Yummy Mammy is the Zooey Deschanel of Chinese restaurants. It’s got her quirky looks and takes hints from the way she hides behind big glasses to fool people into thinking she’s not so hot. Digging in deeper, ignoring the garbage bag full of dried red peppers sitting on the hostess stand, I found my manic pixie dream girl restaurant.
Yummy Mammy’s name alone gives it points in the “most adorkable” competition: awkward to get off the tongue and giving no hint of the stellar Chinese food hidden within. Emulating Zooey’s Jess, from New Girl, it’s just different enough, without crossing into “weird” territory. It stands out in a sea of competitors, a crowded field of Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, by serving Guizhou cuisine
For those unfamiliar with the food of China’s Guizhou province, here was my take, after eating it in Beijing: American breakfast+chili peppers=Guizhou. Living up to this quick definition and rash overgeneralization is the Farmhouse Fried Chinese Bacon. The intensely smoky, thick-cut Chinese bacon awakens tastebuds that American bacon has always left sleeping. It adheres perfectly to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl formula: Take totally sexy (hello, bacon) and tweak something small to individualize it (lightly stir-fried snow peas and peppers).
Of course, the MPDG needs to have some mystery about her. That’s where the Xinjiang Hot Chicken (with noodle) came in. What was this dish? The bone-in, bite-size chicken reminded me of curry, but with deep-fried potatoes mellowing the spice and boosting the chunkiness. Space was in short supply on the table so the waitress offered to dump the noodles on top. How it was meant to be eaten was never clear, but the incredible noodles had soft, chewy, handmade texture, and if I had my choice, they’d be eaten by mainlining.
For a quick foray into the familiar, we ordered a classic Sichuan dish. Labeled here on the menu as “Boiling Fish with Chili,” it was as true to the authentic version as any water-boiled fish/fire fish/spicy hot fish fillet in broth that I’ve had this side of the Pacific. Chunks of fish floated about in a sea of broth and red, spicy oil, falling apart at the gentlest nudge from a chopstick. Lurking under the surface, bean sprouts and Chinese celery offered a supporting crunch.
Sometimes MPDG just goes crazy, because, like, I mean, she’s JUST SO QUIRKY. Well, if you serve MPDG a crispy flatbread, similar to a roti canai, and she was in that crazy mood, she just might RIP IT UP INTO TINY PIECES. What you’d have then would be Yummy Mammy’s Xinjiang Handmade Pancake. Confusing, yes, but also delicious. Best when used as a crunchy blank-slate vessel for the powerful–in chew and in piquancy–Flavored Beef & Triple [sic] with Spicy Sauce.
Finally, much as I seem unable to stop watching New Girl, I can’t to resist an intriguing dish called “House Special Spicy Noodle with Spinach Sauce.” Fortunately, the dish turned out to be far better than a half hour of watching a mindless sitcom which has so quickly ruined what I felt was the best character (seriously, how did Nick go from adorable brooder to creepy malcontent SO FAST). The phrase “house special” often means “whatever leftover meat scraps” when it comes to Chinese noodles, so it was a surprise to see such a minimalist dish. The spinach mentioned seemed to be deeply infused into the noodles themselves, while they relaxed in a spicy chili oil sauce. Peanuts peppered the dish randomly, and the bean sprouts formed a clique to the side, but the noodles alone sprang so cheerfully when bitten and harbored so much of the secret spinach magic, I would not have complained about just eating them plain.
As with any good Zooey Deschanel movie, this is the part where the happy romantic comedy wraps up, and the boy gets his Manic Pixie Dream Girl and rides off into the sunset. BUT WAIT. This is Zooey’s guest starring role on Weeds where she runs off kidnapping Shane and being chased by Abumchuk, the Alaskan bounty hunter. See, I got a little excited and ordered seven dishes for two of us (in all fairness, we ate the leftovers for three more meals) and the place is cash only (and Canadian chip-enabled debit). So I had the pleasure of running around to three places (the mini-mart across the street was also chip-debit only, and the ATM in the Skytrain station was broken) before finding a place that could give me cash. Still, totally worth it.