Friday, 9 September 2011

Of Pigeons and Winter Melon Soup

Another dinner with the Vancouver relatives was in order, but this time one of my uncles realized dinner should be had at another place partly for variety and partly to allow us out-of-towners to try something different.  For that, it was decided that dinner should be at Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant on Vancouver's Main St.  Though this restaurant does specialize in dishes made with fresh, live seafood, it also specializes in Roast Squab, or Roast Pigeon.  I'd first discovered this dish when I travelled to Hong Kong at the age of 10.  A restaurant just north of Sha Tin was famous for its Roast Squab, though at that age I was perhaps more enticed by the carp-filled ponds in the courtyard.
Roast Pigeon/Squab

Upper quarter of a roast pigeon/squab.
I've had both quail and squab, and though the meat of both have similar outward appearances when cooked, I've found squab to taste more moist and have a softer texture than quail, and it has a milder taste than duck or geese.  There are claims that squab is generally healthier than poultry and most other forms of fowl, such as the meat being low in fat and claims in Chinese medicine that it contains antitoxins to cleanse the internal organs.  Served roasted, the squab has a mildly crispy skin and moist, flavourful flesh.
The covered tureen in which the Winter Melon Soup was served.
After that appetizer we were served another specialty of this restaurant, Winter Melon Soup.  We originally couldn't order any as the restaurant was sold out and we didn't order in advance.  However, one table apparently forfeited its order, and we were able to take over the order.
Winter Melon Soup.
Individual serving of Winter Melon Soup.
This is likely why orders are limited every day; the soup is served within half of a whole winter melon.  The winter melon, named as the melon when harvested at maturity has a long shelf life, allowing for consumption of fresh vegetables in the winter months especially in times before refridgeration, is hollowed of its seeds, and broth, along with ingredients such as crab meat, pork and mushrooms, is allowed to simmer within the hollow space.  The melon is just sturdy enough to contain the soup within itself, and the melon's flesh absorbs the flavours of the soup.  Though this restaurant served the melon in a tureen, other places that offer winter melon soup may carve intricate artistic patterns on the waxy skin of the winter melon.  The winter melon also retains the soup's heat along with the flavours, making this soup especially a good one to have on cold nights.
Steamed chicken with a side of a salt mixture transliterated as "sand salt".
With the soup done, the main dishes arrived steadily.  The first to arrive was a whole steamed chicken.  This was served with a dish of a spiced salt and oil mixture that is transliterated from Chinese as "sand salt", likely because of the appearance and the texture of the salt when it first hits one's mouth.  It's not the hot kind of spicy, but it is quite savoury and has a certain umami to it.  The chicken itself had no additional flavour as it was steamed plain, but by skipping the salt mixture this dish is great for the health conscious as steaming doesn't destroy water-based vitamins (i.e. Vitamins B & C) unlike boiling.
Steamed fish with soy sauce and green onions, a traditional way of cooking fresh fish.
Next to arrive was Steamed fish with soy sauce.  This is a traditional way of cooking fresh fish, taking advantage of the flavours of the fish that is lost when it is refrigerated or frozen.  Usually small white saltwater fish is used such as tilapia, and the fish is steamed whole and typically garnished with soy sauce, shredded green onions and sometimes shredded ginger root, the latter two ingredients often to counter any fishiness that may arise.  This is another healthy meat dish to have, and the flavour of the fish comes through cleanly when done right.
A vegetarian dish: pre-fried tofu with Shanghai bok choy band shiitakes.
Another dish we had was Tofu with Shanghai bok choy and shiitake mushrooms.  The tofu used was pre-fried before it was tossed and cooked with this dish.  The Shanghai bok choy was likely steamed lightly before it was tossed with this dish to maintain an almost rare flavour and crunchiness I enjoy.  Also, just look at the size of the shiitakes used in this dish!
Sweet & Sour Beef (aka Chinese-Style Beef)
Next was Sweet & Sour Beef or, as transliterated, Chinese-Style Beef.  To be honest with you, I didn't notice any major differences in quality or flavour between this version and the one at Red Star Seafood Restaurant, but this dish was a favourite of my grandfather's, and who were we to stop him from having some?  Though I didn't take any pictures of the last dish, we also had was Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd.  Water Spinach, known as tung choy or ong choy in Chinese, is a leafy vegetable with hollow stems.  It has a unique flavour that, ever since I was a kid, I never could fully accept, though now it's something I can tolerate
Tapioca & Coconut Dessert Soup with Taro
For dessert the restaurant served us a dessert soup that I've enjoyed since I was a kid, Tapioca & Coconut Dessert Soup with Taro.  Though served hot, it can also be served chilled.  The starchy taro pieces play well in contrasting the smooth miniature tapioca beads and marries well with the coconut flavour.  Of all the dessert soups in Chinese cuisine, this is one I absolutely have no hesitation eating!

There may be other restaurants I've yet to discover that will serve Roast Squab and Winter Melon Soup, but because they're considered as delicacies in Chinese cuisine they're not commonly found  I felt Sun Sui Wah did a decent job with our dinner.

Name: Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant
Address: 3888 Main St., Vancouver, BC (also 102-4940 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, BC) 
Cuisine: Chinese
Price Range: Lunch & Dinner N/A
Accessible: Yes

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