Pho The Win: The Best Asian Food In Vancouver
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I recently wrote a post about the best places to find British food in Vancouver, because during my four years living in Canada’s cool West Coast city, I was continually determined to find a taste of Europe – and by that I basically mean I was always on the hunt for good cheese.
This post aims to show the flipside of that article and showcase some of the great Asian food in Vancouver – foods I fell in love with during my time in BC.
The dishes I’m highlighting here are all of Asian origin, because of two factors: firstly, Vancouver’s massive Asian population – Vancouver is said to be the biggest Asian city outside Asia, with 43% of Vancouver residents boasting Asian heritage.
Secondly I am always a sucker for any kind of Asian cuisine and Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Indian food are perennial favourites in the city.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t fall in love with a ton of other food in Canada, but we can talk about the maple syrup and the butter tarts another day.
Of course a lot of the best Asian food in Vancouver is widely available elsewhere in the world – but my shortlist represents cuisines or dishes that I either overlooked before I moved to the Lower Mainland or found to be particularly yummy, noteworthy or omnipresent in BC and would recommend anyone to try for themselves.
The British food in BC post might come across a little whiney – I often complained about the scarcity of certain European foods and their prohibitively high cost in Canada. In fact I complained about a lot of aspects of expat life in British Columbia, and I often got the feeling that some Brits think I’m mad for not always loving every aspect of life in Canada.
I genuinely found there to be real pros and cons and highs and lows to living in another country, and I think everyone’s experience of living overseas is very different. In fact Canada is 5th on this list of countries Brits want to move to, above France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal – which I found surprising as they are all exceptionally popular expat destinations for UK residents (and all places with to-die-for cuisines).
It’s ironic I found the statistic on a house buying website, because the cost of living, and the difficulty getting on the property ladder in Vancouver is probably the only thing I complained about more than the insane price of good cheese. Those things do represent a couple of what I consider to be the lows to Vancouver life.
But to make the highs are plentiful too, and include the mountain scenery, clean air of course the food scene. So let’s look at my selection of Asian food faves, all of which are worth seeking out in Metro Vancouver – by which I mean not just downtown, but out in the ‘burbs too.
The Best Asian Food In Vancouver
Dish: Pho & Summer rolls
I’d only ever tried Pho once in Ho Chi Minh city before moving to Canada and it was just ok. But I can honestly say that having tried pho in a handful of places in Vancouver it quickly became my number 1 favourite food of all time, anywhere in the world. It’s basically my desert island dish.
There are pho huts everywhere in Vancouver and of course some are better than others – but the general rule is that the less fancy the place looks, the better the food is. What you’re aiming for is the kind of place where the rice cooker is in the bathroom, which doubles as a store cupboard, and an old Vietnamese lady is in there too, making some spring rolls.
My pick for flavour is Super Pho in Surrey. I know, I know, it’s really far away from downtown but it is worth it. Now I am trying pho places in London I really appreciate how good I had it in Delta for Vietnamese food, and the value for money which was top notch (especially for Vancouver).
Dish: Sushi Bento Box
Where? New West
For a while I wasn’t on the best of terms with sushi. The first time I had a proper sushi dinner was at Nobu (I know, faaaancy) and I was as sick as a dog the next day. But soon I fell head over heels for it when I moved to Van – the most Japanese city in Canada.
The defining trifactor about why you should try sushi in Vancouver that it is available everywhere, is of a very high standard and it offers value for money. You can get sushi in England that’s good or that’s cheap but rarely combined, and you have to hunt for it.
I tried a few notable places in different areas of the city, from North Van to Metrotown (a very Asian neighbourhood) and downtown and found a few good spots.
But the place I favour above them all and which has consistently been good, is Ki Sushi in New Westminster (known as New West). The dinner box is $14.95 which comes out to about £8 (a little more since Brexit destroyed the Pound) – I don’t know anywhere in London to get this much Japanese food for £8 but if you do please let me know!
One thing I found here that I had never noticed on Japanese menus in the UK is Agadashi tofu so that’s something I always order and the texture of the tofu at Ki was my favourite by far – crunchy on the outside, and smooth on the inside. I did try to get some in Glasgow, and it was a fail – it was gloopey and slimy and I sent it back.
Dish: Butter Chicken
London’s best known area for curries is Brick Lane, yet despite being of Arab origin I didn’t really do spicy foods meaning I never ate Indian food in London – not an issue as there’s tons of other cuisines available.
This all changed after moving to Surrey, BC where I cultivated a taste for hot sauce and curries, spurred on by a takeaway joint near my house which specialised in the intriguing fusion of Indian-style Chinese food.
I also enjoyed frequent gifts from my Indian neighbours of homemade curries; in fact the neighbourhood I lived in, around 120 Street and 72 Avenue in Surrey, has the highest Indian population in the whole of Metro Vancouver – 76.6% Indian-Canadian according to Wikipedia so it’s not surprising that this entire area is THE place to go for authentic Indian food.
In particular Butter Chicken is the Indian dish for Canadians, while it is available in the UK it’s not a cultural phenomenon as it in BC.
Cuisine: Japanese-American Steetfood
Where: Downtown & Various Locations
It’s a hotdog, but it’s Japanese. It’s served from carts or trucks – but has a bricks and mortar location too. And it’s probably the most famous Asian-inspired food in Van City. It’s Japadog, and it is cheap, tasty and fun. What more can I say, other than the fact that, like most visitors to the city, I had a Japadog (on a Vancouver food tour) within 1 day of arriving and I was a repeat offender.
Where: Denman Street, Downtown
When I wanted a relaxed, tasty, healthy dinner out with my girlfriends in Vancouver while keeping costs down, ramen was our number one choice. You don’t trip over 10 ramen places when you walk down the street like you do with sushi or even pho but the neighbourhood around Denman is home to a nice smattering, including probably the worst kept secret in Vancouver ramen joints, miniature but mighty Motomachi Shokudo.
One bowl dining makes it quick and easy to choose your meal, so you can get on with the important task of gossiping with your friends.
Dish: Dim Sum
One thing I noticed about Metro Vancouver is that different ethnicities really stay in certain areas – while I lived in the Indian area, North Van is pretty Persian, and Richmond is known for being extremely Chinese, so much so that street signs are in Chinese as well as English, and shop and restaurant signs may be in Chinese only, causing some contention.
But as we’re sticking with the benefits of living in Vancouver for your taste buds, let’s just say that the Chinese food is obviously incredibly authentic here in Richmond, and the Dim Sum game is extremely strong.
I really enjoyed the slap-up Dim Sum feast – a traditional Sunday lunch affair – at Fisherman’s Terrace in the Aberdeen Centre but I was with a Cantonese speaker, and I’ve seen reports that service can be a little brusque to non-Cantonese speakers. But gosh the food was fabulous.
There are many delicious places and dishes I haven’t mentioned here – like the Chinese beef rolls at Peaceful Restaurant, Cambodian cuisine at Phnom Penh, Sala Thai on Burrard – plus about a million sushi restaurants. So if you’ve got a favourite feel free to drop the name in the comments.
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