I like food. A lot. My idea of fun is going to a fish market. I know the difference between a dice and a chiffonade. I chalk up this interest up to my early career as a musician. For many years I was simply not able to afford food that did not come in a cardboard package with the Kraft logo emblazoned upon it. Now, as my growing belly would indicate, that's not so much of a problem. My biggest complaint is fancy and expensive restaurants, big on pomposity and short on quality and value. The more one learns about cooking good food, the more inclined one is to go out to a restaurant and go "Meh we could have done this better at home".
This column is not about fancy restaurants. Quite the opposite. I want to share with you some of the dining discoveries I've made in Vancouver over the years, and I'm willing to bet that you have driven by several of my little gems without even so much as a second look. Most of my favourite hole-in-the-wall type places are Asian. They are often family-run, with a patriarch or matriarch manning the stove. Food doesn't have to live in a fancy restaurant to be amazing.
Have you ever had a Laksa? I had my first one in Singapore in 2001, and it blew my mind. Part soup and part stew, it's a chili-infused coconut and chicken broth on top of a couple of different types of noodles, tofu, chicken, shrimp, egg slices, bean sprouts, green onion, and maybe some cockles if you're lucky. Laksa is sort of like curry, in the sense that no two are alike. The broth is always slightly different, and the ingredient list varies from purveyor to purveyor. There are two main styles: Singapore style (asdescribed above) and Assam, or Penang style, which is much more sour, as the broth has a lot of tamarind. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take you to a few places in town for Laksa. These are a few of my favourite things
Our first stop is Mamalee Malaysian Delight at 3144 West Broadway. I've been coming to this place for years.
The reason I go to Mamalee is for the Hainan Chicken Laksa, Their laksa has two kinds of noodles (yellow alkaline, and white vermicelli), cilantro, bean sprouts, tofu puffs, and a big whack of that fabulous chicken. The broth is somewhat less coarse (no chunky bits of dried shrimp or peanut), but the coconut and chill with a mild curry flavour that is the hallmark of the Singapore style is there. Your laksa can be ordered, mild, medium, hot, or incendiary.
It must be said that Mamalee does perhaps the best greens in oyster sauce in the entire city. Flawless quick blanched greens (Gai Lan or Choi Sum), cooked perfectly, with a good quality oyster sauce on the side. The whole plate is topped with crispy fried shallots or garlic. Simple and amazing. Even kids who don't claim to like vegetables will beg for more.
All throughout Asia, there is some sort of a flatbread served with some sort of a gravy variant. In the north of India, it's called parantha. In the south of India, it's called parrotta/porotta. In Singapore and Malaysia, its a dish called Roti Canai. Disks of flaky multi-layered dough, similar to a croissant are cooked on a flat-top, and then quickly scrunched by hand to reveal the layers of flakiness. They can contain enough oil or ghee to lubricate a small car, but when served with a cup of chill and coconut gravy for dipping, it simply doesn't matter! The ones at Mamalee are quite good. A little drier in texture than some (not as much oil or ghee), but there is some obvious skill demonstrated in their construction. I'll tell you where the best ones are in my next column!.I've got quite a few more of these up my sleeve, so stay tuned.
Lunch for two is under 30 bucks, including tip. There's no liquor license, but when the food is this good, who cares.