Wang Xiaobo's '91 novel, The Golden Age 《黄金时代》, begins with a Beijing boy sent down to the countryside--thousand miles away, in Yunnan Province--during the Cultural Revolution. He's put to work in the fields, backbreaking labor. Times is hard, but there's a touch of irony to the title. Even while he's physically broken on the rack, ground down by the sadistic brigade leader, he never loses his swagger. In the chaotic space created by the political chaos, there's a certain freedom.

He's got his mind set on hooking up with any available girl, doing his thing. His half-Beijing hooligan/half-martial arts novel bad-ass attitude is never compromised. He doesn't learn to spout political slogans, but instead spits game to another city girl, from Beijing. Even in the collective madness of struggle sessions and self-criticism...--I won't spoil it for you, okay?

The novel sorta sums up the period. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ('66-'76) was a goddarn mess and a lot of shit got messed up. But a lot of people ended up having an all right time. Nostalgia for that golden age runs as deep in Mainland China as '60s nostalgia does in the West.

The '60s, the trains were free, and a lot of working class people got to fly across the big, crazy country for the first time. Kids from all over had the time (closing down schools helped) and the means to see the place and spread a little revolution, tear down the Old Society, demolish feudalism, BOMBARD THE HEADQUARTERS.

Even when things settled down a bit after '76, when the Chairman was finally gone and Hua Guofeng and then Deng Xiaoping took over... there was still a certain spirit in the air, a hangover from the Ten Years of Turbulence.... The generation that was coming of age in China's cities, was still going through a certain uprootedness.... That youthful spirit that took over the country, when the people in charge said, "Hey, let the kids see what they can do," was still important. It was extinguished when tanks rolled on the Fourth of June. But the kids were changed forever, by seeing the country, by having a couple years of messy freedom.

My friend If--right, just If. If: another Beijing boy. He was born in Tianjin but raised in the big city.

A product of that particular freedom, he spent the 1980s wandering, hitchhiking the cold road across the Tibetan Plateau, exploring the south, and living for a while in Chongqing, Sichuan.

His restaurant, Nine Dishes is on the last boring block of Kingsway, before it gives way to a beautiful rows of bánh mì and phở joints splattered with posters of pretty-as-heck Vietnamese popstars and the occasional Korean stripmall restaurant. Nine Dishes is the result of his southern wandering and his up north roots.

The menu runs from classic, dirty south Sichuanese and far north comfort food. That north and south mix is one that's familiar to anyone who's been to, like a Dragon Palace/Jade Garden/Jade Palace/Dragon Garden PEKING SZECHWAN SPECIALTIES-style joint. But it's the furthest thing from it, something closer to a 24 hour Beijing streetside spot.

If runs the front-of-house (bright, modern, big ol' fish tank inherited from the Vietnamese restaurant that previously occupied the space) and the kitchen himself, sweeping in and out of the doors.

He's slouchy slim, shaved head, thick Beijing accent like how you imagine characters in Wang Shuo stories must talk (statement: if Wang Shuo lived in Vancouver, he'd hang out here). If is never shy to share his business philosophy: "I hate money."

"Most places, they make money off rice. But I give it away. Free rice. Or they make money off of selling beer. I don't make a cent off it."

The beer is cheap--Yanjing is two bucks a bottle--and it kinda fuels the place. Everything on the menu works with a bottle beside it but especially the lamb skewers, a buck each. They're juicytender, leaking lamb fat and ground cumin mashing up into a paste on the charred edges.

There's a long list of skewered things: pork with pickled chilies, chicken, ground chili-sprinkled eggplant, pork intestine. Buck each.

Meat and deepfried things are the thing. -- The menu features a homemade sausage (catch them hanging in the back hallway): something like a Sichuanese chorizo, dried to the right texture and popping with little squirts of pork fat, floral scent of Sichuan peppercorn. -- Braised pork ribs, fatty sticky sweet. -- Stirfried pork kidney: fresh as hell, big baseball glove-size lumps of it, floating in chili oil. -- And deepfried things--slow to come out of the kitchen, so you know you can trust them: vegetable fritters and deepfried lotus sandwiches stuffed with minced pork....

