From the desk of a non-chef, non-culinary expert, non-cuisine educated heavy set guy that eats well.
Let’s stipulate to: most of us like food, some even love it; our heritage has an immense influence on our tastes; we all know someone who is a master in the kitchen for food preparation but not necessarily as good at cleaning up; and all the above is subjective!
My name is John and I have always enjoyed great dining experiences. No apologies, few regrets.
To put some context to this, from someone brought up in southern Ontario with the traditional family dinners of meat, potatoes and cooked vegetables. Mom in the kitchen and Dad seated at the head of the table and everyone arrived at the table before serving with hands scrubbed. Sometimes the kids were reassigned to a smaller table in another room if guests arrived in order to enable the adults to solve the world’s problems while discussing religion, politics and that other stuff they needed to opine on…usually about kids, finances or gossip.
Dining was historically a family tradition serving as the classroom for sharing the day or a moral response to the world’s decay (although the latter was more for those of us who had a parent or grandparent immersed in the dogma of their religion).
As we grew up, the situation became more relaxed in expectations and more immersed in chauffeuring to sports or music events, everyone’s varied schedules and obligations and the over-arching demands of full and part-time work. What began as full-on dinners then sandwiches and soup, degraded too often to pre-packaged TV dinners (remember them?). Food was an obligation rather than an event.
Dining often became a financial choice: fast food picked up on the way home; a steamed or crock pot prepared and bubbling by the time everyone arrived home; or a restaurant escape to be catered to by staff in white shirts and blouses, black trousers or skirts, linen and silverware, a lovely cocktail (or two) and a bill to match.
If you’ve travelled, you likely allowed your palette to experiment with a variety of foreign fares never considered in your home before. Perhaps ‘de foie gras de canard’ (duck liver pate)or ‘sturgeon roe and Black Sea caviar’ (fish eggs)? Sea creatures only imagined in a Jules Verne chapter? Vegetables and noodles done in oils, creams, spices and sauces? Other delicacies prepared and served raw, steamed, grilled or deep fried?
Our taste buds are challenged like never before.
In the mid 90’s I spent almost eight weeks in Southeast Asia, Cambodia primarily, on a consulting project for the King of Cambodia analyzing their communication infrastructure and making recommendations for changes to be funded by the Asian Development Bank. They did not serve deep fried chicken in box with french fries, or hamburgers and a milk shake to go. Most of the cooking was done in street vats of oil in Phnom Penh or wood and charcoal fire pits in back rooms near Siem Reap and the temple Angkor Wat.
Or the huts in the mountain villages of Battambang, much rice and noodles everywhere.
Every meal was an excursion in flavour and smells. And your dining companions delighted in offering new tastes to your repertoire. Generally, the rule was to not tell you what it was until you had voted on its success. Good thing though, otherwise I would have starved.
When I returned to Canada, I literally couldn’t stomach western food and had to transition back to what I had been accustomed to. I give personal kudos to Sean Lee, his father the Chef extraordinaire and his family for managing that experience at China King in Cainsville and have been a loyal customer for the past two-plus decades. His father’s style is authentic Chinese, like fresh Peking Duck, rather than western style equivalence to Southeast Asia. You may not realize ‘chicken balls’ are a westernization of a diverse assortment of chicken flavoured dishes.
And now I have a new Southeast Asian restaurant in Brantford that is also truly authentic Vietnamese and Thai dining. Nine North, next door to the Sanderson Centre on Dalhousie St.
I spoke to Tam Nguyen, the owner and Head Chef about his training and passion to preparing a dining experience.
He explained the difference between the three stations of preparation for soups, grilled and stir-fry preparations. He smiles when he chats, explaining his mentor is a Chinese Master Chef who spent a year instilling in Tam the mastery of flavour, heat, timing and ingredients that reflect his personal culinary heritage. Nine North, incidentally, is the geographic coordinate latitudinally for Tam’s birthplace in Vietnam. His dishes celebrate the best from Vietnam and Thailand.
If you click this hyperlink, Tam explains in his own words, his process for the Soup Station. Other interviews are coming shortly for the Grilling and Stir-fry Stations.
Your favourite international dining experience might be from other country delicacies such as Italian, Greek, Indian or Turkish establishments.
I encourage all to share their favourites, try new establishments in the Brant area and comment on your positive experiences for others to explore.
Gotta go…getting hungry…