Noun: Daisy Garden Kitchen
Site: 142 E-Bender Street, Vancouver
dishes: Cantonese Waffle Pasta with BBQ
the prices: Roast Meat, $15.50 to $40; Noodle soup, congee and rice bowls, $10.50 to $22.50; Dim sum, $8.25 to $10.75
additional information: Open Wednesday. to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Reservations, takeout and delivery available; no yard.
The phoenix is flying again. Devastated by fire in 2015, Daisy Garden Kitchen quietly reopened three months ago.
There was no official uproar or press release. However, the comeback of this unassuming Cantonese barbecue restaurant, a must-see in Vancouver’s Chinatown since 1979, has grabbed headlines and got publicized all over social media by its die-hard fans.
Having been to the new incarnation twice, I’d recommend going for the cracked-crust roast pork, rich wonton noodle soup, skillfully executed quick stir-fries and the legendary curried beef – all reasonably priced and now served in an elegant, modern room.
But to understand why this restaurant is so important to the community, you might want to swing by the wonderful new Chinatown Storytelling Center, just a few doors away, before or after your meal.
This small but powerful museum, which tells the story of how Vancouver’s Chinatown was developed by star-eyed settlers who came to Canada in search of fortunes but were exploited and left stranded with no way of returning home, evokes a whirlwind of emotion.
It’s a pleasure to see old shots of Chinatown in its boom years, all lit up with neon, when Marco Polo was the hottest dance club in town, Foo’s Ho Ho made the best fried chicken and parking was impossible to find. It’s also overwhelming to step outside and put those vibrant images alongside the crumbling, crime-ridden, graffiti-ridden veneer of what Chinatown has become.
The museum does a good job explaining how, through all the ups and downs, the Chinese experience in Canada has been built and enhanced by the resilience of restaurants.
And in the struggle to revitalize Chinatown, the return of Daisy Park is a symbol of hope.
Owner Susanna Ng thinks it’s a struggle worth fighting for. She had been working in Chinatown since 1972, when she came to Vancouver from Hong Kong at the age of 17, and landed her first job at a bakery on the corner of Gore Street and Pender Street.
In 1980, she and her husband opened New Town Bakery, another symbol of the community where tourists still flock to fluffy steamed pork buns and flaky apple pies. They bought the adjacent Daisy Park in 2014, when the owner retired.
She and her husband were already working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, in New Town. But they had a friend, David Gann, who was interested in running the restaurant.
Mr. Jean, a contractor by trade, has renovated and remodeled the restaurant. A few months later, in a fire that investigators determined had accidentally erupted during re-ventilation work, the entire building burned to the ground.
Mrs. Ng vowed the next day that she would bring Daisy Garden back to life. But, unfortunately, Mr. Gun fell ill and died two years later of cancer. Delays in construction and permits have slowed construction work. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The daisy garden finally reopened it’s almost a miracle. Ms. Ng received many offers from high-rise developers, but she resisted.
“I am 67 years old and my husband is 72. We would like to retire,” she said when we met at the restaurant. “But it must be someone who has a passion for Cantonese food. Someone who loves Chinatown and wants to serve the community.”
When it closed, Daisy Garden was one of the last barbecue meat shops in the neighborhood and still puts out cute dark-painted ducks; Excess fat, char suey glazed with honey; Succulent chicken and layered roast pork belly with a very crunchy skin.
In a nod to fine dining, the restaurant usually offers barbecue samples, which is a great way to try a little bit of everything. Unfortunately a new carver had just started the last time I visited and the pieces weren’t picked like they could have been. The roast pork was a bit dry and the duck was a back piece with a lot of bones in it. If there are a few pieces on the plate, they should be the best.
Daisy Garden is also famous for its wonton noodle soup, a classic comfort dish that’s hard to find. The broth is clean and deeply flavored with salmon skins and dried shrimp, as it should be. Regular wontons are packed somewhat loosely and lack the needed quick texture. But Daisy also offers the increasingly rare sui kau dumplings, which are longer and larger and stuffed with woody mushrooms, as well as pork and shrimp.
Fried rice noodles with beef steak, the sunflower test of any Cantonese cuisine, well prepared. It takes tremendous wok skills to properly cook these thick noodles with enough heat, dumping in just enough oil so they don’t stick together. These were beautifully slippery, saturated with dark soy sauce and smoked with wok hai char.
Best of all is beef curry, a dish with an interesting background. The secret recipe nearly disappeared into the fire when the chef retired. The owners of Chinatown BBQ – a competitor to Daisy Garden – tracked it down and faithfully recreated its version, which is dark, boldly blistered and loose, thickened mainly by broken potatoes.
The beef curry that Daisy Garden now offers is more like Malaysian or Macanese curry, creamy with coconut milk, bright yellow but brilliantly spiced and thick with red pepper, tender beef and stir-fries that never lose their integrity.
Both are great, but they each have their fans, who will likely get into heated discussions about which one is closer to the original. And that’s exactly what the burgeoning restaurant community is doing.
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