Sunday, May 31, 2015

Stories Behind the Chopsticks Inaugural YEG Food Crawl - May 30, 2015 Part One

Last month, while browsing through social media, I learned about an upcoming food crawl event in Chinatown. I've heard about pub crawls, which involves a group of people drinking in multiple pubs or bars in a single night, often travelling either by foot or bus. I've never participated in a pub crawl, but I would totally choose a food crawl over it! The first tour of the Stories Behind the Chopsticks YEG Food Crawl event took place yesterday, the last Saturday of May. The second tour of the event happened just this afternoon! 

Chinatown YEG Food Crawl.

The inaugural YEG Food Crawl event, presented by McCauley Revitalization, aims to provide exposure to the restaurants in the neighbourhood while showcasing Chinatown as a safe area in an effort to challenge its negative stereotypes. Specifically, the event is a 3 hour long staggered eating process where participants eat pre-determined meals at 4 restaurants or food businesses in Chinatown for about 30 to 45 minutes at each location. The cost per person was $35. You don't find out which restaurants you're going to or what food you're going to eat until a few days before the event, which makes for a nice surprise. 

I don't really find myself heading to Chinatown for food, mostly because it always seemed hard to get to since I usually travel by bus or LRT whenever my destination is in Downtown. Yesterday, however, I learned that it's actually quite easy to get to the neighbourhood by bus if you're travelling from south of the river. This was great news for me because now I have more food places to choose from! CJ and I headed over to the first stop of the food crawl... Lee House (10704 97 Street)! 

The interior of Lee House.
Our table.

A few months ago, Lee House opened a new location on 97 Street in Chinatown, right across from Lucky 97 Supermarket. Lee House has always been a place I wanted to try, and since being voted the best Korean restaurant of 2015 in Edmonton by Avenue Edmonton magazine, the need to visit was reinforced even more. That's why I was so excited to find out that Lee House was one of the stops on Saturday's food crawl!

Before we started eating, Freya Fu - the coordinator of this event - gave an introduction about Chinatown and its history. In the 1960's and 70's, many people from China and other south east Asian countries came to Edmonton to study at the University of Alberta. Eventually, they chose to reside in the Chinatown area and opened up businesses there. A few years later, the Canadian government began to accept more refugees from Asian countries which helped to increase the diversity and population of Edmonton's Chinatown. Today, you'll find that Chinatown is made up of two areas: 97 Street, which is the business and retail zone, and 102 A Avenue, where the multicultural centre is found and where many societies, organizations, and associations have their head offices.

Left to right: Kimchi, Daikon Squares, and Mung Bean Sprout Sesame Salad.
Beef Bulgogi.
Chicken Balls.
Sweet Potato Sticky Noodles.

We got to try a lot of dishes at Lee House, including their Beef Bulgogi, famous Chicken Balls, and Sweet Potato Sticky Noodles. Kimchi, daikon squares, rice, and a mung bean sprout sesame salad were also served to accompany our meal. Phil, one of the owners of the restaurant, explained that Korean food is one of the healthiest out of all Asian cuisine since no MSG is added and very little oil is used. Everything tasted amazing! My favourite dish was the Sweet Potato Sticky Noodles, or Jab Chae Bokeum. I loved the chewy noodles with the sweet soy mushroom sauce - it was delicious and something new and different for me. The chicken balls were also great and not too greasy, although I felt the exterior was a little tough to chew. Finally, the beef bulgogi was one of the best I've tried in the city! So flavourful.

Phil and Mrs. Lee sharing their story about Lee House.

When we were about half way done with our food, Mrs. Lee and her son Phil shared their story behind Lee House and the food they create and serve. Phil shared that every morning, before Lee House opens, Mrs. Lee can be found shopping at Lucky 97 Supermarket across the street to buy everything she needs to create the food served at her restaurant. Additionally, some of the ingredients used are shipped directly by relatives from their home town in Korea, resulting in distinct flavours that you won't find at any other Korean restaurant in Edmonton. Such a lovely story! I think it is amazing how Mrs. Lee creates everything herself - definitely something to be proud of!

After 45 minutes of eating (beginning at 1:00 PM) at Lee House, we headed outside where we learned about the statue situated in front of Lucky 97 Supermarket. I really liked how along with stories about the restaurants we visited and the food we ate, we were also able to learn about a landmark in Chinatown. Afterwards, our group of about 25 food lovers headed to our next destination: Zen Sushi (10518 101 Street)! Located on 101 Street, it was about a 5 minute walk from Lee House.

The interior of Zen Sushi.
Our table.

Shortly after being seated, each table got a piece of paper where we had to select the food items we wanted from 5 courses: sushi, maki, salad, tempura, and a main dish. It was a little confusing at first, but with help from other people we were able to figure out how to order! 

Miso Soup.
Teriyaki Chicken.
Shrimp Tempura.
Crab Stick Sushi, Salmon Sushi, and Avocado Sushi.

To kick off our meal, we were given a bowl of miso soup - always a great way to start in my opinion. Next to arrive was our teriyaki chicken and CJ's teriyaki beef (not pictured). The tender and flavourful teriyaki chicken was a hit at our table... in fact, CJ wished he had ordered the chicken instead of the beef! CJ and I, along with the two lovely ladies sitting across from us, also really liked the shrimp tempura which we found was lightly crispy and delicious. Each one of us also got to choose our own sushi, with avocado sushi being my pick. These sushi pieces looked so cute! My sushi was a nice bite because of the perfect creaminess of the avocado. 

Top (L to R): California Maki and Spicy Tuna Maki.
Bottom (L to R): Spicy Salmon Maki and Avocado Maki.
Top (L to R): Bean Sprout Salad and Green Salad.
Bottom (L to R): Edamame and Sunomono Salad.

So. Much. Food!!! When we were given our maki and salads, we already had quite a stack of small plates at our table. I ordered the spicy tuna maki, but it wasn't my favourite. The texture of the tuna seemed a little weird and mushy to me, so I gave my remaining pieces to CJ who didn't seem to mind. For the salad course, I went with their bean sprout salad. This salad was very refreshing and made for a nice palate cleanser. I also got to try edamame for the first time! I had no idea how to eat the edamame until a lady sitting at the table beside us explained how: don't eat the pod, just eat the beans inside which easily pop out *cue my brief moment of fascination*. The edamame pod was lightly salted, and the beans were soft and something I wouldn't mind eating for a snack. 

My dining experience at Zen Sushi was great overall, although it was a little uncoordinated. Some food items were delayed at arriving to their respective tables, but I would say it was forgiveable and not a huge issue since we were such a large group.

Henry Ma sharing his story about Zen Sushi.

Just a few minutes before it was time to leave, Henry Ma - the owner of Zen Sushi - shared his story about the restaurant. Zen Sushi has been open since 2006, and just last year Henry became the new manager of the restaurant that he actually named. He shares that because he grew up playing in the Chinatown area, he has always felt it to be a safe neighbourhood. Edmontonians often drive right past Chinatown, unaware of all the food businesses in the area. He comments that initiatives like the Chinatown YEG Food Crawl are a great way to try different specialty food items offered by the local restaurants. 

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