So it's official. A CBC news report advises that for a good night's sleep, one should go to bed with neither a full stomach nor an empty one. To the Chinese, this gastronomic Goldilocks principle is nothing new. That's why there are so many Chinese eateries that keep their doors open past midnight to cater to night prowlers, insomniacs, party animals, and folks who just want a bowl of congee to warm their stomachs before bed.
In Vancouver, a fair few of these late-night joints are dotted along Kingsway, perhaps because the thoroughfare slashes diagonally across the city and offers free parking along the way.
If you are interested in a little immersion into mainland Chinese hipster culture, check out the Traditional Chinese BBQ House (3141 Kingsway). A poster on the wall urges teenagers to “Act Now”, get a job, and move away from home—presumably so they can gain the freedom to stay up till 3 a.m. eating Szechuan-style hot pot with friends while texting on their smartphones. From the bluish glow of phone screens reflected on the young patrons' faces to the bad English on the menu to the aroma of cumin, fagara, and chilies, this place is a transplant right out of China. Our selections from the barbecue section (column four on the menu—all the headings are in Chinese only) included the highly spiced and flavourful grilled lamb skewers (99 cents each, minimum order of six) and the moist, excellent marinated chicken wings. Both brought back memories of night markets across China. Under northern stir-fries (column three, $7.80) we found a plate of tasty chef's special escargots—periwinkles in a lightly spicy sweet-salty bean sauce—which took a bit of work to extract from their shells with toothpicks. The Fish in Spicy Hot Pot (column two, $18.80), was palate-numbingly spicy and sweat-inducing in true Szechuan fashion.
But this is not food for slumber. Rather, it's food for drinking, and the restaurant knows it—if you buy five beers you get the sixth one free. Well, sleep is overrated anyway. Next time I can't sleep, I'll try the Rabbit in Hot Pot or perhaps the Wok-Grilled Bullfrog.
For a more family-oriented experience, head to Au Wing Kee (2568 Kingsway) which has 78 items on its night snack menu available from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Try the unusual, such as deep-fried quail ($6.50) or soft-shell crab ($7) with hot pepper and salt. Or go for a pot of lobster congee (market price).
Or for the tried and true, Congee Noodle House at 141 East Broadway has a sister at 3313 Kingsway: Congee Noodle King, which is open till 1 a.m. A bowl of chicken-mushroom congee and some steamed rice rolls with prawns always gives me that warm glow as I slip into my pyjamas.