Tropika @ Aberdeen – Been there, done that? Maybe not!

I’ve eaten at Tropika many many times. I went there often when they were next to the Bread Garden mall on Lansdowne Rd, years ago. After they moved into Aberdeen I haven’t eaten there much, nor was I a big fan. It’s not that it’s bad – certainly for the bigger, “chain” Thai/Malay places it is one of the better ones in the city, but I always like smaller hole-in-the-wall Thai/Malay places better. (Plus I always find myself comparing it to Wong Jun Jun in Hong Kong and that makes me slightly depressed that I’m not there XD )

 

It’s definitely not an uncomfortable restaurant to sit in. High ceilings, leafy, spacious… (and never too busy). Frankly I prefer the old Richmond Tropika more. It was always super dark in there but it felt cozy and like a classy Thai place… Aberdeen is very well lit and there are pretty much windows all around.


 

Recently we went for lunch and it was the same old same old – we always kind of order more or less the same stuff when we dine here, such as roti canai:

 

A gado gado (bean sprouts salad with fried tofu and cucumbers and peanut sauce) for me:

Some chicken and pork satays: which are always nicely grilled and pretty delicious – I like their dipping sauces in general.

 

Some boring fried rice that the rice-lovers must always get *yawn*:

 

Except this time I discovered something I really liked on the menu – their Char Bee Hoon 星洲炒米粉 (not the HK style one which is called Singapore Noodle). Maybe I have tried this a long time ago, I don’t remember. Just not in recent memory. This is basically just fried vermicelli with some mixed seafood (squid, shrimp) and julienned cucumber. It’s only very slightly spicy but all the flavours were really well balanced- delicious!

 

And I also tried their meat and vegetable soup, and there was tons of stuff in it – fish, pork, baby corn, peppers, cabbage, bokchoi, shrimp, broccoli, straw mushrooms… The soup itself was pretty good too. 

 

 

Most of the time I go to Tropika and I leave satisfied (especially when I have some of their tasty drinks) but I wouldn’t say super impressed. This time, however, I left pretty happy and thinking I would go back again soon, and definitely not order the same old stuff. 

 

Tropika at Aberdeen

Unit 1830, Aberdeen Centre
4151 Hazelbridge Way

It’s a mango infestation!

mangos

Ataulfo mangos are one of my favorite fruits. Their sweetness can simply not be matched by your large, red-skinned Florida mangos. These miniature ones are even better. I’m not sure what this specific variety is called. Mini-ataulfos? But they are yummy. Of course, you’d have to eat several at once. All the more better.

Coco Chilli 椰子屋

Tucked away in a little mall near the east end of Richmond’s “Food Street” (Alexandra Rd), Coco Chilli (椰子屋) is a charming little restaurant that is easy to just pass by (despite their very yellow sign). Malaysian? Indonesian? Thai? Vietnamese? They have a bit of everything, thus I file them under that umbrella term of “Southeast Asian”.

Lunch menu features a large selection of fried rice, rice noodle in soup, dry noodle, curries, with various meats, tofu, or seafood. There are also your typical snacks like spring rolls, fried scallops (no salad rolls though, too bad!), and some drinks like fresh mango slurpees (which is often on special for $2). The dinner menu is also quite extensive, but doesn’t feature the single portions or a lot of the noodle items that they have for  lunch. Dinner here is best enjoyed with a big group as their dishes are large and served family-style.

They make good 炒通菜 (fried Kang Kong, AKA water spinach, or ong choi). It is literally dripping in oil, but very tasty. Definitely a must try.

My favorite is their 香茅雞檬 (lemon grass chicken with dry rice vermicelli), pictured here with a seafood tofu noodle soup and some (*yawn*) fried rice. It is nothing extraordinary, but it’s tastey and a nice portion size, and the 檬 (dry vermicelli) is pretty good. 

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Coco Chilli 椰子屋
Good for lunch, or big group dinners. Cash and debit only.
180-8611 Alexandra Rd, Richmond

Red Palms Malaysian Pondok | 紅棕馬來餐廳

Red Palms Malayasian Pondok

Red Palms Malaysian Pondok opened sometime in the summer, but it has been rather low key. Recently it put ads in the newspaper splashing giant letters of a “No MSG, no salt, low fat, healthy” cooking style, making me very curious as to how healthy and tastey this kind of Malaysian food can be. (I associate Malaysian food with: fried, thick creamy sauces, rich flavors, not exactly low fat.) 

