Day 547 - Chili Pepper House
Vancouver is said to have the highest density of restaurants in North America, but not a single one is completely Swedish. There are of course meatballs at the IKEA restaurants and such Swedish delicacies as gravlax at a few Vancouver restaurants. No in this multicultural city you explore all the fantastic cuisines of the world. This said, where in the world would you find a “Fine Indian Style Chinese Cuisine” restaurant where the Chinese waitress whom you have heard speaking exotic languages with the rest of the staff suddenly turns around and asks you in Swedish - with a slightest hint of an Östergötland accent to boot - if you happen to come from Sweden?
It turns out that the waitress Sara Yang and her husband Peter who own Chili Pepper House (at 3003 Kingsway, ph. 604-431-8633) have spent more of their lives in Sweden than they have in Canada. They still miss Swedish sweets and Swedish tap water! Sara, who was a refugee from Vietnam, settled down in Sweden in 1979. She met Peter, originally from India, at his sister’s wedding in Västervik. Sara and Peter were married a year later and another ten years later they emigrated to Canada with their children Nicholas and Melissa.
Peter Yang’s father moved from China to Calcutta, that has India’s largest Chinese population, a half century ago. Peter got his first restaurant job when he was 19. He started off by chopping onions and then graduated to noodles and rice, earning 80 rupees a month. Eventually he mastered the “Desi” style of Chinese cuisine and it was as a full-fledged chef that he moved to Sweden to cook at his brother-in-law’s res-taurants, China in Västervik and Mandarin in Vetlanda. Eventually Edvard Chang got tired of the deep-fried shrimps and beef with bamboo shoots that Swedes have held on to as their idea of Chinese food. He decided to move to Vancouver where people would appreciate his spicier style of cooking. Peter and Sara, after a stint in Toronto, followed suit and opened Chili Pepper House.
From the outside this may look like any other Chinese restaurant, but inside you are struck by the immaculately clean surroundings and the large East Indian clientele, including some Bollywood stars. The restaurant has a following among those who like East Indian food and have a preference for Chinese dishes spicier than Szechuan. Here you can order both Curry and Manchurian style lamb, beef, fish and chicken. But no pork, the restaurant is strictly Halal - kosher. It is Peter who creates the sauces that are at the heart of the dishes that are served at Chili Pepper House in Vancouver as well as in the suburb of Surrey where Edvard Chang takes care of the restaurant. The sauces from Mongolian to Ginger Garlic are then spiked with the level of spiciness that the customer wants.
“I would have loved to teach Swedes to eat spicier food,” says Peter. “Just think how nice it would be for dining during the long winters.” In Sweden he used about a half pepper’s strength which does not even pass as mild in Vancouver where one of the regular customers orders a strength of seven peppers.