Street stalls bring a slice of Taiwanese life to Vancouver
Despite the launch of a street-food pilot project, Vancouver has a long way to go before soup stalls and roadside fried chicken venders are as common as they are in Taipei.
“In Taiwan, street food is really street food,” says Ruby Chou, a UBC student who calls both Vancouver and Nantou City in central Taiwan home. On the line with the Straight, she explains that venders are so common they’re easy to stumble upon on your way home from school or work. Not only do they set up roadside food carts, they put tables and chairs out on the sidewalk, so “you can sit and you can eat with your friends.”
This weekend, anyone passing by the Vancouver Art Gallery and the 600 and 700 block of Granville Street can experience a bit of Taiwanese life, including its food carts. That’s because the annual Telus TaiwanFest (running September 4 to 6) has taken to the streets. Previously held at the Plaza of Nations and the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, this year the festival is centred on Granville Street between Dunsmuir and Robson streets. The celebration extends to the Vancouver Art Gallery Plaza (facing West Georgia Street) and CBC Studio 700. Unlike last year at the Plaza of Nations, admission is free. (It’s a street party, after all.) That means you won’t need a ticket to access the culinary offerings.
“Eating in Taiwan is so easy and accessible,” says Sherry Wang, communications manager for Telus TaiwanFest, in a phone interview. “Being on the street [in Vancouver] will definitely re-create that atmosphere.”¦We’re hoping that more people can get a chance to try out some of these delicacies.”
Chou will be dishing up street snacks with the Reality Club, a UBC student group that promotes Taiwanese culture. At the art gallery plaza, the Reality Club will be selling oyster omelettes, barbecued Taiwanese pork sausage, deep-fried fish cakes, chicken nuggets, and more. They’ve brought in some of the ingredients from Taiwan, such as the “secret recipe” salt-and-pepper-chicken seasoning.
Some of the club’s dishes will reflect the Crossover theme of the festival. For example, Chou explains, the rice balls that the group is selling would traditionally be filled with Taiwanese sausage or pork floss. In a nod to the West Coast, they’ll be stuffed with a choice of salmon floss or corn and ham instead.
A cooking stage on Granville Street will have chefs showing how to make Taiwanese dishes with ingredients that are readily available here. Chef Chao Lin Chen, from Yilan County’s Link (Du Hsiao Yueh) restaurant, will be demonstrating contemporary fusion cuisine. He’ll make dishes such as Taiwanese geoduck noodles, lobster sandwiches, and Osmanthus crab.
David Chung, a chef from Loblaws’ President’s Choice cooking school in Toronto, will be making the popular Three Cups Chicken. The dish’s name refers to how the sauce is made: traditionally, it includes one cup of sesame oil, one cup of soy sauce, and one cup of rice wine.
Vegetarians won’t be left out. Snow Liu, a member of the Tzu Chi Foundation, will be showing how to make Taiwanese vegetarian fare, including pineapple fried rice, fresh veggie wraps, five-colour oyster mushrooms, and stuffed tomatoes on the cooking stage.
Tzu Chi is a Buddhist compassionate relief organization that was started in Taiwan. Its Web site explains that the organization’s founder, dharma master Cheng Yen, advocates vegetarianism as a way to align eating habits with Buddhist principles, protect the environment, and mitigate global warming.
“We try to promote a vegetarian diet,” explains Anita Kwong, director of the Tri-Cities chapter of Tzu Chi Foundation Canada. In a phone interview, she explains that most members of the group are vegetarian. In Buddhism, she says, “every life is equal”¦nobody has the right to kill.” Members also promote reducing waste, and will be assisting festivalgoers in disposing of their garbage as part of a zero-waste challenge.
At their booth, Tzu Chi volunteers will be selling limited quantities of vegetarian lunch boxes, which will feature Chinese dishes such as sweet-and-sour vegetarian “pork”.
UBC student Chou notes that food stalls are so ubiquitous in Taiwan that many cater exclusively to vegetarians. They use vegetable oil instead of lard for cooking, for example, along with a wide variety of meat-textured products made from vegetables like mushrooms, rather than just soy products.
She would love to see one of her favourite Taiwanese snacks, “stinky tofu”, on the streets of Vancouver. That’s the name of a wildly popular dish consisting of pungent fermented tofu that’s deep-fried and served with crunchy pickled cabbage slaw. Chou hasn’t found the dish anywhere in Vancouver, and she’s not optimistic that health authorities will green-light it for street venders. (Her group wanted to offer it at the festival but ran into roadblocks.)
Instead, she thinks che run bing (sweet red-bean-stuffed pastries) would be a better bet for an enterprising street-food vender. You can pick some up at TaiwanFest this weekend. Who knows? Maybe you’ll come across them again as Vancouver’s street-food scene develops.