The word “Pondok” means “hut” in Malay. I guess Red Palms is like this very colorful, IKEA-inspired … tropical hut. With tropical music.

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Came for dinner at around 6:30PM this past weekend, and throughout our stay the restaurant was at a consistent 50% full (maybe 30 odd people). There is the head chef, a big friendly, bubbly guy who comes out to meet all his customers. He explains how things are prepared, brings and serves the dishes from the kitchen with great enthusiasm and care. He saw us out when we left. I saw one other sous chef and another cook in the kitchen. The only other person working here is who I assume to be the manager – he is the only wait staff and does everything from taking orders to preparing drinks, from serving dishes to cleaning up. This is Dinner Dash in real life folks… at the difficult levels. More on this later.

A little plate of nuts and salted fish to start.

Nuts

Gado Gado – $7. The typical Malaysian salad with bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, tofu, and hard boiled egg. Theirs also had cubes of jicama, which is a nice touch and very refreshing. I asked for the dressing on the side – it’s a peanut dressing, very good, served warm.

Gado Gado

Plain Roti Canai – $3. This is one piece of flat bread. I would have expected at least twice the amount of bread for this price. The dipping sauce was spicy and slightly sweet- made with two different curries and coconut milk. But the Gado Gado peanut sauce was better.

Roti Canai

Chicken Curry – $12.  For the curry dishes you can pick from 9 different curry sauces to pair with your choice of meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, lobster, shrimp, scallops, and crab). This was the Sambal Tumis curry. It also has potatos and onions in it. The curry was OK.

Curry Chicken

Steamed mullet – $15. This is not too bad a price for a whole frozen fish, I guess. The sauce was not as sour as I would have liked for this kind of steamed mullet, because they used some different ingredients. But the fish still tasted pretty nice. It is garnished with generous slices of shitake mushrooms, pickled cabbage, and cilantro. Served in a metal fish-shaped “pot” (as it should) that is heated by a little fire below, which sufficiently kept the fish nice and hot.

Steamed Mullet

We also ordered

Half of a Hainan poached chicken, for $14.50. Half a chicken for that price, and it tasted exactly like a 白切雞 (“white cut chicken“, basically plain steamed chicken), with absolutely no Hainan flavor! I can buy a better tasting 白切雞 at a bbq store for almost half that price! A few pieces were also … uh, very raw.

Fried Gailan, for $9.50. I wasn’t happy with this, as we had hoped to have the fried Kang Kong (the first choice at Malaysian restaurants), but they didn’t have any Kang Kong. The shrimp sauce that the gailan was sauteed in wasn’t bad, but they definitely drowned the gailan in way too much sauce. The price is OK for a dish of veggies, considering it also had jumbo prawns and slices of 臘腸 (lap cheung, dried Chinese pork sausage). I thought it rather strange though, that a restaurant that supposedly promoted “healthiness” would actually serve fatty lap cheung with your veggies.

Overall, some dishes are reasonably priced, others (like the Hainan chicken and the Roti Canai) are totally not. They do have a set dinner of Gado Gado, Bak Kut Teh soup, choice of curry, seasonal veggies, rice, and a drink for $12.99. This is probably a much better deal, if you are fine with the set and don’t need to try anything else.

Maybe I didn’t order the right things, but the dishes are not any less saucy and the sauces were not significantly less oily looking. Maybe their curries are not that oily… I have been to other places where I didn’t taste any MSG, but maybe there are the “hidden” things like lower sodium and sugar levels here… I am not sure. But I certainly didn’t leave feeling I had as healthy a meal as their ad had touted, or that it was any “lighter” than any other Malaysian place.

The Dinner Dash phenomenon: In terms of service, I am never that picky when it comes to Asian restaurants. Of course, I don’t tolerate obvious things like rudeness. But in general, I expect a certain level of courtesy and promptness, anything else is a bonus. I don’t complain much. But. The people at Red Palms are definitely nice, and I enjoyed meeting the chef. But they are also very busy, at 4 staff (3 of them in the kitchen) to half a restaurant. Service is very slow, and pretty much non-existent when the sole waiter/manager disappears to help out in the kitchen (which he does quite often). Then I realize part of the reason why you get to talk to the chef so often is because he has to be a waiter half the time! Three people can only cook so much so quickly, so dishes (especially the special ones) come out slowly. Though if you order the set dinner it does arrive a bit faster. I can’t imagine how long dinner would have taken if the restaurant was full. With their funky prices it worked out to be about $25 per person including tips; everybody left quite full and there were left overs enough for lunch. I might come back for their seafood, perhaps the lobster, but if I wanted my Malay fix (or if I were really hungry), I would go somewhere else (where that is would be in a future post 😉 ). Not bad, not great. Worth going once, the rest is up to your tastebuds.

Red Palms Malaysian Pondok 紅棕馬來餐廳

8291 Westminister Highway, Richmond (next door to Kingspark Restaurant/京士柏餐廳 , across from the Richmond Public Market)
604-304-3498

Thai Sweet Chili Salmon

Thai sauce on salmon

Thai Sweet Chili Salmon

Like I said, I eat a lot of salmon. I like the flavor of the fish, I like it simple but I also love experimenting with different flavors in general. It felt like a sweet and savoury, saucy type of salmon night. So I made a sweet chili marinade: I started with some Thai sweet chili sauce, then added the rest of the ingredients as I tasted and went along with it. Add, mix, taste as I go – the way of cooking I like best. I think this one worked out well, and was well recieved. The sauce complimented the sweetness of the fish nicely – it was sweet with a slight hint of spiciness.

Sweet Thai Salmon

Thai sweet chili salmon: After 

Recipe follows…

Continue reading

Green Lemongrass Vietnamese

Green Papaya Salad

Vietnamese green papaya salad

If you have been around for a little while, you would know that this Vietnamese restaurant used to be Mad Greek on Westminster Hwy, before Mad Greek moved … down the street. It is thus the only restaurant in the city where you can enjoy Phở at a tropical Greek villa. (They have recently changed their decor a little – eg. the plastic blue table cloth has been replaced by a mustard yellow fabric, and that Asianly piece of glass on top.)

They make a good green papaya salad, which seems to be something of a rarity around here, even at Thai restaurants. (It seems weird because I have bought green papayas myself, so it’s not like you can’t get them here.) Anyway, I love green papaya salads. They are the very reason I bought a julienne peeler. Lemongrass’ green papaya salad is unlike traditional Thai Som tam – there aren’t any tomatos, green beans, or hot chili peppers. Instead, to go with the julienned green papaya, there are carrots, daikon, large prawns, and pork slices. It is richly garnished with chopped peanuts, roasted garlic, and mint leaves. Whereas Som tam is spicy, this salad is sweet – especially when drizzled generously with Nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce). Definitely a delicious and refreshing take on green papaya salad.

And like I have mentioned previously, their salad rolls are also a favorite of mine. Lots of choices on the menu too – good Pho and dry noodles.

GL Salad rolls

Salad rolls

Green Lemongrass Vietnamese Cuisine

There is a little patio outside. Parking lot is squishy and space is limited.

8280 Westminster Hwy (next to the Public Market), Richmond

The art of salad rolls.

I love anything that comes rolled up in some kind of wrap. Salad rolls are one of my favorites. So refreshing and tasty with peanut sauce dip. I always have some rice paper lying around at home; salad rolls and variations thereof are pretty simple to make. Still, I cannot resist ordering these things whenever I come across them, but I get a little annoyed if the rolls look like something I whipped up at home in a hurry. Here is a small sampling of the rolls around town.  At somewhat similar prices, Green Lemongrass serves up a pretty yummy roll.

A salad roll at Thai House, downtown Vancouver:
Thai House Salad Roll
Presentation: 0.5/5 (I’ll give it half a mark for that ‘attempt’ with the orange slice. But that might even be too much.)
Taste: 0.5/5 (I mean, just what kind of sauce is that. It was just hoisin straight out of the bottle without anything added. What kind of salad roll does not come with a sauce containing peanuts?!)
 

A salad roll at Green Lemongrass, Richmond:
Lemongrass Salad Roll
Presentation: 4.5/5
Taste: 4.5/5
 

A salad roll at Fraser Valley Salad Bar, Granville Island, Vancouver:Salad Roll
Presentation: 2.5/5 (the utensils are forgivable since it’s food court food and not a restaurant, but the rolling technique, the quintessential rolling technique!)
Taste: 3.5/5

I am surprised that Thai House made it into one of the best restaurants in Vancouver in a recent issue of http://www.vanmag.com/. I found the food there to be completely lack-lustre, especially at the downtown location. In Richmond, competition in the restaurant business has always been pretty fierce. That’s why Richmonders have such picky palates. That’s why you don’t serve ugly looking salad rolls in Richmond and hope to get customers back.