Chinatown Dining Week Returns, January 17-27, 2019

I’m thrilled to share that Chinatown Dining Week is returning for a second year, running January 17-27, 2019. It was so successful last year that we knew we wanted to bring it back again and make it even bigger!

Chinatown Dining Week 2019 postcard

Although many are familiar with the great eats available in Chinatown, others continue to be unaware of the diversity and value of meals to be found within walking distance of Downtown. With Chinatown’s proximity to several prominent attractions, including the newly-opened Royal Alberta Museum, Ice District, and the Arts District, those planning an evening out could easily incorporate a stopover in the area.

Chinatown Dining Week is about highlighting some of the tasty options in the neighbourhood through $15 2-course fixed price dinner menus. This year, we’ve expanded the event to 11 days (up from 9) and will have 8 participating restaurants (up from 5). The menus will be online at edmontonchinatown.ca starting January 7.

Our volunteer team is excited to welcome back three of our partner restaurants from our pilot last year – Asian Express Hot Pot, Gui Lin Noodle House, and King Noodle House. They embraced this new idea early on, and we’re happy to help introduce even more people to their food!

We also have five new restaurants on our roster:

  • Fuqing Lanzhou Noodles – located on the northern edge of Chinatown, this noodle house is often overlooked. But their steaming bowls of noodle soup and dumplings make it an ideal place to gather on a cold winter evening.
  • Kanto 98 St. Eatery – shortlisted for the prestigious list of 2018 Best New Restaurants, Kanto made a splash even before it celebrated its first birthday. Their brand of Filipino fusion eats has won over its share of fans.
  • Namaste India – a hidden gem, it seems that few know that a delicious Indian buffet spread can be found in the heart of Chinatown.
  • Padmanadi – this vegan restaurant was serving plant-based cuisine before it was trendy. Their vegan takes on classic Asian dishes have a cult following in Edmonton.
  • Tea Bar Cafe – so much more than bubble tea, Tea Bar also serves Hong Kong-style savoury and sweet dishes to complement their drink menu.

We hope you’ll join us for Chinatown Dining Week!

2018 Edmonton Chinatown Walking Tours

Last year, I was among a small group of volunteers who piloted a series of free walking tours in Chinatown. We were amazed at the number of Edmontonians who joined us throughout the summer; most were curious about the neighbourhood that they had traversed but did not have a reason to linger in.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

2017 Walking Tour

The tours provided a history of why the city has two Chinatowns, and introduced attendees to some of the cultural institutions and businesses in the area. Our hope, as was the case with other initiatives I’ve been involved with relating to Chinatown, was to encourage more people to explore and spend time in the neighbourhood.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

We love Chinatown!

We’re happy to share the news that the tours are back for a second year! Even better, the City of Edmonton was able to secure a grant that permitted the hiring of a summer student to coordinate the tours. As a result, supported by the same group of volunteers, we’ve increased the frequency of the tours to twice a month, from 10:30am-12:30pm every second and forth Sunday from June until September. If you’re interested, we ask that you RSVP on Eventbrite. The remaining tour dates are as follows:

If those dates don’t work, the student is also able to lead private tours for a minimum of 10 people.

Chinatown Walking Tour

Jane’s Walk in Chinatown earlier this year

We hope this interest in Chinatown continues – consider joining us on one of the tours this summer!

Introducing Chinatown Dining Week: January 20-28, 2018

Back in the summer, I was a part of a group of volunteers who piloted a series of free walking tours in Edmonton’s Chinatown. The tours covered the history of why the city has two Chinatowns, and included visits inside cultural institutions and retail businesses.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

At the Harbin Gate

We didn’t expect the overwhelming response we received, averaging about 40 participants each tour. It was interesting to see so many Edmontonians join us who shared that they frequently passed through Chinatown, but wanted to learn more so they would have a reason to stay and explore the neighbourhood.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Overlooking Chinatown South

For some of the attendees, the highlights were the culinary stops: we had a peek behind the scenes of Ying Fat, which specializes in soy products; a taste of sweet treats at Ruby Bakery; and an introduction to grocer Kim Fat. Food can be such a great gateway into new cultures or places, and this was definitely the case with our tours. Many people asked us for restaurant recommendations afterwards so they could make the most of their time in Chinatown.

Edmonton Chinatown Tour

Inside Kim Fat with owner Phong Luu

While we chose to put the tours on hiatus over the fall and winter months, we did want to continue the momentum somehow, and provide people with the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about Chinatown. And so, Chinatown Dining Week was born.

Downtown Dining Week has been a staple in Edmonton for more than a decade, offering set price deals to entice diners to try new restaurants. We thought a similar model could be replicated in another central neighbourhood with even more diverse culinary gems to discover.

Viphalay

Green curry at Viphalay – one of the featured Chinatown Dining Week dishes

We’ve partnered with 5 Chinatown restaurants who will be offering $15 two-course dinner menus from January 20-28, 2018: Asian Express Hot Pot, Cua Hua Gui Lin Noodle House, King Noodle House Pho Hoang, Taipan Cafe Restaurant, and Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant. Take a look at the menus and consider trying a new restaurant, or revisiting an old favourite.

King Noodle House

Pho at King Noodle House – another of the featured dishes

There’s a lot to discover in Chinatown, and we hope that this event will encourage more Edmontonians to learn more about an often underappreciated area of the city.

The Future of Edmonton’s Chinatown: 2016 Chinatown Conference

Three years ago, I was part of a group that organized the 97 Street Night Market in Chinatown. The idea was inspired by conversations and observations made by my market co-organizer Kathryn Lennon at the first ever Chinatown Conference held that spring. In some ways, the market was our way of trying to grapple with the generation gap in the neighbourhood, and an attempt to enliven the streets and encourage Edmontonians to rediscover their Chinatown.

97 Street Night Market

97 Street Night Market

The event gathered vendors and food trucks, created a stage for cultural performances, and offered walking tours of the neighbourhood. Overall, we felt the market was a success, and although it was a lot of work to pull together, I felt inspired to continue the momentum with another event.

The following summer, I was part of a team that hosted a second 97 Street Night Market. The event built upon the foundation of the previous year, and though the turnout was comparable, we decided the challenges we faced in mounting the market weren’t worth the returns.

97 Street Night Market

97 Street Night Market, 2014 edition

It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, learning firsthand about the complexities of the neighbourhood and the numerous parties involved in the community. Chinatown has many players – the BRZ, individual businesses, community associations, McCauley Revitalization, the Quarters Revitalization – just to name a few, and they don’t all agree on how to approach the issues surrounding Chinatown:

  • How can Chinatown leverage the positive developments of the Royal Alberta Museum, Ice District, and the LRT Connector?
  • Should the old (cultural) and new (commercial) Chinatowns be linked?
  • How can Chinatown better work alongside social service agencies?
  • How can Chinatown attract more businesses and amenities?
  • Is Chinatown still relevant?

These are just some of the questions that the community is grappling with, and there are no easy answers. Consensus is unlikely, but one thing is true – Chinatown will change, but who will lead this change? Will the players be able to come together to move forward with solutions in a meaningful way, or will external forces dictate the change?

Chinatown

Edmonton’s Chinatown

As a follow-up to the first Chinatown Conference, the 2016 Chinatown Conference hopes to answer some of these questions. On June 11-12, 2016 Chinatown advocates, researchers, planners and youth from across North America, will gather in Edmonton at the University of Alberta, including 15 representatives from Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. The intention is to exchange ideas about how to preserve, celebrate, and ensure Chinatowns remain relevant in municipalities amongst demographic shifts, changing civic priorities, and gentrification efforts.

I’m particularly excited to hear from C.W. Chan from Chicago, as they have reversed the trend of diminishing Chinatowns, and instead, have continued to expand and and garner city investment in infrastructure. The conference will also host respected Toronto Chinese historian Valerie Mah and Washington, D.C. filmmaker Yi Chen, who will screen her documentary Chinatown. The second day of the conference aims to build a plan for Edmonton’s Chinatown. The full conference schedule is here.

Registration is now open, and tickets are $50.

Edmonton on Foot: Doors Open Edmonton and Chinatown Summer Market

One of my favourite things about living Downtown is its proximity to other neighbourhoods we can easily reach on foot. This was illustrated on Saturday, when Mack and I enjoyed some of what Central Edmonton had to offer that day.

I think the Historic Festival and Doors Open Edmonton should make a bigger splash than it does. It flies under the radar, given it takes place over the same duration as the much higher profile Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, but the opportunity to see some of the participating landmarks firsthand only comes around once a year.

Mack and I had already joined a horse-drawn historical tour in Beverly earlier in the week, but what I was really looking forward to was something closer to home – a guided tour of the Westminster Apartments, at 9955-114 Street. We’ve walked by the heritage building numerous times, but I’ve always wondered (a fire stoked by the accessibility of real estate reality shows) what the units inside look like.

Westminster Apartments

Tour of the Westminster

Lucky for us, this was the first year some residents of the Westminster wanted to open their doors up to the public. About forty people signed up in advance – the organizers were a little surprised at the interest in their homes!

The Westminster was built in 1912 as a speculative investment of eastern Canadian capital. It was designed to accommodate people who were transitioning from rooming houses to higher-end apartments. As such, the basement was originally set up as a kitchen, where food was prepared and sent upstairs to residents who re-heated meals in their smaller-than average warming kitchens. In 2004, the building was converted to 24 condo units. Famous occupants of the Westminster include George Bulyea, Alberta’s first Lieutenant Governor.

Westminster Apartments

Clawfoot bathtub

We explored four units, which highlighted each of their individuality. Given the age of the building, some residents had chosen to modernize their spaces, which ranged from opening up the kitchen to installing ensuite laundry and skylights. Most units retained some of the historical features, like clawfoot bathtubs and plate and picture rails.

Westminster Apartments

Picture rails

Coincidentally, we knew the couple who lived in one of the units. Over the last ten years, Mike and Yvonne have extensively renovated their top-floor unit, incorporating many Asian-influenced designs and furniture. It is a beautiful home.

Westminster Apartments

Modernized unit

Hopefully the residents at the Westminster decide to participate in Doors Open Edmonton next year – it is a gem that should continue to be admired and appreciated for years to come.

On a related note, we did try to tour Immigration Hall later that afternoon, but it seemed that the information was contained in error, as Hope Mission staff didn’t seem to know anything about it. As it goes into its twentieth year, one would hope that festival details in its guide are accurate!

After the historical tour, we walked over to Chinatown for their annual Summer Market. It is their rebranded East Meets West Festival, and when I saw that the organizers were promoting the event on social media, I was hoping that the Chinatown BRZ had changed things up this year.

It’s an event that has so much potential, and given the costs of closing down a street, I’m always optimistic that organizers will make better use of the space.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Chinatown Summer Market

They did have a more diverse line-up of entertainment, broadening the cultural lens to include South Asian performers. As well, the vendor tent did seem to house more businesses this year.  But otherwise, it was a similar template to previous events, and unlike last year, had even less street-level engagement.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Vendor tent

The massive stage was placed at the north end of 97 Street at 106 Avenue, blocking the view of the busy grocery store behind it. And while some of the larger performing groups can fill the stage, for the solo dancers or smaller teams, it seems unnecessary and actually serves to distance the audience from the action.

Summer Market in Chinatown

Xiao Hai Ou Dance Group

The food element was also missing. While food trucks don’t always have to be the answer, in lieu of them, it was disappointing that the businesses along 97 Street didn’t set up tables outside to hawk their products. It would have been the perfect opportunity to engage passerby so they might be encouraged to step inside.

We watched a few performances, then headed to Lee House for lunch. In some ways, I was retracing the steps made at the Chinatown Food Crawl back in May – it was a chance to use some of the coupons I’d received then!

One coupon entitled us to a complimentary kimchi pancake at Lee House, which went well with additional dishes of japchae and rice cakes.

Lee House

Lee House eats

To cool off on our walk home, we picked up some refreshing bubble tea from Tea Bar Cafe (also at a discount thanks to the Food Crawl).

Tea Bar Cafe

Strawberry and mango fruit slushes from Tea Bar Cafe

We were ready for a nap after spending so much time in the sun, but it was great to take advantage of what Edmonton has to offer, and (lucky for us) all within a twenty minute radius of our home on foot.

Stories Behind the Chopsticks: Chinatown Food Crawl

I love the idea of food crawls – they’re not only a great way to meet other people, but they spotlight multiple establishments within walking distance of one another, thus promoting the neighborhood on a larger level. In the past, with the seemingly defunct Edmonton branch of Dishcrawl, the focus was on areas that were already mainstream – Downtown, Old Strathcona, 124 Street.  In some ways, the food crawl is a more powerful tool when wielded to expose people to quadrants less ventured. Two years ago, the North Edge Business Revitalization Zone (covering Queen Mary Park and Central McDougall, just north of the Arena District) did this with their Flavour Journey Restaurant Tours. Now, McCauley Revitalization has embraced the food tour with a series called Stories Behind the Chopsticks.

Led by Freya Fu, the tours have been a way for her to connect Edmontonians with an oft-overlooked neighbourhood: Chinatown. Plagued by a reputation of its high concentration of social services and housing, many dismiss Chinatown as unsafe and unwelcoming. Those who do miss out on the gems – food stores like Ying Fat tofu factory and Shan Shan Bakery, happening late night hot pot restaurants like 97 Hot Pot and Urban Shabu, or my personal favourite, pho joints like Pho Tau Bay and King Noodle House.

Freya established connections with several business owners in Chinatown to create four tours in May, each highlighting four restaurants. Two were open to the public, and the $35 tickets sold out in just a few days. I have to say I was initially disappointed that the public tours were held in the afternoon (I think much of the stigma Chinatown has to overcome relates to its evening economy), but I also recognize the need to work with the owners at a time convenient for their regular customer flow.

I had the pleasure of accompanying Freya on her May 30, 2015 tour as a volunteer. There were about two dozen people in the group who gathered at our first stop: Lee House (10704 97 Street). The second location of the southside Korean mainstay, proprietor Mrs. Lee shared that she had started the restaurant twenty-two years ago with her husband. She was clearly very proud of her scratch cooking, and her son shared that she was particularly excited about this branch because of its proximity to the Lucky 97 Supermarket across the street, allowing for easy access to fresh ingredients.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Mrs. Lee and her son, of Lee House

We were treated to a family-style feast, including bulgogi, japchae, chicken balls, and an assortment of pickled accompaniments. The japchae (stir fried sweet potato noodles) is a favourite of mine, and the Lee House version doesn’t disappoint.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Korean-style feast

Zen Sushi (10518 101 Street) was the second stop. I confessed that I had walked past the storefront on 101 Street countless times, but had never peeked inside.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Zen Sushi interior

Henry, the owner, grew up in the neighbourhood, and expressed his commitment to help grow and develop McCauley. He intends at some point in the future to start “Zen After Dark” where their usual all you can eat concept will be set aside in favour of a special ramen menu on Friday and Saturday nights. This would help drive foot traffic in the area and he hopes to make Zen a positive destination.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Making sushi

I’m not a sushi eater, so I didn’t partake in much at this stop. Zen also had some kinks to work out in their ordering system for a group our size, but I’m certain they would have streamlined it by the second crawl.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Travelling on foot

Next, we headed to the adjacent Golden Szechuan (10508 101 Street). Specializing in regional Szechuan cuisine (known for its unrelenting heat), we were served a beautifully plated sampling of dishes: shredded pork with Szechuan sauce, sliced beef tendon in spicy sauce, and my favourite, sliced fish in hot sauce.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Golden Szechuan sampling

It would have been ideal for the owners to provide more of an introduction to the cuisine, as I was certain many would have benefited from learning about what separates Szechuan cooking from other, more familiar, Chinese styles.

Before dessert, we made a quick stop at Ruby’s Bakery (10642 98 Street) to pick up some treats.

Chinatown Food Crawl

How many people can fit inside Ruby’s Bakery?

Offering Hong Kong-style baked goods, including elaborate wedding cakes, it was difficult to ignore the wafting aromas of freshly made sweets. The coconut tarts were such a hit that some tourgoers ended up purchasing more to take home.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Coconut tart and tulip cake

With our to-go boxes in hand, we ambled next door to Tea Bar Café (10640 98 Street), one of several Chinatown establishments serving up bubble tea. An alternative to coffee shops, the blended fruit-based drinks with tapioca pearls proved to be a refreshing way to end our journey. Similar to Golden Szechuan, I would have appreciated some more information from the owner about the history of bubble tea.

Chinatown Food Crawl

Mango bubble tea

Overall, from conversations with participants, most had never been to any of the establishments prior to the tour. Many said they would return on their own, now knowing what to expect. Freya had the ingenious idea to distribute a coupon book offering deals to each of the businesses, which will hopefully further encourage repeat visits.

Thanks again to Freya for the opportunity to join her on the tour! And if you missed it, you’re in luck – due to popular demand, a second tour, featuring different restaurants, is taking place on July 15, 2015 at 6:30pm. The link to the tickets will go live on July 2 at 7am.

Recap: the 97 Street Night Market, 2014 edition

On August 23, 2014, the second annual 97 Street Night Market took place in the heart of Chinatown.

97 Street Night Market

97 Street Night Market

Closing off part of 106 Avenue just off of 97 Street ensured we were accessible, and adjacent to several of the neighbourhood’s most popular restaurants.

97 Street Night Market

Lion dance

The market built on much of the foundation we had established last year, comprised of vendors, Asian-themed food trucks, dynamic performers and walking tours.

97 Street Night Market

Food trucks

New this year to our vendors was Sunny Snapshots. They provided attendees with the chance to take home a keepsake of the market with a photobooth picture (and props to enhance the shots!). The photos are also online in a digital format, for handy sharing.

Sharon and Felicia

Felicia and I crammed our props inside the booth

Rory Lee, a local artist, also committed to live painting a piece during the market. Many onlookers watched to see the progress he made throughout the night.

97 Street Night Market

Rory Lee

We were fortunate to have Molly’s Eats back for a second year, who was joined by Nhon Hoa and Yellowbird. They provided a nice variety of dishes, from banh mi to sesame fish tacos. I personally enjoyed the braised beef shank wrapped in a green onion pancake from Molly’s Eats.

97 Street Night Market

Fried rolls with beef from Molly’s Eats

The stage that night hosted a range of performers demonstrating more traditional arts to those who practice more modern endeavors. And they were all fantastic.

97 Street Night Market

The sidelines were full that night

Vivian Tao, a twelve year old master of the Chinese guzheng, blew the crowd away with her talent. Wing Choy of the Red Dragon Tai Chi Club enthusiastically led a tai chi lesson. The Sung Lee Taekwondo Demo Team brought their A-game with their high energy routine.

97 Street Night Market

Vivian Tao

97 Street Night Market

Wing Choy

97 Street Night Market

Sung Lee Taekwondo Demo Team

We also had two great K-pop dance crews: Rise to Beat and a favourite from last year, Convergence Dance Crew. Someone suggested we host a “dance off” in the future, but both crews are so passionate it would be hard to choose a winner!

97 Street Night Market

Rise to Beat

Of all the elements of the night market, walking tours are perhaps closest to my heart. They’re something I always seek out when travelling, since they’re a great way to learn about the history and geography of a neighbourhood.

97 Street Night Market

Returning guides Peter Wong and Lan Chan-Marples lead a Chinatown history tour

This year, I was most proud of the fact that we added a new tour to the mix that was all about the area’s culinary gems. A popular way to learn about Chinatowns all over North America, I was happy to finally bring such a concept back to Edmonton (I heard Judy Schultz, formerly of the Edmonton Journal, used to lead such tours herself).

97 Street Night Market

Tour participants enjoy samples at Ying Fat

Wild Tangerine’s Wilson and Judy Wu did a phenomenal job introducing five of Chinatown’s food businesses to a small group of lucky individuals (we unfortunately couldn’t take everyone who was interested in the tour!). The food-filled stops included Ying Fat, Edmonton’s fresh tofu factory, who go through 1000 pounds of non-gmo soybeans sourced from Ontario, and Hing Lung, a barbecue shop that cures and roasts its own meat.

97 Street Night Market

How many people can fit into Hing Lung?

The tour feedback was great; some commented that they would have gladly paid for the tour! Many participants also remarked that they now felt less intimidated in Chinatown, and would soon return to patronize the shops they now feel familiar with. Food tours in Edmonton’s Chinatown are definitely an untapped opportunity; I’m hopeful someone will pick up the torch in the future.

97 Street Night Market

The market after dark

Overall, I am proud of what we achieved with the 97 Street Night Market. We not only created a vibrant, safe gathering place in Chinatown, but also highlighted some of what the neighbourhood has to offer.

97 Street Night Market

With my co-organizers, Maria and Roxanne

Thanks to those who attended this year!

97 Street Night Market: August 23, 2014

Last August, I was a part of a group that organized the inaugural 97 Street Night Market. The group was comprised of a number of young second-generation Chinese Canadians, and the market was our way to create a lively, energetic gathering to inspire a new vision for the neighbourhood.

97 Street Night Market
2013 Night Market

In many ways, I think we succeeded. It was heartening to see people of all generations from many different backgrounds convening in a single parking lot, feasting, shopping, and otherwise socializing. It was a gathering place not normally found in Chinatown, and one that I hoped would be replicated in the future.

97 Street Night Market
Fortune sticks were really popular that night!

A lot of things came together to make that event happen – from gathering some of Edmonton’s food trucks to serve up Asian-themed dishes, to organizing walking tours of the area, vendors to sell trinkets and other typical night market finds, and securing performers who fit the spirit of the market.

My favourite act was Convergence Dance Crew

We developed connections with like-minded groups and at the time, knew that the market would allow us to build towards other events in the future.

On August 23, 2014, from 6-10pm, we will be hosting our second 97 Street Night Market. This time, we will be situated right in the heart of Chinatown, at 97 Street and 106 Avenue.

2014 Poster and Postcard - modified

We will be building on the momentum from last year, and have invited some of the same food trucks and vendors to return. Molly’s Eats had a menu that was hard to beat, but Susan may have outdone herself again this year – check out the menus from Molly’s, Nhon Hoa and Yellowbird here.

97 Street Night Market
Molly’s Eats feeding the crowd

The tours were so popular that we knew we had to ask our volunteer guides back. The detailed schedule is here, but were thrilled to have Lan Chan-Marples and Peter Wong lead not one, but two historical tours this year, and Paul Giang returns to deliver a perspective on art in Chinatown. New this year (and something I’m most excited about), is our food tour. I’ve long thought Edmonton’s Chinatown deserves its own culinary walking tour, and I can finally say it’s happening! Wild Tangerine’s Wilson Wu will be guiding a small group through some of Chinatown’s food gems, complete with samples along the way. There are limited spaces, so it is first come, first served!

We’ll have a host of great performers. Convergence is back, and we’ve added a second K-pop dance group as well, R2B. Also joining us this year is a martial arts group and a tai chi instructor! We’ll be posting the performance schedule next week.

Our goal for the 97 Street Night Market is to ensure that Chinatown isn’t forgotten. Join us on August 23, 2014 to explore, taste and see what Edmonton Chinatown has to offer!

Find out more on our website, and follow us on Twitter at @yegchinatown.

East Meets West Festival 2014

Mack and I met up with Maria and Roxanne last Saturday to check out the East Meets West Festival in Chinatown, now into its sixth year. In the past, the timing usually coincided with an event in Little Italy (hence the name), but this year, the Business Revitalization Zone-organized Chinatown portion took place about a month earlier.

East Meets West 2014

97 Street

It was great to see the festival return to 97 Street, the main artery of the neighbourhood, and a location that gives the event much more prominence. A stage was set up near 105 Avenue, while vending tents and food trucks were spread out on the street.

East Meets West 2014

Stage

No doubt the weather was much improved from last year (when a flash hailstorm forced the event to shut down early), but I had to assume it was the poor experience the organizers had with small tents in inclement weather that caused them to go with the larger, heavier-duty cover this time. Though its hard to argue with their sturdiness, the walled structures felt disconnected from the rest of the street.

East Meets West 2014

Inside the tent

Most of the vendors beneath the tent sold items typically found at Chinese markets – trinkets, small toys, clothing and accessories. The theme didn’t necessarily continue throughout the marketplace – while it was great to see the Organic Box’s Fruit Truck, it would have been great if they had been able to incorporate some Asian produce into their wares.

East Meets West 2014

Fruit Truck

East Meets West chose to partner with Hawkers Market to organize a combination of pop-up food vendors and food trucks. I was hoping more of the trucks would be serving Asian-themed menus, but it was a bit hit or miss.

East Meets West 2014

Knosh and So-Cal Smoothies

Long Lost Foods was one that absolutely hit the mark with their unique vegan donair made with green onion cakes. Given the recent debate about whether the donair or green onion cake should be crowned Edmonton’s official dish, it was an ingenious way to settle the argument – why not combine the two?

East Meets West 2014

Long Lost Food’s green onion cake donair

With the scorching hot weather, we also couldn’t resist an ice cream sandwich from One Cool Cookie. The trailer is not only equipped with ovens (fresh baked cookies, anyone?), but because they assemble the sandwiches on-site, we were able to personalize our treat with our choice of cookie and ice cream.

East Meets West 2014

One Cool Cookie

I ended up with one of their suggested combinations – skor cookies with Pinocchio’s salted caramel ice cream. The thin, room temperature cookies made this one of the easiest homemade ice cream sandwiches I’ve ever had, and it was darn tasty, too.

East Meets West 2014

Mack’s double chocolate and black cherry ice cream sandwich

It was a great day to be outside, and though the heat may have chased away mid-afternoon revelers, we hoped more foot traffic would come in the evening.

East Meets West 2014

Squinting in the sun

If you missed this event, not to worry –  we’ll be announcing the details of our follow-up to our successful 97 Street Night Market shortly. Stay tuned!

97 Hot Pot: To Chinatown We Go!

Growing up, hot pot was very much a family affair. It was a way, with comparatively less effort than cooking, for my Mum to gather us all around the dining table. Sure, she’d have to source ingredients in Chinatown (fresh vegetables, meats, tofu), then prep them for consumption, but it was definitely one of her go-to meals on nights she didn’t feel like spending too much time in the kitchen.

For a brief period of time in high school, hot pot restaurants were the birthday venue of choice, given they could easily accommodate large groups (and given the appetite of some of those teenage boys, the buffet-style offerings were ideal).

Since that time, hot pot has been something I’ve enjoyed exclusively at my parents’ house. As a result, it’s been easily over ten years since I’ve stepped foot inside a hot pot restaurant in Edmonton.

Cue the local hot pot revolution, with two new restaurants opening up in Chinatown within six months of each other, located less than a block apart. And not only are they reinvigorating the hot pot scene in the city, but they are also injecting new life into the area.

Both Urban Shabu and 97 Hot Pot have brought the trend of individual hot pots to Edmonton. I have to say, when I first heard of this set-up, I really balked at the idea of reducing a communal experience to an individual one. What I didn’t take into account at the time, however, was that the seduction of convenience and control would win me over, too.

97 Hot Pot moved into a storefront in Chinatown that had been vacant for years. The owners overhauled the space with eye-catching signage and a brand new interior. It’s bright, clean and welcoming, and if this trend continues with other businesses, will hopefully help chip away at the stereotypes that continues to plague the neighbourhood as a whole. In addition, it was refreshing to see the number of younger patrons dining in that night – based on my own high school experience, it’s not surprising, but it does give me hope for Chinatown’s immediate future. Last month, I had dinner at 97 Hot Pot with Maria and Roxanne, and learned firsthand what all the fuss was about.

97 Hot Pot

Interior

All of the tables had built-in induction burners meant to accommodate individual pots. As a result, instead of the circular tables to accommodate larger parties at communal hot pot restaurants, all tables were rectangular. Although we still ended up sharing everything, it was a nice change not to have to reach for the pot, or to argue over who put in that last tofu or meatball. Individual hot pots will do much to smooth over family conflicts at the dinner table, heh.

97 Hot Pot

My personal hot pot!

97 Hot Pot charges $25.95 per adult, and $12.95 per child aged 3-9. Choosing a soup base other than the basic chicken broth adds $2 to that cost, as does opting for the choice of two broths in a divided pot. In addition to the selection of about one hundred different raw and fresh meat and vegetable items, salads, cooked dishes and desserts are also included in the per person cost, making this one of the most value-laden buffets in the city. It also differentiates the dining out version of hot pot from its home-based cousin; it isn’t economical for a family to purchase the kind of variety that can be found at a restaurant, and when a group of picky eaters is present, the range of options should satisfy everyone. Our only minor quibble with the ordering system was that it wasn’t logical – specifying “1” vs. “2” or “4” would yield seemingly random amounts of food.

Given the breadth of choices, I was happy to see that 97 Hot Pot didn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. The greens were crisp, and the sliced meats were fresh. I easily consumed a half pound of sliced lamb that night.

97 Hot Pot

Spread part one (I forgot to take pictures later on, unfortunately)

97 Hot Pot introduced me to the oddly translated “fresh meat and seafood mash” – blended meat and herb mixtures served up in plastic sleeves. Using a plastic spoon, the meat is meant to be dropped into the boiling soup to create meatballs. They were darn tasty, and like the cooked dishes, really added value to the meal.

97 Hot Pot

Meat and seafood mashes

We spent the better part of two and a half hours at 97 Hot Pot. Although the menu indicated that only two hour stays were permitted, we never felt that the service staff were trying to push us out. Refills on soup and water were timely, and orders were taken and delivered in a punctual fashion. Dessert was a bonus, and the sweet soup (tong sui) was notably well-prepared.

97 Hot Pot

Maria and I amongst the steam (from now on, I will be making more frequent visits to hot pot facilities during the cold weather months – the chicken soup sauna was like a gift for my winter-disparaged skin)

I had a great experience at 97 Hot Pot, and would not hesitate in recommending it to those new and familiar with this type of dining. I really am hopeful the additional traffic to Chinatown from both new hot pot ventures will turn the tide in the area, and spur even more development in the neighbourhood.

97 Hot Pot
10602 97 Street
(587) 521-1888
Sunday-Thursday 4:30pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday, 4:30pm-2am