The Nine Dishes' take on fūqī fèipiàn 夫妻肺片... in a city with no truly great Sichuanese restaurants, this version stands up to any available. There's no Iraqi-engineer-driving-a-taxi situation in the kitchen, with some Chongqing hotel chef slumming it cooking pedestrian half-fancy/half-downscale Sichuanese dishes-- nope, just the dead simple ticking off of ingredients: a bunch of stuff ripped from the insides of a cow, with chili oil, cilantro, Sichuan peppercorn.

Another Sichuan classic on the menu, waterboiled fish 水煮鱼 is just as simple: a shiny steel pot of tender fish floating in chili oil, accompanied with dried chili and Sichuan peppercorn. It's cheap and the pot is full and, honestly, it stands up to any other version in town.

Even better, a sour fish soup 酸汤鱼, from just over the border from Chongqing, in Guizhou Province. It drops looking like two percent milk doused with chili oil. Soft, sleepy white fish bobs in a sourspicy broth. The flavors are simple and serious. It hits all the high notes of sour and spicy and numbing and salty.

The food is utilitarian. I mean that in the most positive way. There's not an ounce of screwing around. Everything is refined down to the barest basics, so there's no room to screw it up. Simple and plain and good.

As the night slips on, If slips back out into the room. When all the food has come out of the kitchen, he half-heartedly busses a couple tables, catches a conversation he likes at a table with some room and he pulls up a chair. He's a master of bullshit (but with the balls to actually make things happen--he's got a restaurant, right?), a master of dirty jokes, a master storyteller, political philosopher, reciter of poetry....

The lights get a bit lower, the tables pile up with dishes, and everyone gets closer together. A later crowd drifts in, a lot of Mainland kids, students, who know this is the only place in town that's exactly like this.

There's a closing time on the door but that's just the time when the bars get pulled down over the windows and the OPEN sign is flicked off. Tables condense down, people drift in to chat, talk politics. Bottles of Yanjing. Glasses of èrguōtóu 二锅头, hundred and twelve proof. Occasional breaks to kick around out front, watching some Kingsway girls slouch past, swapping darts, Zhongnanhais 中南海 and Septwolves 七匹狼.

The mysterious angelic lady that appears from time to time in the kitchen finally pops out and says goodnight. The last orders are made, sketched on pads of paper and handed to If, who ducks his head back into the kitchen to make a last order of zhájiàngmiàn 炸酱面, pale noodles with fried pork and soybean paste and a handful of sliced thin cucumber. When it's finally done, he's back, setting it down and catching up with the conversation.

End of the night:
Scent of lamb and cumin
and smokebreaks in clothes.

Busting out the door onto
empty Kingsway.


Nine Dishes
960 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
Nine Dishes on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said... @ June 21, 2010 at 11:27 AM

this is probably the most pretentious food review ive ever read

Anonymous said... @ August 29, 2010 at 5:40 AM

No mention of why Yanjing Beer is so cheap. It's because the Canadian company that represents it offers this restaurant and many others prohibited cash or free product inducements to order the beer.The representing company in Canada knows this is prohibited and has been told many times by the provincial liquor authorities not to engage in this type of behaviour but it's hard to prove especially in Chinese restaurants when the owners and the beer agent do cash deals late at night when the product is delivered in bulk.

It's not how business should be conducted and this company knows better,but hey anything to sell beer right? Even engaging in unethical business practices.

Anonymous said... @ November 7, 2010 at 9:42 AM

Ah yes, Yanjing Beer. My husband is celiac and after drinking this beer (the company assured us it was gluten free during a liquor store demonstration) got very ill with celiac symptoms. We got the beer tested to see what made him ill.The results? Made with barley therefore has GLUTEN. The company is misrepresenting the beer.CELIACS AVOID this cheap beer.

TheSundayBest said... @ December 6, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Wow. Great blog and a great sounding restaurant, and the anonymous internet generates one accusation of pretentiousness, one accusation of fraud, and one celiac conspiracy. Bravo internet.

