Vietnamese cuisine growing in Vancouver pho sure, says food columnist

On The Coast food columnist says new Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver are exploring a wide variety of Vietnamese cooking — not just pho.

Food columnist says new menus go beyond the well-known pho

Pho is perfect for fall days, On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson says, but there's more to Vietnamese cuisine than that. (REUTERS/Kham)

On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson says some new restaurants in Vancouver are showcasing Vietnamese cuisine in a way that goes beyond pho.

Johnson says while the spicy noodle soup may be a great dish for fall, it doesn't show the full breadth of Vietnamese cooking.

"It seems as if Vancouver is experiencing a renaissance of sorts when it comes to Vietnamese food," she told host Stephen Quinn.

"Of course we have tons of great little pho shops that have been around for years, but now all of a sudden we have this surge, with these places reinventing Vietnamese cuisine."

One spot Johnson highlighted is Chi Modern Vietnamese Cuisine on West Fourth. Chef Chi Le is not a trained cook, but has a passion for food.

A friend signed her up to compete on MasterChef Vietnam — without her knowledge — where she came in as a runner up.

"What she remembers from her childhood were dishes that were placed in the middle of the table that everybody dug into," Johnson said, adding dishes like caramel fish clay pot, char-grilled eggplant, papaya salad and stir-fried water spinach are all sharing dishes on the menu.

Other new places have family stories behind them. Main Street's Anh and Chi, formerly Pho Hoang, was re-opened by the second generation of an immigrant family. There's also House Special in Yaletown, run by a brother-and-sister team whose mom is the head chef.

And while a lot of Vietnamese dishes traditionally have some kind of meat in them, Chau Veggiexpress is looking out for vegetarians and vegans.

They have an existing location on Victoria Drive but recently opened a second location on Granville Island.

"They've got vegan spring rolls made with mung bean, kale, taro root, and a lemon vegan 'fish sauce,'" Johnson said. "They make an aromatic coconut-curry soup and other curry dishes. And they even make several vegan pastries and desserts."

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast