Fire in a Bowl

 

The thrill of a spicy dish is not for everyone. But for those who dare to put in the extra chili, the effect can be quite rewarding. If your tolerance for heat is quite high, you may even wear certain dishes as a badge of honour.
 

For those rare few who enjoy the neck sweat (or nose drip) associated with a fiery meal, this week’s restaurant selections will not disappoint—from tongue-tingling Sichuan hot pot to traditionally spicy Malaysian laksa.
 

Guidebook has picked two spots that are known to pack an unexpected amount of heat into their tasty lunch bowls, but please note the spice level is completely optional. Many non-spicy dishes can be found on these menus, too.
 

84.水煮鱼火锅 Szechuan poached sliced fish in hot pot_web

 

Laksa King

 

2546 E Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 428-0155

 

Laksa King is located in the Hastings-Sunrise area a few blocks East of Nanaimo. The restaurant used to be a ‘50s style diner, and a lot of the old decor remains, with checkered floor tiles and vinyl seats in the booths. The current owners have added their own Southeast Asian decorative elements like Buddhist statues, red and gold fortune charms, and bamboo, which makes for a unique dining atmosphere.

 

The food is centred around Malaysian and Burmese but has quite a diverse selection of international flavours. There are many curries: butter chicken representing the Indian subcontinent; popular Thai dishes like tom yum soup and pad Thai noodles; they serve Singapore-style vermicelli, mee goreng, and the Burmese national dish, a spicy fish broth noodle soup called mohingar.

 

But if you go to a place called “Laksa King” it would be kind of silly not to try the laksa, right? The laksa here is a hearty bowl of delicious flavours. It comes with either yellow or rice noodles bathing in a rich broth of coconut milk spiced with ginger and garlic, and an astonishing array of protein-based goodies: tofu puffs, fish balls, prawns, marinated chicken and an entire hard-boiled egg. Also worth trying are the special salads, such as the lahpet thoke, which is made with pickled tea leaves.

 

The staff are super friendly and accommodating if you want extra spice or other modifications, like extra noodles or fish balls. Vancouver doesn’t have a ton of Malaysian restaurants; if you’re craving noodle bowls or fried rice or curry, Laksa King is an affordable and mouthwatering alternative to the plethora of pho and sushi joints. If you’re in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood, you really owe it to yourself to check this place out.

 

—Andrew Reeves

 


 

Laksa King_web

 

Utopia Restaurant
 

602 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 313-1333
 

With only a few months of operations under its belt, Utopia restaurant on Seymour near Dunsmuir is already filling its cavernous dining space with young people every afternoon. The lunchtime atmosphere is spacious, sunny and colourful, with an animated mural and high purple ceilings serving as mood-improving backdrop.
 

The “mini hot pot” section of the menu immediately caught my attention. I asked the server what she would recommend between the Sichuan poached fish hot pot and dan dan noodles. She enthusiastically pointed me toward the Sichuan hot pot.
 

I was surprised at how large the “mini” portion turned out to be. A big black stew pot arrived atop a lit burner, many inches off the table. I peered over the edge to see a magnificent collage of red chilis, cilantro bushels, sprouts and sizeable white fish chunks.
 

The broth is a tangy type of spicy, with the Sichuan peppercorns leaving a tingling numb feeling on the tongue.
 

The hot pot comes with a bowl of rice and pickled peanuts and seaweed on the side. Though I couldn’t eat it all, I wanted to keep the taste going. Temperature, tingle and capsaicin come together to make this a superlatively hot experience.
 

—Sarah Berman IMG_9402_web