Le Tigre's "Kick Ass" Rice
I’ve been re-reading Kevin Chong’s article, “Revisionist Chinese,” and stare down at my bowl of “Kick Ass Rice” ($7) from Le Tigre. The food truck is run by Clement Chan and Steve Kuan, and offers what I presume generally fits into that subject matter (pan-Asian with a Chinese emphasis, technically). The rice is cooked in sake, butter and dashi, with bits of red chilis, mayo, mint and Thai basil scattered here and there, topped with chunks of kakuni style pork belly and a soft-cooked egg, the yolk just gelatinous enough to mix pleasingly into the bowl but not runny enough to offend health inspectors. There is little to complain about this dish. Good is good, and this rice dish is as comforting as a warm duvet.
Chong’s article, however, makes mention of that common criticism, one of inauthenticity and ‘pandering’ to Westernized tastes. It might be Le Tigre’s other offerings that fall more susceptibly into this trap. Its steam buns ($4 for one, $7 of two) take their inspiration from the traditional “gua bao” – generally a plain bun folded over with meat (typically braised pork belly) and veg – but with the obligatory ‘twist.’ Le Tigre gives three options: aforementioned kakuni pork belly, a Szechwan beef, and “bang bang chicken,” a sort of shredded chicken breast whose flavor profile does not nearly provoke as much as the Le Tigre song of same name. Each is serviceable, but falters without much effort, the buns splitting in half with the slightest touch. With the same fillings, the shao bings ($7) don’t fare much better, the pastry tasting much like pounded white bread, and one need not compare it to the traditional to end up with the same disappointing conclusion. Each is a good example of a better criticism of this ‘revisionist’ fare: it’s entirely unclear if Chan and Kuan had mastered the basic traditional components of these dishes before imposing their tweaks.
(Some mention should be made of at least the availability of beet fries ($6) – a soggy mess of a side – and a brussel sprout salad ($6) – fried to a crisp with no shortage of salt – both of which seem at odds with the conceptual theme.)
As a middle ground, try the chicken karaage ($6) instead, which taste much more like the Taiwanese salty-peppery variety than the name would suggest, hardly an issue. If, however, nomenclature is your hang-up, walk over to Mogu, which has a similar thought pattern with a Japanese take.
Mogu's Miso Katsu Sandwich
The cart is run by a former Suika employee, and it makes perfect sense that he should already be in a ‘revisionist’ frame of mind. The menu is a simple spread of three sandwiches ($7.50 a pop), each a behemoth portion of Japanese standards re-conceptualized between a soggy bun. We opted for the pork miso katsu sandwich, dreaming of a North American greasy-spoon roadside diner run by Japanese immigrants. It is a breath-taking mess, fascinating to observe but difficult to ingest: the extreme saltiness of the red miso kills the sandwich after a few bites.
Mogu’s chicken karaage is our dish of choice, and it has me contemplating Chong’s article even more. Do I like it best because there’s very little revision here ($6.75 regular, $4.25 mini), or is it because tender bits of chicken, battered and fried, is what I surmise to be a constant truth unifying any cultural shift? I make my way slowly through the bowl, contemplating that question. I don’t know that there’s an easy answer.
Corner of Alberni and Bute on weekdays generally (location varies)
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Howe at Dunsmuir (location may vary)