Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hong Kong West

No. 59

Guest photos by JD.

<2010-07-22 Thu>Authentic Schezuan food that feels like touching a 9-volt battery terminals with the tongue.

A friend, whose food taste I trust, recommended me Honk Kong West as authentic Schezuan food, and added: you need to go with a person that speaks Chinese. Apparently it changed ownership not long ago.

Today it is less a secret that many Chinese restaurants have two menus: the English and the Chinese one, that are totally different. Frequently restaurants think that non-Chinese will not like the authentic fare. In Richmond I have been "invited" by the waiter to change my order because I might not like it.

I enlisted my Chinese interpreter, HZ, by bribing him to a free lunch.

We arrived early, and were greeted by a family of Chinese immigrants who run the restaurant: they look like the grandparents and teenage grandson. They appear to be the front and back operation of the restaurant.As soon as we stepped into the restaurant, they talked to HZ in Chinese, and during our entire meal we exchanged very few words in English with them.

We sat and HZ was given a menu. In China, it is common that one person orders for the entire table. The plates are to be shared. HZ explained to me that this is an important responsibility that cannot be taken lightly: the choices should match between each other; and one must order meat and vegetables to have a full meal. The menu had more than 30 options, all written in Chinese. It reminded me of my days in Japan where food lottery was a common method of ordering until I got slightly familiar with the Kanji.

"Order as if you were at home, we will eat everything", I stated. JD nodded in approval. HZ enquired about our willingness to eat frog, to which both gave a thumbs up. We ordered three dishes: Poach Fish with hot chilli - 水煮鱼 (pronounced as Shui Chu Yu), spicy bullfrog - 香辣牛蛙 (pronounced as Shiang La Niu Wa) and dry-fried french beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables - 干煸四季豆 (pronounced as Gan Bian Si Ji Dou), plus some rice.

The first to arrive was the fish. We could immediately see it was going to be spicy: it was loaded with garlic and chillies. We promptly filled our plates and were surprised by that sudden rush that accompanies authentic Szechuan food. It is a sudden tingling of your tongue, like if it is getting numb (and one of the strong memories I have about eating in China). I have always being curious about what creates it, my gut feeling was that it was star anise (another typical spice of Szechuan food) and checked the wikipedia. I was wrong: the tingling is produced by the Sichuan Pepper and cites Harold McGee book "On Food and Cooking", a book that any kitchen nerd (like me) who likes food (like me) or likes to cook food (like me) should have in his bookshelf. Harold explains:

"The [..] Sichuan pepper [..] offers a strange and interesting version of pungency." and continues "[The pungency compounds in the Sichuan pepper] produce a strange, tingling, buzzing numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery [who hasn't done that!])." [They] appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so perhaps causes a kind of general neurological confusion".

How true the description is, and how amazingly refreshing it feels.

You have to be warned: Szechuan food is not for everybody. It is loaded with chillies, so after your tongue feels numb and opens, the rush of the chillies kicks in. Amazing food. The fish, I believe it was basa, worked well with the dish and was well cooked. Overall a dish that will make me come back on its own.

The frog was ok. Interesting, but not memorable. The beans, on the other hand, were another delicious addition to an already rich meal.

It was spicy, we had to ask for extra napkins (to clean our dripping nostrils), and tea, and we ate and ate and ate, and could not finish the food. HZ gave the best compliment: "This is food as if I was in Shanghai--except for the frog".

As we devoured our meal we noticed the daily specials: the food that you would expect in any Chinese restaurant: the combos, with the rice, roll and some stir fried food. We could see the woman in the table next to ours ordering from that menu..

Like Antony Bourdain explains in one of the episodes of his tv show "No Reservations": in these Chinese restaurants there are two different worlds, few meters away from each other, one often unaware of the food the other is eating.

Get your translator and try it. Just bear in mind: Szechuan food is not for the weak of tongue, mouth or stomach.

This place is worth exploring. I have not been excited about a local menu for a long time.

One warning: some of these dishes take time to cook. We were the first to arrive and received our first plate around 15-20 minutes after we ordered.

Verdict: Authentic Szechuan food that feels home made. Another of Victoria's secrets. Recommended if you can handle it.


Paid: 15/person + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Hong Kong West on Urbanspoon


  1. “This is food as if I was in Shanghai--except for the frog”
    “A friend, whose food taste I trust,”
    “Another of Victoria's secrets”

    I felt terribly sorry to hear your compliment toward such a shameful restaurant.

    The chef lacks fundamental skills of cooking. The presentation of dishes are not even close to authentic Sichuan dishes while the price is surprisingly similar to its competitors in vancouver which indeed serve good sichuan food.

    I admire your courage to try out different food and your support to local business. However you failed as a judge to authentic sichuan food.

    Good luck eating sweet sour pork.

  2. OMG,why so picky on this?! Guess the author never had real Chinese food

  3. All foods change a little once they leave their place of origin. Judging this one chef so harshly is not called for. He did incorporate the true sichuan peppercorns in his food at least. True the fish may not be swimming in oil, yet perhaps modern chinese food served in a North American context does not need this. Those beans look delicious. In fact I would be more inclined to visit a restaurant where the chef reinterprets the cuisine as they say fit, perhaps he is trying to serve patrons healthier foods? Why not find out their food philosophy first? For a dish exactly like it is served in China hop on a plane. I interprete authentic as being a notch above what most other Chinese restaurants pass off as Schezuan on their English language menus. This place at least tries. Why pick on sweet and sour pork? This dish is a result of a fusion of cultures, and many Chinese enjoy it...

  4. Regardless of what others may say about what degree of authenticity this restaurant represents, one thing for sure can be said: this is the best Sichuan food you can find in all of Victoria! I'm constantly on the hunt for the best chinese either here or in Vancouver and this little hole in the wall exceeded my expectations like no other. You must order off of the Chinese menu and the owner or their son are happy to help with that. Location and ambiance may be lacking, but the food is second to none!

    I spoke with the wife for some time and we talked about where she get's her herbs and spices from. She said she can't get many of the really authentic spices from North America. Instead, on her regular visits back to China she sources all of her cooking needs and has them shipped back to Canada. I always thought if you wanted to get authentic Chinese food you just had to shop for ingredients in Chinatown...apparently not. The best stuff is still in China! So glad there's a restaurant that brings them here!

    On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of authenticity based on my travels through the Sichuan Province I'd give this a 9. And a 10 out of 10 for taste!