My parents flew into Calgary for Christmas and they immediately had a hankering for dim sum. Given that they now live in Richmond, BC (a mecca for Chinese cuisine), I was taken aback. I thought they would want to sample Alberta beef or try one of my new favourite restaurants that I recently blogged about, such as Downtownfood. Well, I was wrong. Apparently my parents aren’t interested in keeping up with my posts and they did, indeed, want dim sum in Calgary. I suggested we try the Cultural Centre Restaurant in Chinatown, so that we could visit the Chinese Cultural Centre after lunch.
Though it was late in the afternoon, the restaurant was busy. I counted about 4 empty tables in a restaurant that has the capacity to accommodate up to 1000 people. The Cultural Centre uses a checklist system to order dim sum. I much prefer ordering this way rather than wait for the carts to roll around, as the food arrives much fresher and faster. For beverages, we stuck to plain old Chinese tea.
Most of the dim sum items cost range between $3.50 – $4.50. We usually order steamed vegetables to counter the heaviness of the deep-fried items. The first dish to arrive was gai lan (aka Chinese broccoli). It was a large serving, lightly drizzled with oyster sauce and it was cooked to a perfect crunch. I hate it when gai lan is overcooked as it loses its natural sweetness and the texture becomes too soft.
My father ordered his favourite dish – steamed pork short ribs with black bean sauce. The sauce was tasty and clean, while the pork itself was lean and not fatty (with the exception of one piece). I like the addition of Chinese pumpkin (he gua), which isn’t normally added to this dish. By the way, my father claims he is a vegetarian. As he weighs less than I did in grade seven, my family will usually bite their tongue when he devours KFC chicken, sui mai (pork dumplings), White Spot fish and chips or prawn tempura. Maybe he’s just a forgetful vegetarian.
My favourite dish was the steamed scallop and prawn dumplings. The rice wrapper didn’t enclose the entire dumpling – but wrapped along around the prawn ball. I loved the combination of the plump scallop, tobiko and shrimp.
The chive and shrimp dumpling was also excellent – there was an abundance of chives intermingled with shrimp. The rice wrapper was very good – it was neither gummy nor chalky. The haw gow was nice as well, but next time, I think I’d forgo it for the more interesting dumplings. I don’t have pictures of everything we ate because everyone at the table was really hungry. Also, my mother was getting annoyed with the picture taking. In her words, “Why are you working when you should be eating? Such a silly girl!”
The taro cake was soft and fluffy, not overly fried or undercooked. The shrimp rice roll and shrimp and scallop rice roll were fine, but I wish there was more filling. For the price though, I shouldn’t complain. My only quibble was there was cilantro in the scallop rice roll and I hate that herb, particularly in Chinese food.
The spring rolls were the only item we ordered that weren’t large in size. These babies were hot and crunchy, the wrapper was thin and crisp while the shrimp inside had a nice resistance when you bit into it. I also like to dunk the spring rolls into the Japanese mayonnaise that was served alongside.
The squid was the only dish my family did not like as the batter was sweet, oily and laden with MSG; it reminded me of something I would eat at the Stampede.
Overall, we loved the big portions, low prices and good quality of the food. The cost for 13 dishes plus an order of Singapore noodles (also a winner – nice curry spices and tons of shrimp) was $60.00. We ate a lot of food. L was shocked when he saw how much my father could pack away. At least he knows where I get it from. When we went to pay our bill, I found out that James Lam, the former general manager, was no longer with the restaurant. Too bad as I thought he was a fantastic contact to have when we organized group parties in the past. Apparently, James still stops by for dinner, so I’m guessing he too, likes the food at the Cultural Centre Restaurant.