Chasing down

Chinese take-out

Published on August 26, 2008
Song Hee take-out for four. Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

My stomach started rumbling the other day. Then a little voice in my head said, "Cantonese chow mein, chicken balls, almond soo guy, find Chinese take-out, you go now, go, go ..."

I was actually on the job at the time so I had to stifle the voice and ignore the rumbles. Nevertheless, I did ask a colleague if he knew of any good Chinese take-out restaurants. To my surprise, he shook his head and said, "No. The only take-out I do is fish and chips. That's it."

Dining out - My stomach started rumbling the other day. Then a little voice in my head said, "Cantonese chow mein, chicken balls, almond soo guy, find Chinese take-out, you go now, go, go ..."

I was actually on the job at the time so I had to stifle the voice and ignore the rumbles. Nevertheless, I did ask a colleague if he knew of any good Chinese take-out restaurants. To my surprise, he shook his head and said, "No. The only take-out I do is fish and chips. That's it."

"Amazing!" I thought. It would never have occurred to me that in this world there are people who have no taste for, or interest in, Chinese take-out (take-away) food.

Like most St. John's natives, I have a strong appetite for fish and chips, but a Chinese take-out meal has always been more of an "event" at my house. That's because it's never been something you have by yourself. It's a communal dining experience. We order Chinese take-out for impromptu dinner parties, birthdays and New Year's Eve celebrations - that sort of thing.

Always looking

The reason I questioned my coworker in the first place was because I'm always on the lookout for a Chinese take-out I haven't tried. Believe it or not, there are still a few out there.

Eventually I came up with one that should have been obvious to me. I believe, many moons ago (long before I was conceived) my father operated a butcher shop at the same location. Today it's the site of Song Hee Take Out.

Song Hee is located in a building at the corner of Suez Street and Empire Avenue that reminds me of a trailer home. It's squared, white, narrow and long. Song Hee is strictly take-out and strictly cash. (The "strictly cash" policy of so many of these take-outs can be a pain in the you-know-what sometimes. I guess I'm just too used to the debit card now.)

When I arrived to collect my two plastic bags laden with Styrofoam containers of Chinese food, I was quickly dispatched to the nearest bank machine (at Churchill Square) for cash. Eventually the food was paid for and I made it home where four of us dug into the goodies with considerable relish.

Zero crackle

Spring rolls and egg rolls were first down the hatch. I preferred the egg rolls because they contained more filling (loads of veggies) and were nice and crispy. The spring rolls were below average. They had less filling than I like and while spring rolls tend to be less crunchy, Song Hee's had zero crackle. The plum sauce was the common plastic packet variety, which is fine.

I'll give Song Hee a pass on the ginger beef. I ordered it on the phone without seeing their menu. When I checked the pamphlet that came in the bag, I saw that it's not on the menu. I guess they figured they'd just go ahead and ad lib a tray of ginger beef for me. While I appreciate the initiative, I suggest they not recreate what I was sold. It was essentially a very good dish of beef, vegetables and oyster sauce that had piles of raw fresh ginger root sliced up and stirred through it. I like fresh ginger, but not that way. It was overwhelming, bitter, hot and unpleasant.

Cantonese chow mein is a favourite of mine. While I prefer it with a buttery, thick, dark sauce and the crunchy-style skinny egg noodles, Song Hee's version was pretty good. It was made with vermicelli and a thin, mildly flavoured sauce. It tasted like a lighter, healthier version of traditional Cantonese chow mein. It certainly had a lower fat content than the more traditional versions. It also contained a beautiful variety of vegetables, as well as tender chicken bits and shrimp.

Better batter

I loved the deep-fried golden batter surrounding the chicken of the almond soo guy. It almost tasted like French pastry - hot, fluffy and tender with juicy pieces of chicken inside. Think of hush puppy batter from the Deep South. The gravy that came with it made the whole affair completely decadent. One or two of our number opted to forego the gravy, but I couldn't resist. (Never one for half measures, me.)

Finally, there was the old standby, sweet and sour chicken balls with pork-fried rice. I thought the chicken batter was a tad thick, but otherwise the dish was on par with most good versions I've tasted. The pork-fried rice seemed lightly fried in a modest amount of oil. I liked this slimming version of fried rice that still packed a lot of pork flavour.

The ginger beef was a bit of a temporary party stopper, but for the most part we were pleased with our Chinese take-out dinner party. Song Hee will now be added to my "been there" list. If you know of another good Chinese take-out, please, drop me a line.

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. He is also co-host of the upcoming Rogers TV show "One Chef One Critic," debuting 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.