I am late. Very late.
He’s coming (or should I say from Seattle, going) to Regent College, an international graduate school of Christian studies that the media somehow always mistakes for a seminary (sadly to say, even GetReligion did) – or better, in Christianity Today‘s terms, a ‘college.’ Jokes are abounding too. One can’t help but feel that for all of Harris’s ‘stop dating the church’ preaching, he’s kissed the megachurch goodbye.
There are a million things that I want to say about Vancouver, not least of which is that Harris’s courtship, dating, and biblical manhood and womanhood stuff has made quite a splash here in Chinese churches. As those who know the Harrises from their homeschooling days might know (Harris himself talks about it in I Kissed Dating Goodbye – a must-read, I must add, if you’ve never read it, as it is an contemporary evangelical classic), this is not simply a welcome to Josh Harris to Vancouver; it’s a welcome back to the Pacific Northwest. The connection to Harris’s current church, Covenant Life Church, and its (former) network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, is rather a keen one for some Chinese Christians here too. As those who follow Vancouver news will know, there has been a series of lawsuits at Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church over employment law, which is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Christian lawsuits in Vancouver – the crisis pregnancy centre defamation case, the Anglican property case, and the precedent-setting Chong v. Lee case (oh yeah, and I almost forgot: the Trinity Western cases!). For those who follow evangelical news, Sovereign Grace Ministries had its own lawsuit around sexual abuse and spiritual authority.
If Harris wants to escape to Vancouver and be relatively unknown as a Regent student, then, good luck. In fact, lawsuits, courtship, and homeschooling past aside, even getting away from the New Calvinists will be hard. I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl – even the evangelical classic that inspired them, Elisabeth Elliott’s Passion and Purity – had their circulation in (mostly Asian Canadian) New Calvinist circles. Friends talk about the intimate linkages between Chinese Christian ‘English ministries’ and what used to be called Campus Crusade for Christ on the University of British Columbia campus, where the biblical manhood and womanhood stuff was routinely taught and kissing dating good-bye was routinely practiced. For the New Calvinist technical, the movement was called ‘complementarianism‘; for the very best account of the movement, see Andrea Smith’s Native Americans and the Christian Right, chapter 3. Contrary to the image of Vancouver as part of the godless wasteland ‘none zone’ of the Pacific Northwest (and according to Patricia Killen, the ‘none zone’ doesn’t even mean what you think it does), there are evangelical megachurches in Vancouver that identify as New Calvinist. Indeed, the church planting arm of the Mennonite Brethren Conference (MBC) took a hard New Calvinist turn when one of its flagship churches, Willingdon Church, took on a hard New Calvinist line, especially when they invited the New Calvinist greats for a conference in 2007. Not only did this result in vigorous conversation in the pages of the MBC’s theology journal, but it spawned churches in its own right that have had their own way of transforming Vancouver’s urban landscape, such as Westside Church’s purchase of the Centre for Performing Arts in Vancouver’s downtown and the transfer of authority from South Hill Church in Vancouver-South to Westside’s church plant, Christ City Church. Harris is correct to note that Puritan theologian J.I. Packer was the long-time systematics guy at Regent College – and it’s humorous to note that the guy who currently holds the J.I. Packer Chair, Hans Boersma, is more catholic than the Catholics – but the other thing is that Packer has been a long-time part of St. John’s Vancouver (formerly ‘Shaughnessy’), an Anglican church that, due to its affiliation with Australian Anglicans from Sydney who seem to compete over truly Reformed credentials (until I get my hands on the Wayback Machine, this Muriel Porter reference will have to do), has taken on Calvinist notes in its own right.
Vancouver, in short, is no escape from the evangelical madding crowd. Even Regent College isn’t; take note, for example, of its recently announced budget cuts.
However, take heart, and do not fear, Josh Harris. There is a way to get to know Vancouver and not to get sucked into our evangelical politics.
That way is food. Indeed, I am late because I promised Harris food recommendations a while back, and I am very tardy in delivery.
I’m not being flippant here. Regent College is famous for food. The Well Coffee, which currently runs through the Regent Bookstore (I was very sad that they closed the Dunbar location, which, incidentally, is where I had many a discussion of I Kissed Dating Goodbye with Chinese Christian friends), began as a Master of Christian Studies project to use caffeine and food to bring people together to a site for face-to-face conversations instead of the sort of mediated stuff on social media. One of the Regent faculty, Loren Wilkinson, has gone public on his classes on food; one of the retired faculty, Eugene Peterson of The Message fame, has a book called Eat This Book. After chapel on Tuesdays, the Regent community has a soup lunch, at which I have eaten many a soup for four (Canadian) dollars although I have not participated in any of their small groups. The last time I saw the optional reading list for the introductory Christian Thought and Culture classes – ‘optional’ meaning that you have to read a thousand pages from anything on the list – Robert Farrar Capon’s culinary classic The Supper of the Lamb was prominently displayed. Due to Hans Boersma’s influence, a good chunk of the Regent student body also know how to use the word ‘sacramental’ in connection with ‘food’ because, to quote one of Boersma’s favourites, Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac says that the ‘eucharist makes the church,’ which means (as Boersma is wont to say) that when you partake of communion, the food makes you the Body of Christ.
I write this for Joshua Harris so that he does not get funnelled ever so quickly upon arrival into the very white world of the Vancouver hipster. Yes, indeed, the hometown of How I Met Your Mother‘s Cobie Smulders and jazz singer Michael Bublé has a way of doing just that. You can hear all the stories about gentrification, including about that one (in)famous restaurant, Pidgen Restaruant, on the Downtown Eastside targeted by anti-gentrification activists; there’s also Cuchillo. Indeed, in what remains the benchmark study of gentrification in urban geography, University of British Columbia geographer David Ley demonstrates that Vancouver’s inner city went through a series of shifts with artists making neighbourhoods cool, only to have wealthy (white) people come in and price everyone out of the market. The discourses that swirl around Vancouver being the most lonely city and a very bad place to get a date come right out of this hipster public sphere.
You see, we plebs in Vancouver eat Asian foods.
Nobody is going to believe me on this score. While there’s much to be said about the whiteness of Vancouver’s gentrified hipster scene, migrants from the Asia-Pacific have gotten the stiff end of the rope. Chinese migrants are often blamed – and not without some justification sometimes – for ramping up property prices in Vancouver. For people who have no imagination beyond white supremacy, it might be hard to imagine that Asian foods in Vancouver are pleb foods.
Why ‘Asian’? Well, how else are you going to categorize sushi, pho, and Cantonese noodles?
Here’s a quick laundry list for Harris, especially coming from Regent College:
- Just outside of Regent at the University Village, there is a bus stop for the 99 B-Line that first heads down 10th Avenue, makes a left at Alma, and then continues down Broadway until the Commercial Drive SkyTrain stop, which is where a bunch of the lines meet. This is the best bet for all the pleb foods. On 10th and Sasamat, the plebs swear by Gold Train Express 2. Some people don’t like it – one Regent person I talked to saw a cockroach there – but I swear it’s where we plebs get our pho. You can tell where it is because it has a giant, neon-lit ‘Thai Spicy’ sign in the window. My friends in the area recommend Hime Sushi; believe it or not, sushi is pleb food in Vancouver because it’s significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the world. For Taiwanese food, my friends at Faith Community Christian Church will tell you that I am obsessed with Strike. My UBC geography friends love Connie’s Cookhouse for Cantonese food. My wife likes Iki Sushi on Broadway and MacDonald; they have tempura yam fries. If you take the bus further down toward Main, there’s Congee Noodle House, which has all the Cantonese congee and noodles you can dream of.
- For stuff closer to Regent, there is the Village, and there is the UBC Student Union Building (the ‘SUB’). The Village has three sushi places to speak of. One is downstairs in the International Food Fair, where there are a variety of food stalls that range from Mediterranean to Indian curry to various Chinese foods; if you’re down there, though, my favourite is the Mongolian barbecue where you can stack your own plate – and seriously, while there are Mongolie Grills throughout the city, this and the U-Grill in Richmond Centre’s Dining Terrace (that’s in a suburb) are the only places I go for this kind of thing. The second is on the main level of the Village; it’s called Osaka Sushi, and truth be told, it’s run by Vietnamese Chinese folks (as are a bunch of the sushi places in Vancouver), and the very honest truth is that this is really a place for hot comfort food like sukiyaki beef on rice. The third is One More Sushi on the top floor, which is a sit-down sushi place that is actually run by Chinese people and that offers very decent and affordable combos. There are also goodies in the SUB across the street from Regent: In the Cup has marvelous Korean rice combos, and the Delly offers some of the best samosas and Tandoori/Butter Chicken wraps ever.
- If you take the 25 or the 33 from Regent, you can end up on Cambie Street. Near King Edward (which is technically ’25th’), there’s a Taiwanese place called Corner 23 that’s pretty decent. Up the way, the fancy pants people go to Gloucester Café for Hong Kong-style Western food, and the baked seafood rice is very decent there. ‘Hong Kong-style Western food’ is served in ‘Hong Kong tea cafés,’ and the staples are baked rice/spaghetti, mixed grill plates (sometimes on iron plates!), and meat in sauce on a plate with rice/spaghetti/fries. If you’ve never tried it, I’d say to go for baked seafood rice.
- For huge sushi portions (thick sashimi, giant rolls, etc.), take the 41 to Oak Ridge Centre, go across the street on Cambie, and go to Samurai Sushi. There’s one in Richmond too on Westminster Highway called Banzai Sushi.
- Then there’s Richmond. Richmond is the place where the greatest Chinese food in all the land lives. You get to Richmond by taking the 99, 25, 41, 43, or 49 from Regent and getting off the Cambie stop. You hop onto the Canada Line SkyTrain going outbound. Do NOT get on the YVR-Airport train; take the Richmond-Brighouse line. There are three stops you can get off. The first is Aberdeen: this is where the famous Aberdeen Centre is, with its truly amazing food court, champion Taiwanese beef noodles, and ABC Restaurant (Hong Kong style stuff). The food court has too many choices, so let me narrow it down for you: baked rice is the best at Mambo Café, the laksa at the Singaporean place is really spicy, and there is actually stinky tofu available if you look for it. If you walk down Cambie (this is the Richmond Cambie), you will come to Continental Centre: we swear by sushi at Sushi House, Cantonese food at Sing Yee, fish soup noodles at Deer Garden, and Japanese tapas and ramen at Yuu. Keep going down the Canada Line and you will come to Lansdowne, which has a huge parking lot because it used to be a horse-racing track. Lansdowne has a 24-hour Chinese restaurant filled with MSG goodness called No. 9 Restaurant – a bit pricier than most, but worth trying on a craving, but not if you don’t like MSG. However, between Lansdowne and the final Richmond-Brighouse stop is a road called Westminster Highway. Usually on the corner of Westminster and No. 3 Road is a Japadogs stand – these originated in Vancouver’s downtown, and you can take the Canada Line in the opposite direction to get them from their birthplace. Walk eastward, away from Richmond Centre. Here you will see a bunch of restaurants that are truly where we plebs eat. A quick run-down: Alleluia Cafe is fantastic for beef brisket, Enjoy Cafe is good for huge portions of fried rice, Tsim Chai Noodles is good for family-style sharing portions of honey garlic (or sweet and sour) spareribs (it’s next to the aforementioned Banzai Sushi), and Kingspark is good for Hong Kong-style Western food. Across the street (still on Westminster), there’s also Richmond Public Market, which is a great place to get groceries downstairs; upstairs, there is a food court where the real locals go: lamb soup noodles and fried noodles at either Xi’an Centre or the Xinjiang Halal Foods, laksa and mee goreng from the Malaysian food centre, claypot rice (get the one with Chinese sausage and chicken, and ask for soup – quail soup, to be exact) from the Guangzhou Food Centre, and Cantonese takeout from Captain Wa. There is only one place for bubble tea. Repeat after me: only one place. It’s called Peanuts. It’s in the Richmond Public Market.
- For Cantonese barbecue, we swear by the places in Parker Place. It’s next to Aberdeen Centre, so just get off at Aberdeen. For roast duck, ask for either a half or whole duck in the food court at Tak Fook. For everything else (roast pork, barbecue pork, soy chicken), go to the Parker Place Meat and BBQ.
- Dim Sum. The only place that pushes carts still is in the Downtown Eastside called Pink Pearl. For the snazzy expensive places, it’s Kirin and Sun Sui Wah. For plebs like me, get off the Richmond-Brighouse station and walk to the plaza with the Staples in it, and go to Imperial Court.
- Chinese buns. Most of the Vancouver people will go to New Town Bakery in Chinatown. I go to Kam Do Bakery at the Richmond-Brighouse stop on the Canada Line.
- And then there’s Steveston. Steveston is where they continue to shoot Once Upon a Time. It’s a very special place for us as it’s not only Storybrooke, but it’s a place where my wife and I started dating, got engaged, and took wedding photos. It also has the best pho in all the land. Go to Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant and tell Justin Nguyen (the guy with the bowtie and suspenders) that you know Justin and Jenny. Whatever you do, eat his toasted coconut cake.