FOOD FIGHT: Bao Bei presents problematic dining

The experience is just as important as the food, and a confusing environment makes for a confusing experience.

Bao Bei is a modern Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown, an accessible 10-minute walk from Main Street SkyTrain Station. It’s critically acclaimed, but might make you bitter.

Let me start by saying it is not student-budget friendly, but if you bring a couple friends to share dishes with, it is very well-worth a visit. It is a unique restaurant, as stated on its website — whether it be for the positives or the negatives.

The signage and exterior are a blatant symbolic representation of Chinatown, but the moment you walk in, the ambience is startlingly Gastown. What made me uncomfortable about this isn’t the clean-cut, hipster, Western ambience when you walk in, but that they try so desperately to facilitate the exotic and oriental elements of Chinese cuisine. It’s very strange and slightly offensive.

The bartenders clearly know what they are doing. Trust me, you want one of their signature cocktails. All the juices they use in their cocktails are freshly squeezed, and it makes all the difference. The harty paloma was absolutely beautiful — a delicate balance between sweet and tart. They also have a finely curated wine list, with descriptions that are actually helpful in choosing the right wine to enhance your dining experience.

The quality of the ingredients Bao Bei uses are something they pride themselves on. All of their animal products are ethically raised and sourced. They also offer several vegetarian and vegan options, as well as many menu items that can be made vegetarian.

My recommended vegetarian dishes are:

The sticky rice cake (just make sure to ask them to make it vegetarian!). It’s delicious, and can easily be shared between two people.

The bean curd skin, if you want to try something different but surprisingly delicious.

The vegetable potstickers. They are made in-house by a woman named Helen, and wow, this woman must be a goddess, because the potstickers are incredible. The texture and flavour are perfect and the spices are not overpowering.

I would be hesitant to recommend the shan tofu. It is a vegan dish, but the chickpea tofu is almost slimy in texture. Although the flavours from the accompanying yuzu, miso, portobello, and sake vinaigrette are incredible, the texture did not sit well with me.

If you are looking for a new restaurant scene to try and are in the “treat yourself” mood in terms of finance, consider giving Bao Bei a whirl. I personally couldn’t separate the slightly unpleasant gentrification and orientalization of the restaurant from my meal experience, and left not knowing if I would come back.