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Apr 24, 2008 12:36 AM

Calgary - Chinese food with Chinese guests

I had an interesting dining experience at a Chinese restaurant who's name escapes me, probably for the fact that one guy had told us it was called one name, but when we got there, another person said the Chinese characters were read another way and thats why we had a heck of a time finding it. It was located near the Lambda Oriental Foods Supermarket, on Centre St N just south of 16 Ave NW/TCH#1. My dining companions included three folks from Shanghai, one from Beijing, two ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, three ethnic Chinese from Singapore, and one Chinese-Canadian from Calgary, and me (of non-Chinese descent). Suffice it to say, I left the ordering to them and watched in amazement as they picked apart the menu and ended up selecting an assortment of dishes including congee, veggies, beef, soups, chicken (fried and boiled), and others. To me, it all tasted pretty good although some were really over-salted, and I could see a few unhappy faces upon taking a bite of a dish here and there. When I asked, I got the expected, "its just not the same" response, though many agreed with my too-salty opinion on some plates, and to my amusement began ordering these really sweet and milky tea drinks to diffuse the salt (the Singaporeans seem most sensitive to the salt). I'd always wondered about what would happen if Chinese who were from various parts of the world ate a Chinese meal together. Trying to understand the various regional differences and tastes was an interesting exercise that I did just through conversations and observations. Made me wonder, is there a 'neutral' style of Chinese food that would satisfy them all...? (I think this place was Cantonese style).

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  1. Sounds like Sunny's (formerly Sun Chiu Kee) right next to Lambda. If it's Sunny's, it is more Hong Kong style diner than fine Cantonese cuisine, and it is distinctly average imo :)

    As for a neutral style, unlikely. Spicing and style range pretty distinctly, esp when you're trying to compare something like Cantonese, to Sichuan, to Hakka, to Peking, to Guandong, to Shanghai style. Though i find Peking to be the most generic and innocuous - it is the most likely to appeal to all people.

    6 Replies
    1. re: yen

      And if you're talking about Chinese from Malaysia, you have to remember they're used to Indian and Malay spiced or influenced foods - you end up with tastes very different from those from Hong Kong, etc.

      1. re: yen

        I think it's just called "Sun's" now, that's what it says in the window. I had the best gai lan I've ever had there, and their congee is fantastic.

        jay_kay, there was a glowing review of T-Pot, which is in the same power centre as the new T&T in Harvest Hills, in the Herald today- really interesting menu and it's neat to see our northern ethnoburbs fulfilling the promise of places like Richmond and Markham WRT big, bold, authentic Chinese (and other ethnic) restos that need the space and the parking that only suburbs can provide. I love Chinatown but love to see this Richmond-esque thing happening here too.

        1. re: John Manzo

          I am a pretty big fan of Sun Chiu Kee as well, as I have gotten to know the staff over the last few years. I always ask for their recomendations and I have never been disappointed. For a quick and inexpensive lunch I love the pork lunch special. Late night dining with groups has always been great too.

          1. re: formerlyfingers

            formerlyfingers, I have been going to Sun Chui Kee for about as long as it has been open. The first dish the staff recommended to us was the "Assorted Meat & Vegetables Fried Noodles" which I can't seem to avoid ordering everytime. Does anyone here know what that distintive flavour in the sauce is? It is probably a master sauce they use; the flavour is also in the "Hot & Sour Soup". Another favourite is the "Baked Chicken with Rice in Coconut Sauce", although it is often a bit more greasy than I would prefer, ( also "Baked Seafood with Rice in Coconut Sauce" ) another recipe I would love to try at home if anyone can offer a recipe that would duplicate these.

            1. re: Lotti

              Lotti, I believe the sauce in the fried noodles is a combination of "chicken" (read: MSG) broth thickened with cornstarch and oyster sauce.

              1. re: aktivistin

                When I asked about it they told me it was oyster sauce, but no oyster sauce I've ever bought tastes like that (mixed with chicken broth) - there has to be something else in it too - unless there is some special kind of oyster sauce out there I'm not aware of.

