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Visit the Urbani family’s Moccia Italian Meat Market (Open Thurs-Sat, 2276 E. Hastings St., 604-255-2032. Moccia.ca) and chat with the makers of the city’s finest Italian cured meats. The fig toscano is an excellent example of why their salami is so sought after-rich savoury meatiness balances the warmth of fennel and sweetness of dried Turkish figs.
Though the menu expertly traverses Malaysian, Singaporean, and Thai cuisines, it’s the Burmese dishes at Bo Laksa King (2546 E. Hastings St., 604-568-4593. Bolaksaking.com) that are the stars. The fermented tea leaf salad (lahpet thoke) is a buzzy mix of pungent tea leaves, tomatoes, fried garlic, crispy lentils, and cabbage tossed with a spicy-sharp lime dressing. The intensely satisfying mohinga (the national dish of Burma), a heady mix of slow-simmered fish stock, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, tender banana stems, and noodles, evokes the rich flavours of old Rangoon.
Le Do’s (2292 E. Hastings St., 604-253-3508) simple and cleanly flavoured pho has a loyal fan base. The brightly refreshing prawn and green papaya salad echoes their restrained approach with beautiful shreds of grassy-green papaya and carrots topped with sweet prawns, toasted peanuts, and a lively fish sauce dressing. Virtuous and delicious.
Unable to find quality baked goods in the neighbourhood, Lucia Tam and Bobby Chick decided to open the charming East Village Bakery (2166 E. Hastings St., 604-568-5600. Eastvillagebakery.com). Their palmiers are a labour of love. The cookies are addictive marvels of housemade puffed pastry layered with caramelized butter and sugar and baked to a golden crisp.
Owner Brad Miller has breathed new life into The Red Wagon diner (2296 E. Hastings St., 604-568-4565. Redwagoncafe.com) while remaining true to the neighbourhood ethos that demands real, approachable food. The Reuben sandwich is a stunner: succulent thin slices of housemade corned beef between slices of toasted and buttered rye, topped with sauerkraut and a generous dollop of Thousand Island dressing. Housemade potato chips and pickle spears are the friendly accompaniments.
The Puebla-style mole negro at El Barrio (2270 E. Hastings St., 604-569-2220. Elbarrio.ca) showcases chef Luis Montalvo’s love of regional Mexican food, developed during his travels. The mole (a rare dish in this city) is made from scratch, with ancho and mulato chilies, toasted almonds, pine nuts, pecans, and dark Mexican cocoa, and served over succulent grilled chicken. The dish blossoms with darkly rich, complex notes.
The Kunkels have been making and selling cold cuts and smoked sausages from Polonia Sausage House (2434 E. Hastings St., 604-251-2239) for over 20 years. Kielbasa and garlic sausages are popular, but our pick is the ham and juniper berry sausage, bursting with luscious cured pork and brightened with juniper’s subtle green-citrus flavour.
At times, it seems like chef Jamal Abubakar of Seri Malaysia (2327 E. Hastings St., 604-677-7555) runs a one-man operation, handling all the waiting, bussing, and cooking duties. Patience will be rewarded, though, with his astounding lamb biryani. Bone-in lamb is slow-cooked in a star anise and clove studded red curry and then folded into basmati rice, fragrant with cardamom and saffron. The dish is a favourite among local Muslim Malays, who place large orders for special occasions.
There’s a dizzying selection of beautiful old-school Italian pastries at Italia Bakery (2828 E. Hastings St., 604-251-6800. Italiabakery.ca) but make no mistake-it’s the ricotta cannoli, made from an old Sicilian recipe, you should zero in on. Ricotta cheese, lemon zest, ground almonds, and flecks of chocolate are wrapped in crisp pastry. Elegant simplicity.