”

As if she was going to let me order in the first place.

Zephyr is like this hip Taiwanese bubble tea place. Bubble tea places are to Taiwan what Starbucks is to Seattle.

I don’t think Zephyr is really known as a lunch place. It’s more like the place you go to late at night when you’ve got the munchies (they’re one of the rare places in Richmond that stay open until 1am on weekends).

So what did Mijune order for us? The Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, of course, and the braised pork on rice, prawns with pineapple, shredded pork with bamboo shoots, and a Taiwanese sausage with noodle soup.

You know, just a couple of dishes to stave off the hunger pains.

The popcorn chicken was kind of addicting, but I hated myself for liking it since it reminded me of a slightly-less spicy version of KFC’s popcorn chicken (which is also addictive if some of the worst processed junk food out there). The other dishes were okay. Not great, but okay.

What was more interesting to me were the drink choices. There were like over 30 bubble teas and another 30 frappes. Mijune watched me agonize over the menu. Matcha green tea frappe or almond milk bubble tea? Green mango mint? Lychee peach?

“Bring him the matcha ice cream frappe,” Mijune told the waitress.

When I gave her the stink eye she said, “What? It’s the house specialty. You’ll love it.”

And I did.
Zephyr Tea House Cafe (??) on Urbanspoon

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The Japanese goth and Miss Lolita

Japanese Goth and Lolita fashion

The Japanese goth and Miss Lolita. Photo by David Lansing.

In the Japanese fashion scene there’s a Gothic subculture as well as something called the Lolita look which is primarily inspired by the anime scene. As Wikipedia says, the origin of the Lolita fashion “is complex and remains unclear.”

Last weekend while Mijune and I were wandering around the Richmond Night Market, I saw these two girls that perfectly embodied both the Japanese goth look as well as Lolita fashion.

According to one story I recently read about the Japanese goth fashion, “The main emphasis of Japanese gothic fashion revolves around Victorian style dressing. Basically the gothic girls attempt to dress up as Victorian porcelain dolls. The attempt is to exaggerate the element of cuteness to the extent that it appears to be childlike.”

Miss Goth was wearing a severe ankle-length wool black dress, a black cameo brooch at her neck, and a rose brocade hair ornament with several crucifixes dangling over her forehead. Miss Lolita wore a very short pink pinafore with a matching bow in her hair and her eyes were heavily made up to resemble an anime doll. They were quite the couple.

I was so transfixed by them that I eventually approached and asked them if I could take their picture. Miss Goth was a little outraged: “We are not like animals whose picture you take at the zoo,” she said. I told her that I wanted to take their picture because I thought both of them were quite beautiful and extremely fashionable (this was true). This calmed Miss Goth down. She then suggested they move to a spot that was getting better light and then she and Miss Lolita stared straight ahead at the camera while I clicked off a dozen or more shots. They were fantastic and I only wish I could have shot them in more situations at the Night Market.

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