Anonymous said... @ January 31, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Ok to below average restaurant. I can think many other better alternatives to this restaurant in Vancouver.

Anonymous said... @ August 3, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Ha Ha I heard about the Yanjing Beer pushing all those prohibited deals.

essay writers said... @ March 22, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Hello my friend! I want to say that this article is awesome, nice written and include almost all vital info. I would like to see more posts like this.

Animation schools bangalore said... @ July 25, 2012 at 2:29 AM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. Thanks for this wonderful post. I hope to see more posts in the future.

Business Broadband Deals said... @ November 15, 2012 at 6:23 AM

It’s excellent blog without a doubt. It is really nice to see this and I found that it’s well-informed.
business broadband deals

DEWHURST TOULSON said... @ December 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM

Its such as you read my thoughts! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the e-book in it or something.
topics free dissertation

research papers said... @ August 16, 2013 at 1:15 AM

Id really love to stay around this website and be a part of where I can get a lot of valuable and beneficial advice from other experienced people that share this information.

Floor Tiles said... @ October 1, 2013 at 5:28 AM

I experienced every little bit aspect of it and I will be awaiting the new up-dates.Really liked studying your we short article. The details was very useful and beneficial.

Rose Ainsworth said... @ January 2, 2014 at 11:01 PM

Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information. Buy Meridia

safira jorge said... @ January 22, 2014 at 4:58 AM

Thank you for another important article. Where else can you get this information in a comprehensive way of writing? It took me a week, and I am looking for information.Get a Loan

Online Ecommerce Solution said... @ April 2, 2014 at 3:25 AM

I love the site and will come back to see your new posts.

jaeef lossan said... @ April 9, 2014 at 5:29 AM

I am so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that's at the other blogs. Thanks for sharing this
Wooden Door Frames

Press Release Writing services said... @ April 9, 2014 at 10:21 PM

Wow.....This blog is really NICE and UNIQUE.....Thanks for share.

thefridaylunch said... @ May 28, 2014 at 5:22 PM

Like I said on my post of Nine Dishes when the issue of cheap beer came up...

If slipping in a few cold beers at bargain rates is a crime, it’s surely on the lower end of the scale. Why not criminalize the clubs that shovel shooters into teenagers at two in the morning knowing damn well most of them are driving to an after-hours? At least here, at Nine Dishes, the folk are having a nosh with their couple of beers. Maybe worry more about the high-octane piss-up joints…that’s where the real damage is being done.

neviditelná podprsenka said... @ May 30, 2014 at 4:01 AM

Like your writing! Still you can do some things to improve it.

Anonymous said... @ June 11, 2014 at 12:26 AM

This is impressive and also great information. I personally liked going through your solid points on this topic. Many thanks for creating such excellent material. This is excellent. boston marathon qualifying races texas

gippy honey said... @ June 28, 2014 at 4:55 AM

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.
Provigil Online

MOHSAN HUSSAN said... @ July 9, 2014 at 3:55 PM

They are looking for a name which will stand out in a crowd and certainly have some basis in the English language.

Billy William said... @ July 14, 2014 at 10:14 AM

signed, this home enjoys a good sized kitchen with breakfast, family and utility areas and French doors to the garden. There is a dining room with French doors, comfortable sitting room and study.

johnanson lee said... @ August 10, 2014 at 6:42 PM

A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
Le Corbusier LC5

Anonymous said... @ August 26, 2014 at 2:05 PM

White label site is site related to business. Which is useful for sell different products if any one have no knowledge about SEO.
white label seo

gippy honey said... @ August 27, 2014 at 4:24 PM

A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.
Glass Curtains Fuengirola

Online GED Courses said... @ January 29, 2015 at 3:13 AM

thanks for sharing and keep it up

Anonymous said... @ March 31, 2015 at 12:07 AM

Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. Thanks for this very useful info you have provided us. I will bookmark this for future reference and refer it to my friends. More power to your blog. voip services for home

Post a Comment