For all intents and purposes, there’s little separating Superwok from the commonplace cafeteria. Its general patronage is comprised of ESL students and Asian office workers within the two block radius. The place is drab, with little separating it from the other cheap downtown lunch places, each emphatic on speed and affordability over all else. Remnants of its predecessor – also a cheap downtown lunch place run by a Croatian couple whose odd burek special did not endure – still adorn the walls and the menu. There is little that would make one want to remain for more than the noon hour, and one lingers that long only to be somewhere other than school or work.
Superwok offers both that hourly refuge and old school Taiwanese eats, the sort that office grunts and high school students would presumably also find their way to in that country. Unlike other Taiwanese places in town, there is little in the way of frills or esthetics, the walls a pale pallor and adorned by Coca Cola ads and a makeshift menu board (comprised of photos of some, not all, of the dishes, odd bits of paper, a chalkboard, etc). Instead of pages of options, there are perhaps ten to fifteen plates to be had here, sour plum drink finding a presence over bubble tea.
Most dishes range from a passable average to a solid not-bad, but that’s beside the point. The highlight is the guo bao (under $5), described as a “Chinese burger” on an arbitrary sign taped to the wall, and features red braised pork – probably not quite enough of it – sandwiched in a fluffy steamed bun with preserved greens and dusted with ground peanuts. An egg crepe (under $4) is suitably crispy, suitably eggy, with no other descriptor more perfect for it than “practical.” A zha jiang mien (under $8) comes with not quite zha jiang (fermented bean sauce), and bits of firm tofu instead of ground pork. All are suitably light in portion, small enough to avoid the inevitable food coma that comes with heavier dishes, again reflective of the sheer utilitarian nature of the place. (Sprite students in need of more sustenance can find a greater calorie count in forgettable Taiwanese beef noodles, chicken legs on rice, etc.)
It’s that utilitarian-ness that gives Superwok its sense of romanticism. All involved, both behind and in front of the counter, are linked in a common servitude, and the place serves its worker function, no more and no less. Though better versions of the food offered can be had elsewhere (though, strangely enough, not anywhere in downtown Vancouver, at least until Well Tea opens its new location), it’s that practicality that gives the place its character, and something the workers can unite behind.
505 Dunsmuir Street