Chinese Restaurant Awards: A seat at the table – Vancouver Sun

By Juanita Ng

When I mention to people that I am a judge for the Chinese Restaurant Awards,
the comment I hear most often is “Sweet” or “Great gig,” or some
variation thereof, usually followed by “How can I get to be a judge?”

And yes, it is cool and fun and all of the above, and I’m thrilled to
be asked to help find the best Chinese food in Metro Vancouver.

But the role does come with its own unique pitfalls. For me, it has
been the needle on my scale that continues to careen relentlessly to the
right despite my best efforts.

Between Nov. 1 – 18, there will be even more eating required when the CRA’s Signature Dish Dining Festival
takes place; that’s when 18 restaurants in Vancouver, Richmond and
Burnaby will feature special set menus designed to draw customers to
their restaurants during what is traditionally a slow period.

The minor quibble of horrifying weight gain aside, however, getting a
seat at this particular table has been a great experience so far.

My fellow judges are wonderful: There’s founding judge Stephen Wong,
who knows so much about Chinese food, past and present, that it’s
downright scary; and Vancouver Magazine food writer Lee Man, a
self-described “process nut” who sometimes arrives at our suppers
bearing little organizational charts for everyone, and who knows Chinese
food like nobody’s business; and Fairchild Radio host Condrea Fung, who
very cleverly works out before she eats; and the lovely and generous food writer Joie Alvaro Kent; Brendon Mathews, who’s also a judge for the VanMag Restaurant Awards; and Fernando Medrano, who has eaten at every noodle shop in Metro Vancouver.

And there’s founding director Craig Stowe, who is not a judge but
joins us when he can, cracking jokes about gwai-los and threatening to
order lemon chicken; and Rae Kung, the CRA’s event manager and head
wrangler who keeps everyone in line.

And, of course, there’s the food. There’s no doubt that this is an
exercise not just in heavy-duty eating, but in marathon eating as well.

We started eating in August and, by the time we’re done in December,
we’ll have tasted hundreds of dishes from which we will choose 22
winners in eight critics’ choice categories.

This non-stop eating is not the sole reserve of judges. There is also
a diners’ choice component to the Chinese Restaurant Awards, in which the public is invited to nominate their favourite restaurant
in 15 categories ranging from best king crab dish to best food court
kiosk. Nominations close Oct. 31, and the public will then vote from a
list of the top 20 restaurants in each category.

In the end, both groups — judges and diners — are after the same
thing: We want to find the best Chinese food in Metro Vancouver.

In the past, this hasn’t been the easiest task as Chinese restaurant owners don’t tend to promote themselves or their eateries.

The Chinese Restaurant Awards, now in its fourth year, has made
serious inroads into changing that, shining a light not just on the
biggest and the best, but also on the little-known hole-in-the-wall that
just might be serving the best food no one’s ever heard of.

Here’s a look at a few of the dishes I’ve tasted in the last little
while that I’ve really loved. Where did I eat them? Sorry — you’ll have
to wait until Jan. 17 to find out which restaurants are winners in
the Chinese Restaurant Awards.

Green food never looks appetizing, I know, but this dish of Prawns in a Peach Wasabi Sauce was fantastic.

Exquisite squab, done to perfection.

A lovely, delicate green beans dish.

Our group eats a lot of crab, and this Curry Crab was verrrry good.