I have finally found something I have been longing to eat for a very long time, in the Vancouver Kerrisdale area. If you have travelled or lived in Hong Kong, you will understand that street food is such an important part of the food scene. It started in the 1950s during the economic downturn. People used wooden boxes, carts, and stalls to sell food. The government stepped in to regulate the operation by licensing these stalls to “Dai Pai Dong” selling cooked food. It was mostly operated in streets and alleys. The food served at Bubble Waffle is the type of street food that was served and have evolved through economic times.
If you miss cart noodles, bubble waffles, bubble tea, stinky tofu, curry fish balls, fish sui mai, takoyaki balls, and bubble tea you can conveniently step into Bubble Waffle Cafe in Kerrisdale. I was just telling owner Danny Ching that it would be nice if they also had Cheong fun (rice noodle rolls), wonton noodle soup, beef brisket…but we can’t have it all.
I was honoured to sit down and chat with Danny, a very busy Hongkonger who has deep roots in Vancouver. Actually, during our meeting, he preferred to stand and I found that it’s the “hardworking, nonstop” mentality of Hongkongers. He also showed me photos of his family many times and talked about them a lot. He is definitely a family man. It reminds me that I love doing what I do everyday, meeting the people of Vancouver and writing about my daily encounters and keeping the community together.
For the first time in 2016, the Michelin Guide added Hong Kong street food as a wallet-friendly and authentic part of the Hong Kong culture. “The Michelin Guide has always been a true reflection of the restaurant scene in the cities and countries that we cover. In Hong Kong, street food is part of the local way of life: the city never sleeps, the streets are constantly bustling, and Hong Kong residents love to eat out, without necessarily sitting down and spending a lot of money,” said Michael Ellis. Cart noodles and bubble waffles made the list.
Have you watched the restaurants make milk tea in Hong Kong? They use a cloth bag that looks like a sack to filter the tea leaves. Over time, the intense brown colour is from repeated prolonged tea drenching and the sack is supposed to make the tea smoother. Acting as a filter, it also takes the shape of a pantyhose. Therefore, Hong Kong milk tea is also known as “silk stocking milk tea” or “pantyhose tea”. At Bubble Waffle, they don’t use the sack but they do use 5 types of Sri Lankan tea leaves which are steeped daily. Each day is a fresh batch.
Danny was born and raised in Hong Kong and lived under the flight path of Kai Tak Airport (the old Hong Kong airport) He immigrated here in 1988 like many Hongkongers with the fear of the communist handover of China in 1997. He studied at Killarney Secondary school and after graduating from Simon Fraser University, he moved back to Hong Kong to start a property investment business and helping his family with their business which was in distress in 2002. During his time in Hong Kong, he has travelled to many countries for work and leisure and tried many types of cuisines. He has been to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan to name a few. He found that he can’t deny the fact that in his heart, he still likes the taste of HK street food the most. He believed that at that moment his heart was set on the iconic cuisine of Hong Kong called Cart Noodles and “pantyhose tea”.
What are cart noodles?
The name was coined in the 1950s when hawkers in Hong Kong pushed wooden or metal carts around selling noodles. You can add various toppings and originally it was simple toppings such as fish balls, congealed pork blood, and fish skin with noodles in broth. Nowadays, you can add various toppings, vegetables, sauces and choose your type of noodle. At Bubble Waffle, you can choose your toppings, choose your soup base (my favourite is the fish soup), add a drink and add snacks! The secret in the fish soup is the halibut and many other ingredients they use to make it very tasty.
Steven J Hornung is the artist behind the mural inside the restaurant. The wooden benches and counter is all made from reclaimed wood from fishing boats. The concept reflects how Hong Kong, once a fishing village has evolved over the years and has become a global economy. It reminds people of the warehouses, factories, and the docks of old Hong Kong, once an important trading port. The lamps are my favourite as they remind me of the red lamps at the wet markets in Hong Kong.
Q: How did you come up with the concept behind the artwork?
A: “I’ve known Steven for a long time since I saw one of this work at my friend’s house. He bought his house with a “man-cave” basement with murals that is so awesome that I later found out Steven was the guy that did his work. With this project his name popped up to my mind. After checking out his work (includes large brewery, hotel, custom ceiling works, etc…) I decided to meet him and had numerous meetings. We worked hard to come up with a concise illustration for our theme.”
Danny said on the mural you can see a local representation of famous people like “Bruce Lee” where he used to live in Kowloon Tong. Danny’s house was looking down from Yau Yat Chuen, where he saw Bruce’s house Kowloon Tong. The mural also shows old HK with a history from the colonial British times. The faceless people in the foreground represents the silent, hardworking individuals. They work at the docks, the factories, and trade with the outside world. These people are walking by the tram with the lucky number “8” that all Chinese people love for its similar sound to the Chinese character “rich”. As we move on to the right of the mural we can see how Hong Kong transforms from a working class fishing village to a tourist destination and financial hub, hence the headquarters of the Bank of China and the International Finance Centre with the world’s biggest bronze Buddha. On the right we can see the last of the “cart noodle” stand giving way to the Americanized noodle box.
Q:What keeps you going everyday and inspires you?
A: “I keep going because of the HK blood in me. I can’t standby and do nothing. I need to do something I like and be proud of. Since I had a background in renovation (from the property business back in HK) I wanted to make a restaurant with character and my heart. The concrete wall was done by me after hours and hours of trial and error.”
Q: Are you planning on opening more stores?
A: “I plan to open up SFU by Jun 1st. Again, working my HK speed and schedule. Everything is timed tight and everything is moving ahead full steam now. I plan to open a few more stores, I will take it one at a time.
The address of the new store:
2301, 8888 University Blvd, Maggie Benston Centre
Q:What kind of drinks do you serve other than teas and bubble tea?
A: “We’ve just got our liquor license and it will be a perfect time for summer nights out with a noodle, snack and beer! Also we are putting up a slush menu soon, featuring real fruit – a healthy choice other than bubble drinks.”
Q: I noticed you have stinky tofu on the menu. Is that a popular item?
A: “It’s a popular item for sure and it is a complicated process to make. We formulate the tofu to be less stinky (mainly the acidic part) so it retains the smell and taste but doesn’t smell as offensive.”
I have tried their bubble tea, cart noodles, and hainan chicken, which is my kid’s favourite. They use chicken thigh. My favourite stock for the noodles is the fish soup. I have seen many others order the satay soup. With so many toppings and soups to choose from, based on what you feel like that day, you can really make whatever combination you like. I am happy to find a restaurant that source fresh ingredients.
2279 W 41st Ave, Vancouver BC