Made in Canada: Wild Rice's Andrew Wong talks Canadian cuisine
Maple syrup and back bacon are two of the biggest culinary claim-to-fame items typically identified as “Canadian food”. But we all know that there is much more to Canadian cuisine. In fact, perhaps the richest component of Canadian cuisine can be found in how it has been influenced and deliciously shaped by our historical multicultural landscape.
A great example of this is Canadian Chinese cuisine, which can be found across the country and is probably the most familiar ethnic food to those of us who have grown up here. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese buffet actually originated in Vancouver’s Gastown area and Ginger beef is said to have been first served in Western Canada. Intriguing!
We wanted to find out more about Canadian Chinese fusion, so we turned to Andrew Wong, founder of the very popular Wild Rice, an institution in Vancouver on the Chinese fusion scene. Andrew’s family has a rich history in food. His father was a long-time dining room waiter at the legendary Trader Vic’s and his grandfather was the owner of Gastown’s well-known Lotus Hotel, next door to where Andrew now runs his restaurant.
BT: Can you tell us what inspired the idea of opening a restaurant that serves “modern Chinese cuisine”?
AW: Chinese cuisine is one of the oldest ethnic/non-western cuisines in Vancouver and Canada. Many people can relate to it. Creating a modern space serving variations of classics made a lot of sense to me. I figured if I kept the prices reasonable, put healthy and local as a focus, it would eventually catch on as a neighbourhood place.
BT: I understand that cooking with local ingredients is very important to you. Can you share some of your favourites?
AW: In season tomatoes, beets, blueberries, raspberries and kale. I also love local mushrooms of all kinds. I am nothing in the kitchen without my herb garden, which currently grows rosemary, sage, cilantro, chives, oregano, verbena, mint and bay. Vancouver is so fortunate to have a wealth of good local fish and seafood harvested in a sustainable way. Wild Rice is proud to be a member of OceanWise and Shark Truth and we use a lot of sustainable, local fish and seafood.
BT: What do you think “Canadian food” means to most people?
AW: I think Canadian food is internationally influenced. We basically have the world at our fingertips and the cooking styles here now reflect that. We are living in times where we can find Asian ingredients in a French restaurant and European influences in Asian restaurants. Vancouver truly is a crossroads for the world and our cuisine reflects that.
BT: How do you think Wild Rice reflects a Canadian identity?
AW: My father was born here; my mother came from Hong Kong when she was fifteen. Our story is probably similar to many immigrant/first generation families- regardless of where they came from. I grew up in Vancouver eating both Chinese and Western cuisine. I think Wild Rice tells the story of my upbringing right in the menu. It's what I mentioned in the question above, Wild Rice is very reflective of the international flavour that is multi-cultural Canada.
BT: Tell us what your favourite family meal is.
AW: Braised shortrib, mashed potato with plenty of butter, roasted peppers or asparagus, served family style. Or burritos.
BT: Any plans for Canada Day?
AW: I plan to take a day off and not step foot into the restaurant.
Sounds like a good start! Talking to Andrew inspired us to try cooking something fusion! Luckily, Andrew provided this recipe for Wild Rice’s prawn dumplings. Mmmmmm!
Tiger Stripe Sui Mai (Chef Todd Bright)
2 cups ground Sloping Hills pork
1 cup rock crab meat
1 bunch green onions, minced
1 half bunch cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup diced water chestnuts
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tsp sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 cup whole BC side stripe shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 package square wonton wrappers
Small amount of oil
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients except the shrimp.
- Mix well.
- Form the mixture into small meatballs.
- Place a meatball in the center of a wonton wrapper.
- Lay a shrimp over the top of the mixture.
- Gather up the edges of the wonton wrapper and pull the wrapper up against the meat on the sides making a little ‘pocket’ (leaving it ‘open-faced’).
- Lightly oil a bamboo steamer.
- Place the dumplings in and steam for approximately 5 minutes.
- Serve warm with chili oil and soy sauce.
Enjoy! This week we will be giving away a basket of Canadian food goodies in our weekly Facebook Page prize draw! Join the conversation and tell us how you plan to celebrate Canada Day and what some of your favourite ‘Made in Canada’ cuisine is.