Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Swen Cafe

Two weeks ago (I know, I'm sorry.), Dave and I went out for a Valentine's dinner at the famous Swen Cafe in Kinistino. Its just 20 min. down the road and it is a local institution. It is a phenomenon in Canada (is this north american? worldwide?) that every town, no matter how small it is, has a Chineese-Canadian Food Resteraunt. This resteraunt doesn't serve the kind of Chineese food that would been served in, say Richmond B.C. or in any Chinatown across the country. It serves deep fried chicken balls with gloopy orange sweet and sour sauce, sweet and sour pork, chop suey, egg rolls, and an assortment of fried rice. Most of the stir fries available in such a resteraunt are guaranteed to contain baby corn and canned water chesnut, just to prove it is CHINEESE. Generally the most adventurous thing avaliable on these menus is "Beef with Seasonal Vegetables"-- after all, you just never know what's going to be seasonal. For two days before we went I was joking, "Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls, here we come!"

We drove down the bustling main strip of Kinistino, and past a tall, neon sign declaring "Swen Cafe. Chineese-Canadian Food. Tiger Room. Licensed Resteraunt." Other than this it was a plain store front, like any other along the street. Through the large picture window we could see farmers in baseball caps and skidoo suits drinking Pilsner. Could this really be it?

We went inside to discover that the side we could see was the lounge, while the resteraunt was on the other side. We were greeted by a small resteraunt with plain tables. They were, of course, adorned with the traditional Chineese zodiac placemats. The walls were covered in warm, bright wood. The traditional large silk fan decorated the wall by the coat rack. Further inside the resteraunt two jigsawed and painted wooden tigers leaps dramatically on either side of the air conditioning unit. On the opposite wall it declared this to the the "Tiger Room". All in all, the effect was cozy and not unpleasant, so we entered.

We were handed menus. The first page was drinks, the second Chineese Food, the third Canadian Food. The Canadian Food consisted of what I like to call classic truck stop fare -- hot beef sandwiches, clubhouse sandwiches, fries and gravy, burgers, steaks and fish and chips. One knows, with such a menu, that any salad you order will be white iceberg lettuce with little strips of carrot and purple cabage. Its inevitable. The Chineese food was similarly typical -- much what I had guessed it would be. With one notable exception -- no sweet and sour chicken balls.

We did what we usually do and ordered tea (they brought us Red Rose), and two dishes and rice to share. One item on the menu caught our eye. Imperial Chicken (or something similar). We decided to ask what it was before we ordered it, along with some Beef Chop Suey.

When we asked what the Imperial Chicken was, the woman started to explain very carefully, certain we must be unfamilliar with asian fare, "Well, it is chicken with a light coating that is deep fried. We serve it with a special sauce that is mostly sweet, but a little bit sour, too . . . ". We nodded, and I smiled. No Imperial Chicken for us.

Instead, we ordered Ginger beef, which was quite good, actually. It was gingery beef version of sweet and sour pork. We soaked in the atmosphere, ate our Chineese-Canadian food. It was all good. Maybe we should have had the sweet and sour chicken balls . . .

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