- Our Town
North Van’s answer to shopping-induced hunger
We’ve all done it.
You plan a leisurely trip into town to do a small errand, and then more and more things get added to the list, and before you know it, you’re leading an urban assault team on a mission that requires the military precision of a highly trained Navy Seal. If you’re lucky, you can keep your nine hurried stops confined to the North Shore before you turn around and rush back for the ferry in a vehicle stuffed with Home Depot boxes, Costco bags, and bottles of cheap, but effective wine.
Around noon, and in the midst of your personal shopping tornado, you find yourself at odds with what to do about the inevitable hunger pangs. Fear not. Relief is at hand. Get thee to Lonsdale and 15th, and look for the sign on the East side of Lonsdale that reads “Tamarind Hill”. All will be well…
“What is a tamarind?” you might well ask. A tamarind is the large brown slender pod of a tree that grows all over Asia. When you break open a fresh one, you will find it filled with a sticky and fibrous mass that contains smooth dark seeds. This sticky mass is an integral part of many curries and sauces in India, Thailand, and Malaysia. It adds that essential “sour” component to a well-balanced curry, which must always contain a harmonious mix of hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavours. In Kerala, we could pull fresh pods off the trees, but you can buy it prepackaged here quite easily at the Osaka Asian Supermarket in Park Royal, or at my personal favorite, Asia Market on Hastings Street near Gore. It’s my one-stop shop for really cheap noodles, fresh Thai herbs, fish sauce, and so on. The added bonus is that it’s really easy to purchase many types of narcotics just outside the front door, but I digress…
Tamarind Hill is another of my personal favorites for Malaysian food, It’s a little more “upscale” than some others, but only in the sense that the décor is well thought out, and the cutlery matches. It’s a favorite for our whole family, and we find ourselves there once or twice a month. Their food is screamingly authentic without being overly challenging for someone just branching out into exploring the back roads of this cuisine. In my last column, I rightfully raved about the roti canai at Bo Laksa King in East Vancouver. The roti canai at Tamarind Hill come in second in my opinion, easily outdoing many I’ve sampled in Malaysia.
As I’ve mentioned before, the venerable laksa, that savory mix of goodies floating in a coconut and chicken broth bath, is as varied as the many manifestations of Shiva. Tamarind Hill’s version is quite excellent, and I strongly recommend getting a bowl to share with a friend, so that you can taste as many things as you can on the menu. It’s very, very good, and my only complaint is that they put out those awful stainless steel chopsticks which never feel as good in the hand as the wooden ones when dealing with the noodles. Small quibble.
Those of us who grew up in a household where the “cuisine” had roots in England are intimately familiar with the concept of the vegetable that has been boiled until only a gray shapeless mass remained. In order to be served, every last cell wall needed to be broken down, and every nutrient had to be studiously removed, lest some actual component of flavor remain. With this upbringing in mind, it’s not surprising that I hated green beans until I was in my mid-20s. If you think you don’t like green beans, you have to try the Sambal Green Beans at Tamarind Hill. It’s not on the menu, but you can ask for “all beans” for their Green Bean lunch special, which will bring you a plate without any rice, just lots of very well cooked green beans that have been sautéed in a sambal made of chili, garlic, and that hallmark of Malaysian food, fermented shrimp paste. The shrimp paste adds that funky umami base note that makes it impossible to stop eating! It’s an ingredient that smells quite dreadful by itself, but is absolutely crucial in many Thai and Malaysian dishes. Gotta have.
Another personal favorite here is a killer noodle dish called Char Kway Teow. Broad rice noodles are wok-fried is a spicy sweet soy sauce, along with bean sprouts, Chinese sausage, fish cake, and prawns. It can be ordered hot or mild. It’s fantastic. The only version of this I had that was better was in Penang, where I ordered it from a street hawker, and it came with “noodles” made with “carrot cake”, which is a half inch thick cake made from shredded white daikon radish.
Tamarind Hill is a strong recommendation for the hungry Islander trekking about in the wilds of the North Shore. There are actually two locations, the other being in New Westminster. I’ve tried both, and the North Shore location is better I think. It’s located at 1440 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver, and it’s open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two is under 30 bucks, which is a little more than the Penang street food price, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket!