The Lone Chinese Restaurant on the Drive

Commercial Drive – the too-cool-for-school neighbourhood where I live in Vancouver – has an almost limitless array of culturally diverse – and relatively affordable – restaurants and eateries: Ethiopian, Jamaican, Japanese, Italian, South Asian, Mexican, Lebanese, Palestinian, Filipinx. Strangely enough, for a city known to have – arguably – the best Chinese cuisine outside of Hong Kong and China, there is – if I have counted correctly – all of one Chinese restaurant in the 22 blocks that comprise the Drive. The only possible reason I can think of is the relatively (compared to the rest of the city) small percentage of Chinese folx living in the neighbourhood (and it’s a weak reason, given how popular Chinese food is with, well, virtually everyone).

As a down-to-earth (read: non-affluent) foodie and lover of Chinese food, then, and as someone too lazy to cross neighbourhoods to where there are more Chinese restaurants (all right, I should avoid the rightist strategy of blaming the individual and be a proper lefty and focus on the system – in this case, Vancouver’s transit system, which does a poor job, I think, of linking the city’s neighbourhoods together), you’ll likely find me at Chongqing Restaurant at least once or twice a week, usually around noon, indulging in either dim sum or a lunch special.

When I was a kid, my mother told me that the fastest way of gauging whether a Chinese restaurant is any good (by which she meant “authentically Chinese”) is by the number of non-Chinese people (by which she meant “white”) who patronize it. The correlation was an inverse one: the fewer the number of non-Chinese/white customers, the better, probably, the food – a theory later backed by many of my Chinese friends. If you go by this metric, the Drive’s lone Chinese restaurant must be lacking; its customer base, as far as I can tell, is majority non-Chinese.

(Note: knowing how to evaluate Chinese food is is as integral to being a good Vancouverite as loving weed and suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.)

In any event, for what it’s worth, I very much enjoy the food at Chonqing. While dim sum is on the menu (mostly a Cantonese offering), it is best known for its Szechuan dishes, which are marked by their spiciness and bold, pungent flavours. As an inveterate spice-hound, I was made for Szechuan; so their Diced Chicken in Chilli, Sour & Garlic Sauce with Spinach – my favourite of their dishes – is right up my gastronomical alley. Served as a lunch special, it comes with rice and, for an additional charge, a small soup, a side dish, and a beverage. It all comes out to about $17 before tax and tip.

A word about spicy foods: I am reclaiming my love of it. The shift happened a few years ago when a European sophisticate I had fallen for admonished me for dipping everything I ate in hot sauce. “You’re destroying your taste buds,” he said. “You’re missing out on a whole spectrum of flavours.” Desperate to impress (colonized mentality), and of course convinced he knew better, I cut down on the spice and ate plainly for a few years. Perhaps my frequent patronage of Chongqing is, at least subconsciously, part of the larger journey back to myself.

ADDENDUM: My ex – and a fellow Drive resident – just pointed out to me that there is technically another Chinese restaurant on the Drive: Kyle’s. I guess these things are, to paraphrase Kant, in the eye of the beholder; for I would consider Kyle’s to be Chinese Canadian, which is not the same as Chinese, as they serve breakfast and tons of Western food alongside their Chinese offerings. For better or worse, it’s a distinction my mother taught me, and I can’t shake it off. 


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