On Main Street between 32nd and 33rd at the foot of Little Mountain, small crowds are often spotted waiting in front of two cozy, side-by-side storefronts: Long’s Noodle House and Au Petit Café. Both opened within the past two decades and have become fast neighbourhood favourites. With family ties, affordable prices, roots in immigration, accommodating staff and, of course, unique flavours from across the Pacific, both have gained a solid reputation among Vancouverites looking for something special to eat.
When Vancouver’s Shanghainese immigrants sit down at Long’s Noodle House for a meal, they often exclaim they have not eaten dishes like these in years. Many left Shanghai when the Communist Party took power in China in 1949. The small restaurant on Main Street offers a taste of home for those immigrants but it has also become a popular destination for many locals.
Even during a full house, Sandy Shi is a force to be reckoned with. She seats guests, brings their dishes and chats them up in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. She has a strong memory and takes down large orders in her head. Shi even finds time to prepare their signature xiaolongbao on a counter by the till — little steamed dumplings that require careful eating as they are filled with hot soup along with minced pork.
Shi’s husband, Loon Sun, opened the restaurant in 2001 with his sister.
Long’s has five rectangular tables and three round tables to serve the crowd of guests often flowing out the door. It’s a small space, but Sun, the main chef, likes having a hand in every dish that comes out of his kitchen. He takes his craft seriously.
“My goal is to do my job well,” said Sun, who was interviewed with Shi by the Courier in Cantonese. “It’s not all about money. I know a lot of people want really big seafood restaurants, but I never had that kind of a vision. This is the kind of business I like to run and it’s my specialty. If my customers aren’t happy, I’m not happy. If the dishes aren’t good, that reflects poorly on my master’s [in Shanghai] name.”
Originally from Shanghai, Sun entered a culinary program when he was 18 and graduated three years later before working as a chef. He brought his experience in Shanghainese cuisine with him when he immigrated to Vancouver in 1991.
There are many fried and soup noodle choices, but Long’s has a lot more to offer. Shanghai cuisine includes their own dim sum that’s different from the Cantonese choices around Vancouver. Favourites include the aforementioned xiaolongbao soup dumplings, wine chicken served in a small porcelain container and fried Chinese crullers to dip in hot, spicy soy milk.
A peek into Long’s will reveal Asian as well as non-Asian guests. Shi’s use of three languages is accommodating and helpful to those unfamiliar with certain dishes but she believes the language of food comes first and foremost.
“No matter how good your service is, the quality has to be good,” said Shi, who is happy that her fellow Shanghainese who come in approve of the flavours.
Sun often eats instant noodles. Chefs eat simply, as he remembered in Shanghai.
“Almost every meal I ate mapo [a spicy chili-and-bean-based sauce] tofu on rice,” said Sun.
In response to the increasing foot traffic and low-rises on Main, Sun isn’t too worried.
“We have a limited number of tables anyway,” he said. “Right now, business is good.”