It's no secret, I like curry. I do. I like them, Sherm-I-am. And I would eat it in a car! And I would eat it in a bar. And I would eat it in a rink. And with a Robot. And in a sink. Heck, I'd even eat it in the Crystal Mall parking lot! Since that is completely true, it was a natural fit that I accepted the role of judge for the Vancouver Curry Challenge. However that meant I had to try 11 curries within a 3-week period. Curry Impossible? Absolutely not, but it could be more like toilet impossible...
So, I got off to a quick start by heading to the farthest location being Ban Chok Dee out in Langley. Their entry happened to be the Thai Shoo Shee Curry consisting of lightly battered cod on a lemongrass skewer, kale, zucchini and green beans with a rich and thick red curry base with fresh coconut, lime leaves and basil atop jasmine almond rice (with nuts and candied pineapple). I found the cod to be flaky and buttery with a light crisp batter. The curry itself was quite salty but the ample candied pineapple helped balance it out. My next visit was to Calabash with Viv (yes she exists!) to their Duck & Cover Curry. The plate included slow-cooked duck thigh confit simmered in a coconut pumpkin curry and a crisp duck drumstick served on Guyanese chow mein and seasonal veggies. I found the duck to be tender where the spices really came through with a lingering spice. To me it tasted like they combined jerk seasoning with cumin and coconut. To add some tartness to the dish, tamarind in the chewy chow mein was prominent.
Enlisting the help of Choobee, I traveled to Richmond and headed to the American Grille for their Thai Coconut Lamb Curry with chunks of lamb served with fig-
cranberry chutney, fresh cilantro and cumin raita, jasmine rice and grilled house made naan. We found the curry to have depth-of-flavour with the taste of cumin, sweet peppers and a mild peppery spice. The lamb was plentiful and succulent. As per usual with non-tandoor made naan, it was a bit stiff and bread-like. With my visit to the Broadway location of Bob Likes Thai Food, I dared to bring the kiddies. Not to worry, as I got them a Pad See Ew and left the curry to myself and Viv. That curry happened to be the Green Curry Chicken. Despite its plain description, the dish was constructed very differently than the typical version found in Vancouver. With chicken-stuffed portions of tender fried eggplant topped with hot chili peppers, this was purposefully spicy with the aromatics of coconut milk and saltiness of fish sauce.
Daring to do it all again with the kiddies, we visited Hai Phong Vietnamese Kitchen to try their Chicken Curry Noodle Soup. This consisted of boneless chicken and taro simmered in a light curry broth infused with lemongrass and coconut milk. Rather than the regular Pho accompaniments, it was served with vermicelli, bean sprouts, chives, Vietnamese coriander, white and green onions and finely sliced chilli peppers. The result was a sweet and fragrant broth that was mildly spiced (until we added the hot chili peppers). The abundance of moist chicken added body to the dish. Finally, Miss Y was able to make it to my visit to the Copper Chimney (it ain't right without an appearance by Miss Y!). In addition to a complete meal, we did not forget to try their entry being the Goa Spicy Pork Vindaloo served with basmati rice and garlic naan. Even with the use of the famed ghost pepper, the restrained spice level let us enjoy the dish as a whole. Don't get me wrong, it was spicy though with gradual heat with a slight tang. As for the pork, it had a nice rebound texture.
Whipping Girl had to be a stand-in for Choobee on my visit to Kilimanjaro because I got stood-up! Choobee better make it up to me! Anyways, we tried the Kuku Paka which consisted of coconut cream curry with East African spices, chicken, hard boiled eggs and potatoes. This was something we'd never had before and it was definitely a subtle-tasting dish. It was very creamy where the flavours penetrated the succulent pieces of chicken. The accompanying spicy carrots really helped amp the mild flavours. Seeing how I was running out-of-time before the challenge would end, Miss Y and I decided to hit up 3 places in one night staring with Showcase. There, we had the Braised Shortrib and Parsnip Curry made with authentic house made masala curry paste, red wine braised short rib and fall vegetables (with naan, raita and mango chutney on the side). I found the beef to be fork tender while a touch dry. It tasted more like a stew with traces of cumin and coriander. Rounding out the flavours was the tartness of the wine and the sweetness of the veggies.
After that we headed over to Morocco West for their Trio of Moroccan Curry. The dish was comprised of Lamb Curry with farro, Seafood Vermicelli Curry Puff and Masala Curry Scotch Egg. One thing was definitely clear with the lamb curry - it wasn't bland. The flavours really popped with the sweet peppers mixed in the firm farro. The curry itself was spicy and salty with a purposeful amount of acidity. I enjoyed the pieces of succulent lamb where the sauce really penetrated the meat. Already completely full, we dragged our butts to U & I Thai. With probably the "lightest" offering of the bunch, we sampled the Green Queen Curry consisting of halibut with coconut milk, green curry paste, fish sauce, spinach, red bell pepper, eggplant and Thai basil. We found the fish to be flaky and moist where it sat atop a wonderful mix of smashed peas, eggplant and spinach. Although the curry itself was pretty salty, the veggies along with the pomegranate seeds and drops of tamarind sauce helped balance the flavours.
My last place to visit was Abode Restaurant and I got Whipping Girl to make a return appearance (instead of the "stand-me-up" Choobee!). Among other dishes (we couldn't just eat one dish...), we did get to try their entry being the Moroccan Braised Lamb Shank in a light tomato-based sauce consisting of a house made blend of ginger, garlic, cumin, jalapenos, cinnamon, a mix of smoked paprikas and spices. This was served atop pomegranate dirty rice. The flavour profile was quite mild, yet when I took a big scoop of the veggies along with a piece of lamb, there was a good amount of tartness with a background spice. The lamb itself was moist throughout, including the exterior.
So in the end, the results of the judging went in favour of 2 restaurants that tied for first place:
1. Morocco West and U & I Thai
2. Ban Chok Dee
3. Bob Likes Thai Food
For the reader's choice:
1. U & I Thai
2. Ban Chok Dee
3. Morocco West.