Liven Up Your Holidays with Southeast Asian Flavours

Roti Canai; Photo Sourced from Banana Leaf

If you’re tired of turkey (and turkey leftovers) this holiday season, you might start yearning for other flavours.

Instead, think rich coconut curries, stir-fried noodles, and stews chock-full of delicious ingredients. Vancouver, with its diverse Asian population, benefits from an array of Southeast Asian restaurants that speak to the vibrancy of the different cuisines in the region. Many of the dishes are especially comforting for a wintry evening meal at home.

Until January 8, 2021, in line with the public health order updated on December 7, non-essential travel into and out of BC is not recommended. BC residents, let’s do our part by continuing to stay local and support local with our immediate household or bubble, in accordance with the latest guidelines.

Do Chay

Vegan spring rolls; Sourced from Do Chay

Who knew that Vietnamese cooking could get even more exciting? Do Chay (1269 Hamilton Street) has wooed diners with their vegetarian and mostly vegan takes on classic Vietnamese dishes, like their vegan pho, with avocado, yuba, yo choy, broccoli, oyster mushrooms, and rice noodles in a vegan pho broth. Great dishes to start with include crispy vegan spring rolls with ish sauce and mustard greens and herbs for wrapping; as well as crispy daikon cakes consisting of egg, salted radish, green onion, papaya slaw, and soy sauce. More substantial plates range from a kabocha, carrot, and potato curry bowl with tofu and rice, to desert island noodles with thick rice noodles, coconut milk, vegan meatball, tomato, shredded tofu mix, peanut, ish sauce, and greens and herbs. Even die-hard carnivores will leave satisfied with the incredible plant-based tastes.

Banana Leaf

Jumbo scallops assam curry; Photo sourced from Banana Leaf

Dishes are never short on flavour at Banana Leaf (various locations), where you’ll relish comforting and consistently well-executed Malaysian cuisine. Classic starters include satay skewers (chicken, beef, or lamb), flaky roti canai with curry sauce, and tom yum goong with tiger prawns, lime juice, galangal, lime leaves, Thai chili paste, fish sauce, lemon grass, bella mushrooms, cilantro, and green onion. Make sure to order coconut rice in banana leaf or Hainan ginger garlic rice to go with one of their curries, like the lamb curry or jumbo scallops assam curry. If you’re particularly famished, the 7 course ($25 per person, minimum 2 people) or 11 course ($45 per person, minimum 2 people) menus might be a good choice, with the 11 course featuring dishes like cumin coconut steamed mussels, caramelized ginger wild sablefish, and rendang beef.

SalaThai Restaurant

Red curry; Sourced from SalaThai

This long running downtown restaurant specializes in authentic Thai cuisine. Salathai (102-888 Burrard Street), a family-run establishment that first opened on Cambie Street in 1986, expertly prepares central Thai dishes that are elegant and flavourful. Tom yum soup (hot and sour broth with mushrooms, fresh lemongrass, lime leaf, and your choice of protein) makes for a soothing winter starter, followed by golden angel wings (boneless chicken wings stuffed with pork, shrimp, vegetables, vermicelli, and herbs and served with homemade sweet chili sauce and ground peanuts). Curries include the gaeng dang, a red curry with bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and Thai basil leaves with your choice of chicken, beef, or pork. Other standout dishes are the swimming rama (lightly sautéed spinach topped with sliced chicken and homemade peanut sauce) and the pad see-iew (stir-fried wide rice noodles in soy sauce with broccoli, egg, and black pepper). End with a deep-fried banana with homemade coconut ice cream.

The Union

Cauli-wings; Sourced from the Union

If you’re looking for a lively tour of Southeast Asian cuisine, The Union (219 Union Street) is always a very enjoyable eating experience. The flavours are high octane, and the ingredients are fresh, with a commitment to the local and the sustainable. Addictive snacks include Hawker Thai wings (or cauli-wings) with sweet and spicy nam jihm glaze, cilantro, and chilies, in addition to a vibrant Thai som tum salad with green papaya, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and chili lime dressing (you can add Ocean Wise prawns). The salad is bound to chase the winter doldrums away! The kitchen serves four different but equally satisfying Vietnamese banh mi: sweet and sour fried tofu, crispy pork belly, chili sesame spiced chicken, and sweet chili fried cod. All come on a crusty baguette with pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapenos, and sriracha mayo. Big bowls include a Thai red curry rice bowl with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, and your choice of chicken or tofu, and an Indonesian nasi goreng (chicken fried rice with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, red onion, peas, sweet soy, and a sunny-side up egg).


Local mussels; Photo Credit: Hamid Attie

Always offering a transformative meal, Maenam (1938 West 4th Avenue) continues to keep Thai cuisine inventive and perfectly crafted. The restaurant has creatively done a pivot during the pandemic with dine-in, takeout, and frozen ready-to-eat options. The latter features northern style kao soi chichen curry, gati turmeric halibut cheek curry, and braised beef panang curry. The dinner menu includes steamed local mussels with fresh lemongrass, tomato, red chili, Thai basil, and nam jim sauce; grilled Thai sausage salad with crispy curried rice puffs; and pad thai with fresh rice noodles, tamarind, peanuts, tofu, eggs, and sustainable prawns (can also be made vegetarian). Plus, you might want to pick up chef Angus An’s newly released cookbook, Maenam: A Fresh Approach to Thai Cooking as a gift or a gift to yourself (those can be the best kind).

Fans of sister restaurant Freebird Chicken can rejoice that the establishment has now moved into Maenam. The takeout options encompass Asian-style salted cured roast chicken (whole or half), which comes with rice and soup; Hainan chicken on rice, with soup; chicken wings with tamarind, palm sugar, and toasted rice dipping sauce; and black pepper chicken wings.

Max’s Restaurant

Kare-kare; Sourced from Max’s

Since 1945, Max’s Restaurant (3546 Kingsway) has been proudly serving homestyle Filipino cooking to diners around the world. They first became known for their crispy, juicy fried chicken but since then have become acclaimed for their many other authentic Filipino dishes. You can order the fried chicken (whole or half) along with an order of French fries or sweet potato fries. Another chicken option is the Max’s inasal: grilled chicken marinated in a citrusy soy-based sauce with fresh garlic, ginger, and lemon grass – basted with annatto oil. The dish comes with garlic rice. Appetizers musts are the lumpiang Shanghai filled with ground pork and veggies, while other recommended dishes include the pancit palabok (thick rice noodles in a shrimp, squid, and ground pork sauce), the crispy pata (pork hock), and the the kare-kare (beef shank and oxtail peanut stew).

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