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Those of us living in the Vancouver area are fortunate to have an amazing palette of international foods to dazzle our palates. This area has become home to so many cultures from around the world and many of the people who arrive and settle here become shopkeepers and open restaurants. What would be considered an exotic meal in most of Canada or the US is just regular fare here. Ingredients from around the world are readily available and at reasonable prices.
It shows in our home cooking too. Dinner could be roast beef and potatoes. It could just as easily be chicken tikka, lamb tagine, or mulgi kapsad.
Vancouver has had a bustling Chinatown since the late 1800s, when Chinese labourers were brought here to build the railroad and they settled here. Chinese food has been a local staple since that time – westernized in many cases, but much more authentic within Chinatown and elsewhere now too with the growing appreciation and demand for more authentic regional cooking styles. There’s more to Chinese food that fried rice and chop suey.
I grew up here close to the edge of Chinatown and have lived in the area for most of my life. While I admit that I’m not particularly adventurous in my food choices, I’ve had the opportunity to eat my way way through a range of culinary styles. I’ve enjoyed leisurely dim sum on a weekend to sampled my way through endless courses at lavish banquets celebrating weddings and other family milestones. But I think I’ve only scratched the surface.
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One of our daughters has been an aficionado of spicy fish for a few years now and she has been trying to get us to come along on on of her spicy fish excursions. The more people, the more choices to share. So, finally, we went.
We pulled up to Li’s China Grill on Kingsway at exactly 5 o’clock (opening time) to find her guarding an empty meter spot right in front of the door. How convenient!
She’d already snagged a window seat and menus were dealt out. Pick a fish, pick some side dishes, and pick and appetizer or two to start. We picked rockfish in a garlic sauce and catfish with the spicy sauce.
I looked around trepidly at the boxes of tissues on all of the tables – presumably to mop up the torrents of tears that were about to be unleashed by the spicy sauce. What were we getting into?
We nibbled on skewers of beef and lamb and a cucumber salad until they carried in the fish. Wow! Whole fish smothered in one of Li’s signature sauces. And yes, those are red chilis on that catfish.
It was challenging eat, but fun. The side dishes are actually incorporated into the fish dish and you have to find where they are hiding and then chase them around to catch them and get them onto your plate. Don’t wear your best shirt!
It was truly a feast and I can see why the more people, the better. Just about when we were getting full, the waitress showed up with a tray of large crispy shrimp and placed it on our table. “Compliments of the chef.”