Holiday dining in Vancouver when you don't do Christmas

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      At first, trying to find restaurants that were open on Christmas Day seemed as difficult as convincing Santa Claus to lay off the shortbread. Calls to many establishments were answered by staff who very happily declared that they would be closed. However, persistent dialling turned up numerous places that cater to those who don't celebrate Christmas, or those who want some nonturkey options over the holiday season.

      Mayur Arora, owner of Maurya Indian Cuisine (1643 West Broadway), used to close on the 25th but changed his mind last year when he received inquiries from customers eager to make reservations. “We did an experiment by opening, and we were busier than most other days last year,” he recounts over the phone.

      Who were these diners enjoying the lunch and dinner buffets? Singletons without family in town, diners who were sick of slaving away in the kitchen, and many of Arora's Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim patrons. This year, buffet offerings include rack of lamb roasted in a tandoori oven, prawns in a coconut-onion sauce, and rich butter chicken. (All are available à la carte after Christmas Day.)

      Arora, whose background is Sikh and Hindu, can sympathize with those combing the city for eats beyond the usual Yuletide fare. Other than his restaurant, his picks are Desi Lounge & Restaurant (911 Denman Street and 8821 120th Street, Delta) and Szechuan Chongqing Seafood Restaurant (205–1668 West Broadway).

      Chinese restaurants tend to be a good bet during the holidays because many are open 365 days a year. Particularly on Christmas Day, brace for jostling dim sum lineups with Chinese grannies chattering with their families at Red Star Seafood Restaurant (8298 Granville Street and 200–8181 Cambie Road, Richmond) and Golden Ocean Seafood Restaurant (2046 West 41st Avenue).

      Or, if you're craving Northern Chinese delights, Shanghai River (110–7831 Westminster Highway, Richmond) and Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House (1537 West Broadway) are great places for slurping delicious broth from xiaolongbao (soup-filled dumplings).

      Lin's owner, Yu Miao, reveals the secret of these juicy dumplings. She boils chicken, duck, and pork to make a flavourful broth, and then allows it to jell in the fridge. The resulting gelatin, along with pork filling, is stuffed into dumplings that are then steamed. When they arrive at the table, the gelatin has melted into steaming broth that's ready to spill out at the slightest nibble.

      “Because at Christmastime, people eat a lot of things, they need to have something a little light, like our appetizer of juicy dumplings,” Miao says during a phone chat. Other lighter fare she recommends includes a hot pot with veggies, tofu, vermicelli, and egg dumplings; eggplant with tofu in a spicy sauce; and stir-fried beans with shredded bean curd.

      Miao sacrifices her own Christmas for the sake of her patrons, many of whom practise other religions, such as Buddhism. She'll have her own celebratory dinner at home after the restaurant shuts down at 10 p.m. on Christmas Day. And where will she and her family be dining on her days off? “We don't want to go to a Chinese restaurant because we eat Chinese food the whole year,” she says, chuckling.

      People like Miao could cross a couple of bridges to the North Shore, where Persian restaurants offer their own seasonal dining experiences. Meat is also often halal for their Muslim clientele. The elegant Shalizar (1863 Marine Drive, West Vancouver) features a host of kebabs, along with traditional dishes like fesenjan, a walnut purée and pomegranate stew with chunks of chicken breast.

      “Many of our customers don't do the traditional turkey dinner because most Persians are Muslim. We have a lot of Arab, Persian, and Indian customers who don't celebrate Christmas,” says Mahtab Saraf, the owner of Kashcool Restaurant (222 Pemberton Avenue, North Vancouver), who is a Shiite Muslim herself. Saraf says customers clamour for her flame-broiled lamb kebabs, as well as a hearty dizi stew of red kidney beans, chickpeas, potatoes, beef, and tomatoes.

      Kosher dining is more limited but still possible. Over the phone, assistant rabbi Daniel Mikelberg of Temple Sholom on Oak Street recommends Sabra Kosher Bakery and Restaurant (3844 Oak Street) and Omnitsky Kosher Deli (5866 Cambie Street). Both are closed on the 25th but after that will resume their normal hours, and are great for an informal bite during the rest of the holidays (Hanukkah runs through Monday, December 29).

      So, whether you need a break from stuffing or have your own nonturkey holiday traditions, these options will surely get you feasting with your loved ones. After all, there's still time left for indulgence before you have to stick to those New Year's resolutions.



      Lisa B

      Dec 7, 2010 at 2:04pm

      Thanks for all the restaurants!! This article was EXTREMELY helpful!

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