      2. Thanks for all the name confirmations involving the letters "sun". Its funny, I swear the name that the guy from Beijing texted us as he got there first, was totally not spelt like any of these and a phone book search at the time gave us the nothing. :)

        1. Speaking of T-Pot, I couldn't believe it when the Herald gave them a glowing be fair I was only there once, but it was definately enough to convince me never to go back. I was pretty hopeful too since I heard it was the same management team from the other T&T resturo - Fobbiden City (which I am a big fan of). The dim-sum was pretty bad in general, the highlights being the super soggy (because of the oil!) fried dough wrapped in thin noodles (sorry, really bad translation here, but it's a good dish when done right...) and the extremely lumpy and greasy fried noodles.

          More on-topic though, I have to agree about the no neutral style in chinese food, I think that a Guandong style is more mild, compared to other styles. Probably a good chinese restuarant is your best bet though...(may I recommend Silver Dragon and Central Grand?)

          9 Replies
          1. re: kewkc

            For a few months or so when T-Pot first opened, I think the manager at Forbidden City was splitting his time between the two locations, as they had yet to find a manager for T-Pot. It sounded like there was a bit difficulty finding staff for both the kitchen and the floor at the beginning, so that may account for your poor experience.

            I recently ate there on the café side, and had a beef brisket rice noodle soup. Just as tasty as the other locations (Pebble Street, Calgary Court, and Sun's)--perhaps even tastier. There was less of the tough, stringy beef and more tender cuts. The broth was also less salty and more flavourful (beef and garlic-wise) than I'd had at Calgary Court.

            1. re: kewkc

              Don't suppose you'd be able to offer up any suggestions on good dim sum in Calgary then? Having grown up in Vancouver, I admit to being a total dim sum snob. Gotta love chicken feet in black bean and chili sauce.
              Also any place in Calgary for Shanghai style food? You know, really juicy steamed soup dumplings ("siu loong bao").

              1. re: bdachow

                Oh, I'll defer the siu loong bao question to someone else.

                As for dim sum, U&Me has good dim sum. The food is fresh and kind of innovative for Calgary (e.g. Szechuan-style eggplant rice rolls), but I'm not sure how it stacks up against Vancouver's. Forbidden City also has fresh, tasty dim sum (sorry I can't give more specifics--I always eat it too fast to remember anything except "mmm...") but is pricier than U&Me.

                1. re: aktivistin

                  Thanks, next time I'm around I'll have to check out U&Me. Family always drags me to Silver Dragon where the feet are only ok.

                2. re: bdachow

                  The best XLB i've found in town are at Peking Garden. They are a bit hit or miss (the skins can be too thin, resulting in the inevitable tear and loss of soup), but when they survive intact, are decent.

                  1. re: yen

                    Have eaten at Peking Garden. Agree with the hit or miss comment. Was hoping that there are some other places in town but alas, sounds like I'll have to hop a Westjet to Vancouver for great XLB's.

                  2. re: bdachow

                    There are tons of dim sum places in Calgary- Calgary has the third-largest Chinese population of any major metro in Canada and one of the highest in North America. It's not Vancouver but it bests almost any other city on this continent.

                    Our fave is Harbour City but I'll admit that I've tried almost nowhere else since HC is so good- we went to Aberdeen or whatever it's called on Centre St just north of Chinatown proper but despite a 100% Asian clientele (aside from my partner and me) I didn't find it very flavourful.

                    1. re: John Manzo

                      There is no correlation between the size of an ethnic community and the quality of that community's cuisine in the city. Proliferation yes, quality, no. Vancouver has one of the largest Korean communities of any major metro, or whatever term you favor, and mediocre "authentic bbq" abounds. We are awash in semi-soy-saccharine-sweet-stale-sesame-seed-studded marinade here.
                      bdachow, my opinion, Vancouver standards for dim sum can't be met in Calgary for variety or quality. Calgary has a lot of other great finds.

                      1. re: toutefrite

                        Funny, I was thinking the same sort of thoughts. There seems to be only one decent Korean place in Vancouver (actually waaaay out in Coquitlam). I do see many Koreans running sushi places ( just like in the States.)

                        The Filipino community represents the third largest ethnic group in the GVA, yet I struggle to find one decent restaurant (Rekado's makes an attempt...Josephines and Sandy's perhaps).

               Filipinos and Koreans think their food is less than marketable perhaps?

                        How about Japanese? They represent a tiny fraction of the population in Vancouver....yet the cuisine in highly influential. Perhaps it is related to this: