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The Art of Roujiamo

The name of the thing says it all: rou jia mo, meat stuffed in bread. It's sometimes listed on menus as "Chinese hamburger," which is fitting. At its most basic, it's braised pork, or lamb, or beef, or dog or whatever, stuffed inside baked flatbread (baked in an oven, an oil drum, a clay oven), with anything else (cilantro, raw green peppers, chili oil).

It's a simple thing that doesn't inspire the same devotion as some other Chinese snacks. So, who's a roujiamo connoisseur and where are the best ones in Vancouver?

-- Xi'an Xiaochi 西安小吃 at Richmond Public Market makes my favorite, but there's still something lacking. It's completely simple. Braised pork with a slight anise-y flavour, a good mix of fat and lean. And fat, puffy bread.

-- Lumingchun Food Company 鹿鸣春 -- 西安味道小吃 in the Yaohan food court makes a version, too. I think I'll give them the authenticity points, since the final product looks a lot closer to a Chinese street side version. They offer a choice of pork, lamb, or beef, and the choice of cilantro or raw peppers. I usually get the pork version, loaded up with green pepper, and it's the closest thing in town to the real deal.

I've heard Crystal Mall has a few places that have it, too, but I haven't tried them yet.

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Crystal Mall
4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

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  1. I like roujiamo but I am far from a connoisseur. There really aren't that many places that serve it here.

    The Beijing stall at Crystal Mall serves roujiamo. Not really exemplary, but a pretty decent rendition. The bun is similar to an English muffin but softer and denser. - close to the street food version. Northern Meixi may serve it - I'm not sure.

    I concur that LFC at Yaohan serves the closest to the real thing. And they have a greater selection of fillings. All the others only do a pork filling.

    -----
    Crystal Mall
    4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

    35 Replies
    1. re: fmed

      fmed, you have any idea what the name of that stall in Crystal Mall is?

      -----
      Crystal Mall
      4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

      1. re: vandan

        It's called "Beijing Restaurant"

         
        1. re: fmed

          well i guess that makes peffect sense then, thanks

          1. re: vandan

            The best thing there is actually the big pan fried bao:

             
            1. re: fmed

              interesting pic, whats are they filled with?

              1. re: vandan

                A fairly rich and juicy pork filling. Check them out. The food there is quite good especially considering it is in a foodcourt. (You will find better examples of some of these dishes at some full service restaurants.)

                1. re: fmed

                  i thought i would be pork, but in the photo the fiiling looks almost like a sweet with like an apple glaze or something

              2. re: fmed

                Does that bao ever look good! I've looked at this picture like 5 times now!

        2. re: fmed

          Yeah... Lumingchun, I've had it three times: the first was dead-on, with lots of fatty pork and lots of pepper, pretty much perfect. I'm just about to head to Crystal and see what's crackin'.

          When I lived in China, there was a roujiamo place (well, it was an oil drum stove and a cart, but you know what I mean) right down the street from my office. I'd buy a roujiamo and then go to McDonald's, get a Coke and relax in the air conditioning, ahhhh.

          1. re: DylanLK

            Now there is a concept. McBao....(have you seen this: http://www.baohausnyc.com/ ? )

            1. re: DylanLK

              The Beijing place is Crystal Mall should really season their pork filling with a bit more boldness. The filling of their pan-fried baozi is better than their roujiamo filling, for example. The buns will never taste the same (until they start fresh baking them in coal drums here. They pre-bake their buns ahead of time.)

              Report back! (Also check out the Huaxi stall for Guizhou soup if you have belly space.)

              1. re: fmed

                Here is a pic of the roujaimo from Beijing Restaurant from a couple of months ago.

                 
                1. re: fmed

                  went and checked out the other day, i had the beef ruojiamo, it was tasty albeit quite greasy and unfortunately he had no baozi(ran out i assume) which i assume item # 9 was( only fryed on one side) i was going to try #8 casuse it looked similar only fried on both sides, but when he said it would take 20 minutes to cook i declined, kind defeats the purpose of "fast food"

                  1. re: vandan

                    Some of the good stalls prepare things fresh to order and so it will take a while. Wang's XLB take at least 15 minutes after you order it for example. I don't actually think many of these places are "fast food" despite their location in a food court.

                    The places with steam tables are certainly much faster but the food served isn't worth eating.

                    1. re: fmed

                      i must have lucked out because i also went to wangs and he quoted me 8 minutes, which was about right

                      1. re: vandan

                        BTW try out this pan fried Shandong style bun from Northern Meixi as well...delish! I like it better than the bun at Beijing...

                         
                         
                        1. re: fmed

                          well its looks great and the fact that the plate underneath is totally deviod of grease is also a bonus

                          1. re: vandan

                            It's pretty juicy...but one man's juicy is another man's greasy. Give it a try next time you are there and let's compare notes.

            2. re: fmed

              So, the Beijing joint at Crystal Mall.... To me, authenticity itself isn't a recommendation in itself-- if a delicious roujiamo innovation comes along, let me try it. But... lettuce? Next time I'm there, I've gotta ask about that. It's honestly kind of mystifying, to me. It's just a flavorless filler.

              But! I'll say this: they have a very small English menu on the wall, but an extensive Chinese-only Sharpie-scrawled menu spread across various sheets of paper stuck up all over, which includes lots of cool Beijing snacks that nobody else in the city makes. Next time I'm there, I'll ask the boss what he's thinking with the lettuce in his roujiamo and order a plate of méndīngbǐng 门丁饼, instead.

              -----
              Crystal Mall
              4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

              1. re: DylanLK

                Yeah - give him heck for that lettuce. Note that the times I have had it - the meat ratio was a lot higher than today. To wit: http://www.chow.com/photos/438880

                The Chinese only menu at Beijing and at Huaxi intrigues....You will have to carry a camera of course. You are our only hope.

                1. re: fmed

                  No one would have known that Jian Bing Guo Zi (煎饼果子 - TianJin-style breakfast crepe) awaits at Huaxi:

                  I have never had this until today. (I may be the only person who hasn't). Delicious, savoury, and satisfying.

                   
                   
                  1. re: fmed

                    hey fmed first of all whats in the crepe and secondly is it advertised in english( if so as what?) or just in chinese?

                    1. re: vandan

                      It was in Chinese (I didn't buy it...Keev did...DylanLK...can you confirm?).

                      It is filled with you tiao (Chinese donut), egg wash, green onions, and a hoisin-based spread. http://english.cri.cn/6566/2009/09/25...

                      1. re: fmed

                        Actually, not from Huaxi. Surprisingly, it's from the juice place we were at, right to the left of the escalator. They have a big sign up and a tiny griddle tucked away behind the counter.

                        This is a completely ubiquitous street snack (especially breakfast and lunch) all over the streets of China north of the Yangtze. They're one of those snacks that change from town to town. One city, you might get them with beansprouts or peanuts or chili sauce or bits of various types of tofu or fried dough or various greens or Spam or vinegared cucumber shreds or little hot dogs or whatever. It can be wrapped in a roll or folded up like a parcel.

                        The version today was good, mostly because I haven't eaten one in a long, long time. Dear Chinese street food entrepreneurs, please set up a cart right by the Richmond-Brighouse Skytrain station, improve my standard of living.

                        Here's a video of a guy making them Dongbei style, with zhà miànpí 炸面皮, fried dough skins (like a wonton skin, kinda?): http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/oX... -- now, can we get him a PR card, and let him set up a cart under a convenient SkyTrain stop?

                        Another video, http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/hf... -- busted out in under a minute flat. This dude loads it up, too. The woman today was laboring away forever, and didn't dare flip it, but I think they've got the market cornered.

                        1. re: DylanLK

                          Mr Zhang's? (or whatever?) The Bubble Tea place?! That's what that crepe griddle is for!

                          (BTW there is a rumour that Vancouver's food cart bylaws are in for a major change for the positive. Richmond is already at the forefront. Maybe some of this foodcourt action will move outside to food trucks and carts.)

                          1. re: fmed

                            Yep, that place. I don't what it's called either. But yep. I think they're $3.50 each.

                          2. re: DylanLK

                            In my distant memory, I do recall having this, but not with the you tiao. It was simply a crepe with an egg wiped inside then slathered with fat and green onion. That is still classified as a jian bing. The street food scene these days seems far more active than back then.

                          3. re: fmed

                            jian bing? love it. love it. northern chinese snack. eaten all day long including for quick breakfast. versions also found in HK and Taiwan.
                            sometimes they use large deepfried wonton like wrapper instead of yau chau quai('deep fried ghost'-direct translation in cantonese :-D). but yes it is similar to hoisin sauce in taste but more a variation preserved bean sauce, i think. and flat leaf parsley and deepfried scallions are some other things that they put on it.
                            like dylan says depends where you go. its diff. it was 3.99 i think at crystal mall mr zhang. 3.50 was watermelon juice.
                            can we go eat again?

                            1. re: kfed

                              I'm planning to go back...perhaps as soon as Thursday.

                    2. re: DylanLK

                      A pic of the offending burger at Beijing today:

                       
                      1. re: fmed

                        A pic of a meatier rendition (from a couple of months ago):

                         
                         
                        1. re: fmed

                          Because of this thread, I broke my Wang's XLB routine and had this burger (spicy pork) last week. It was ok, but now I wonder what a really good one would be like. I"m not a big lamb guy, but a couple of stalls to the left of Wang's, it looked like they had a similar thing and the bun looked more golden.

                          1. re: el_lobo_solo

                            Ah yes...the real deal in the streets of Beijing (specifically Guijie - "Ghost Street"), Shaanxi and in Xian. A food court (not even the famous Golden Mall in Flushing NY) just can't do this simple dish justice.

                            However, if I may offer a description of what it should be like:

                            Freshly made buns - spiral rolled and flattened, then pan griddled like English Muffins on oil drum stoves. The bread is fluffy, but with a bit of tooth and resistance. The exterior is crisp with some parts slightly burnt. The braised meat filling is deeply flavoured and aromatic, slightly tart from the local vinegar, and with lots of caramelization from the bits stuck at the bottom of the cooking pot - yet still juicy and tender. The slightly shredded meat chunks are mixed with cilantro and green onion (not lettuce!) which provides a nice green freshness to the dish. I haven't had the real thing in over 20 years and I can still taste my first ever bite.

                            We'll just have to keep looking.

                            1. re: fmed

                              Let me shed a tear as I realize how poorly I ate in Beijing so long ago.

                    3. There's one place in downtown Vancouver that does an average one: Superwok on Dunsmuir and Richards. (It's a gua bao, tipping off to the Taiwanese owners. Not sure if there's meant to be any variation between the two other than the name.)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: clutterer

                        Technically a different beast....but delicious nonetheless. We could probably dedicate a thread to gua bao-based Chinese "burgers."

                      2. Here's a pic of the roujiamo from the Lumingchun Food Co at Yaohan. It's definitely the "best" one in the Vancouver area. Good bold flavours in the pork filling and nice hot and fresh bread - with a pan-crisped exterior and a soft warm interior.

                         
                         
                        3 Replies
                        1. re: fmed

                          Lumingchun roujiamo is the most authentic, for sure, and it doesn't have much competition. But the last time I was there, I realized that there's a reason I return so rarely. To me, there's a harsh MSG vibe to the meat/gravy, something that lends it a flavor akin to instant noodle soup powder. Maybe the last time I went was a particularly off day. I'll probably check it out again, but it kinda put me off.

                          It's a disappointment because all the elements together are pretty good. The meat itself, putting aside that weird aftertaste has a good fat/lean mix-- just chopped way too small for me. The bread is crispy. It's got the peppers. But I'm just put off by a certain flavor. The guy obviously takes some pride in what he makes, especially the roujiamo, but the end result is usually just not that great, and a few of the other things I've had off the menu have been genuinely terrible.

                          1. re: DylanLK

                            Most roujiamo that I have eaten had a similar fine pulled-pork texture like this. However, the best ones are more chunky - the pork shreds still clinging to the bigger chunks. Also I do prefer to have some more fresh greens mixed in - cilantro, green onion, etc.

                            I think I know the MSG vibe you mean. It wasn't apparent today. They probably over dosed it on that particular visit. It was good today.

                            I haven't had much of the food from this stall. Only the roujiamo, the beef rolls, the large meat pies. The lamb stews look interesting. I wonder how they compare to Peaceful's versions.

                            1. re: fmed

                              Two years back, I got in a fit of hunger pangs, ended up at Lumingchun near the end of the day, and snatched up one of the 10 for whatever deals that the entire food court submits to when they're trying to clear out the day's leftovers. No roujiamo, but more of the standard steamed buns.

                              That, of course, did not do wonders for one's digestive tract - the MSG didn't help either - and I haven't been back since. But now, fmed, there appears to be a reason to give it a second shot....

                        2. would the ' weiner danish ' ( i swear this exists ! ) merit as Roujiamo ?

                          37 Replies
                          1. re: slugsunderfoot

                            Haha...nope. (I know this weiner danish. You can get it at various Chinese bakeries. There is of course, the Spam danish as well).

                            1. re: fmed

                              You guys mean the hot dog in sweet spongy white bread thing, right? Sometimes with a couple straps of nori across the top, right? No similarity to roujiamo but sort charming in their own way.

                              I'll ask this question here, too: What time does The Crystal's food court stay open until, on week nights?

                              1. re: DylanLK

                                I'm not certain....but I think 6pm.

                                On a related note:
                                The oddly named O'Tray at the top of the escalators at President Plaza in Richmond sells roujiamo, jian bing, and a number of other street snacks. The prorietors are from Tian Jin. I had the jian bing - more like what I am familiar with (a simple egg cracked on top pf the crepe without the cruller that the bubble tea stall at Crystal Mall had).

                                1. re: fmed

                                  Pics from O'Tray in President Plaza's Asian food court (with pics of the part of the menu)

                                   
                                   
                                   
                                   
                                  1. re: fmed

                                    I'm going to check it out.

                                    I've wandered around in that little food court before. It always seems so sad and deserted compared to any other food court in the neighborhood. I had a bowl of dan dan mian once, but that's it.

                                    1. re: DylanLK

                                      Yes..it's a little sadsack compared to the bustling one at Aberdeen right across the road.

                                      The jianbing was good. I already had lunch so I didn't order the roujiamo. The shopkeepers are very friendly.

                                      1. re: fmed

                                        OK...I think we have a winner with "O'Tray"

                                        This is my favourite roujaimo so far. The bread is fresh - with a great flakey-biscuitty crumb, and a slightly crispy exterior. The meat really shines - a nice juicy pork braise with distinct five-spice and cumin flavours and aroma. Nice greens to meat ratio too. (I also had a wonderful cold sesame noodle - 涼麵 )

                                        My rudimentary attempt at translating the Chinese name - the first two characters (天津) are "Tianjin" (where the shopkeepers are from)...I don't know what that last character is.

                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                        1. re: fmed

                                          Wow, the bread really does look biscuit-y. What's the price point on those?

                                          The sign says: 天津味 -- 牛羊肉粉面 Tiānjīn Wèi -- Niúyáng ròu fěn miàn: Tianjin Flavour. Beef and lamb flour and starch noodles.

                                          1. re: DylanLK

                                            $2.75? (IIRC).

                                            Ahh..."Flavour" 味...I tried all sorts of words ("cooking, food, restaurant, snacks, eats..."). Tianjin Flavour = O'Tray. LOL.

                                            1. re: fmed

                                              Is it the 4th item in the first section?

                                               
                                              1. re: fmed

                                                Probably!

                                                天津风味 Tiānjīn fēngwèi (Tianjin local flavors)

                                                煎饼果子 Jiānbing guǒzi
                                                豆腐脑 Dòufunǎo (silken tofu pudding, sweet or savory)
                                                素菜云吞汤 Sùcài yúntūn tāng (vegetarian wonton soup)
                                                酱肉烤饼 Jiàngròu kǎobǐng (braised pork in baked bread)
                                                津味包子 Jīnwèi bāozi (Tianjin-style steamed buns)
                                                香脆锅贴 Xiāngcuì guōtiē (crispy pot-stickers)

                                                1. re: DylanLK

                                                  Next section:

                                                  全素 Quánsù (vegetarian)

                                                  豆干素炒面 Dòugān sù chǎomiàn (fried noodles with pressed tofu)
                                                  全素汤面 Quánsù tāngmiàn (vegetarian soup noodles)
                                                  津味打卤面 Jīnwèi dǎlǔmiàn (Tianjin style broad noodles with sweet bean paste)
                                                  番茄鸡蛋面 Fānqié jīdàn miàn (tomato and egg noodles [my personal favorite])
                                                  素炸酱面 Sù zhájiàngmiàn (vegetarian noodles with fried bean sauce)

                                                  The Sichuan restaurant across the food court also has lots and lots of vegetarian stuff. Because it's got lots of traffic from people from the temple upstairs?

                                                  1. re: DylanLK

                                                    招牌汤面 Zhāopai tāngmiàn (house special soup noodles)

                                                    津味羊杂汤 Jīnwèi yángzá tāng (Tianjin-style soup with lamb meat and offal)
                                                    红烧羊肉面 Hóngshāo yángròu miàn (braised lamb noodles)
                                                    红烧牛肉面 Hóngshāo niúròu miàn (braised beef noodles)
                                                    红烧牛杂面 Hóngshāo niúzá miàn (braised beef meat and offal noodles)
                                                    麻辣羊肉面 Málà yángròu miàn (Sichuan pepper and chili lamb noodles)
                                                    麻辣牛肉面 Málà niúròu miàn (Sichuan pepper and chili beef noodles)
                                                    麻辣牛杂面 Málà niúzá miàn (Sichuan pepper and chili beef meat and offal noodles)

                                                    1. re: DylanLK

                                                      Thanks D!

                                                      I think this place is a keeper based on the few dishes I had - which were all done well. (The sesame noodles in particular.)

                                                      1. re: DylanLK

                                                        Dylan, thank you so much for the translations. Though I'm not sure I'll ever make it to these various spots, this is really helping me along with building a knowledge of the incredible breadth of Chinese cuisine!

                                                        1. re: peter.v

                                                          ditto, much appreciated. DylanLK should be an i-phone app.

                                                          1. re: el_lobo_solo

                                                            LOL. I said exactly the same thing in a PM!

                                                            (On that note: http://chinabites.com/iphone/ )

                                                    2. re: DylanLK

                                                      BTW...I observed that nearly everyone ordered the silken tofu pudding (豆腐脑 Dòufunǎo). It is served cold and looks to have the same (or very similar) sesame sauce that my cold noodles had today.

                                                      The doufunao and the jianbing (they put a deep fried cracker in there) were the most popular orders there by a mile.

                                                      1. re: fmed

                                                        There are some tofu pudding places in Richmond, like the one on the other side of Aberdeen, Excellent Tofu and Snack, but none that really have Beijing-Tianjin or any other northern style 豆腐脑儿 dòufunǎor. I honestly have no idea what distinguishes northern style because I've seen lots of variations on doufunaor in both cities, but I've heard lots of Beijing friends get huffy about southern tofu pudding.

                                                        I'll attach two random pictures of Beijing-Tianjin doufunaor, the first one is supposed to be Tianjin doufunaor and the second one is supposed to be Beijing doufunaor-- I've eaten a lot more of the second version.

                                                        Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPAIAY... -- a tribute by 张伯宏 Zhang Bohong to Beijing street culture, which references one dollar bowls of doufunaor and Goubuli baozi.

                                                         
                                                         
                                                        1. re: DylanLK

                                                          I don't know doufunao either. The version Tianjin Flavours serves is silken tofu with this or a similar sauce. (It certainly looked to me like the same sauce - toasted sesame paste and black vinegar base):

                                                           
                                                        2. re: fmed

                                                          Oooh, thanks, guys! I've been reading this thread with great interest -- and I'm glad for the heads up re Tianjin Flavour. Crystal Mall is a bit out of the way for me, but President Plaza -- woohoo! I know what I'm having next time I go grocery shopping. Better time my stop with lunch.

                                                          1. re: _js_

                                                            I'd love your take on it _js_.

                                                            1. re: fmed

                                                              I thought they must have some sort of crappy English menu tacked up somewhere, but yeah, just Chinese. When I first rocked up, the lady said to me in English, "We only service noodles," and, you know, that's cool, and they have a couple pictures, but it sorta limits the impression someone might get, if they were just walking up and couldn't read the menu. I said to her in Chinese, "So there's no dòufunǎor today?" And she laughed and laughed and said, yes yes of course we've got that.

                                                              Maybe non-Chinese interest in regional Chinese food court stuff is really not that big of a factor.

                                                              Anyways, 豆腐脑儿 dòufunǎor I've had in the past was mostly was served room temperature, gelatinous chicken-y soup with some goji berries and a few threads of chicken meat, maybe a pinch of cilantro on top. Today, not quite the same, still gelatinous but with wood ear mushrooms, a meatier soup, a few spoonfuls of sesame sauce, a few squirt of chili oil.

                                                              I'll stick a picture here. It's delicious but not very photogenic.

                                                               
                                                              1. re: DylanLK

                                                                We could start a new thread on 豆腐脑儿 dòufunǎor (or as my translation SW indicates... "Tofu Brainchild")...

                                                                Here is the TianJin Flavour version (not the slightly sweet sesame paste that I thought it was in the other thread - but a more savoury sesame-base - tart (from pickle), spicy (I asked for "spicy" - so there was a dollop of chili paste on top), slightly gelatinous "dressing" (not really a "broth" I thought). It too had wood-ear, cilantro, pickled vegetable, etc:

                                                                 
                                                                 
                                                                1. re: fmed

                                                                  Yep, we need a thread on doufunaor. Maybe we just need a Northern-ish Regional Chinese thread.

                                                                  "Tofu brains" is a good translation for 豆腐脑 dòufunǎo. The 儿 er on the end is just to reflect the northern pronunciation.

                                                                  1. re: DylanLK

                                                                    I have an aunt that grew up in Shanghai during the revolution, and she always referred to the standard sweet silken tofu as "Tofu Brains," instead of the usual "Tofu Flower," which is what those in HK would call it. I used to get a big kick out of that.

                                    2. re: fmed

                                      - spam danish: think of it. pastry with a slab of spam draped in lacings of white icing.

                                      1. re: slugsunderfoot

                                        Gotta admit...I'm salivating a little bit at the thought.

                                        1. re: fmed

                                          - yeah ? well, how about a chowdown soon: weiner danish, spam danish, haggis danish. location ?

                                          1. re: slugsunderfoot

                                            Haha...well have a look at my favourite Spam snack (direct from Hawaii):

                                             
                                             
                                              1. re: fmed

                                                I was shocked how good spam musubi was! I had lots of interesting spam dishes when we stayed for a month...spam fritters with spicy mayo inside at a little Japanese place by our condo...

                                                1. re: ck1234

                                                  I honestly love Spam. I like to fry it up just a little so it has some crisp edges.

                                                  1. re: fmed

                                                    ha, that's my childhood right there, with rice and ketchup of course.

                                                    1. re: el_lobo_solo

                                                      Yep! I still indulge once in a blue moon for old time's sake.

                                                      1. re: fmed

                                                        - staying totally on- topic here, a selection of ' lost gems ' from my ' save- on- meats welfare years ' of the late 1970's.

                                                        - bulk weiner soup

                                                        - pan- fried balogna & peanut butter & jam sandwich

                                                        - head cheese rice w mayo & relish

                                                        - kippers with fried onions & pork ' n ' beans on toast

                                                        - curried bacon ends with instant noodles

                                                        - hungarian chicken liver stew

                                                        -

                                    3. sitting in lecture, reading your post is making me drool!

                                      brings back memories of when I went to lumingchun in HK and had the roujiamo...possibly the best ive ever had!

                                      perhaps i'll go check out the one in crystal mall this weekend to fulfill my craving :P