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Resilience and togetherness: How a family-run Vancouver restaurant celebrates a milestone anniversary

Of course that means some very special food and drink
Anh and Chi anniversary menu - credit Leila Kwok courtesy of Anh and Chi
Anh and Chi is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a special menu available Dec. 1-16, 2021

How do you mark five years in business as a family-run modern Vietnamese restaurant in Vancouver when you're in the middle of the pandemic? Just like with everything else that's come up since the pandemic began, you throw a little patience in the mix, and then you figure out a solution. 

In the case of Anh and Chi, the sibling-run Mount Pleasant spot for vibrant multi-regional Vietnamese fare - where mom heads up the kitchen - you wait to celebrate the fifth anniversary of your April 2016 opening until December 2021 and create beautiful limited-edition menus for the joyous occasion.

Amélie and Vincent Nguyễn built Anh and Chi based on the notion of taking their family recipes and traditions into the next generation and creating a gathering place where all are welcome around the table. 

It's fitting that the Nguyễn siblings wanted to create a new restaurant to carry on their family's legacy; their parents ran Pho Hoang at the same location (3388 Main Street) for over 30 years. Though their father, Hoang, passed away in 2010, their mother, Ly, is still very much in charge of the food at Anh and Chi. She's also the prolific green thumb behind the eye-catching array of plants tucked inside the elegant but relaxed restaurant space; Ly is known to show up in the early hours to work alone on the dishes using recipes she guards closely as family secrets, and to get a few cuttings in water, too.

But it's even the generation before mama Nguyễn's that carried with them - quite literally - the family's culinary heritage. Forced to flee northern Vietnam for the southern region, Vincent and Amélie's grandmother was known for her crab noodle soup, or Bún Riêu Cua, which features a tomato broth and fresh crab meat and a silky crab and roe souffle - almost like a dumpling - with tofu and velvety rice noodles that give a satisfying slurp. 

That's how the crab noodle soup came to be the second-course dish on Anh and Chi's five-course fifth-anniversary tasting menu. While it's a new dish for the restaurant it's yet another way for the Nguyễns to share a piece of themselves with Vancouver diners.

The vibrant, nuanced flavours of the soup may not signal to you its backstory of resilience and flexibility of past generations, but the fact that you're dining in Anh and Chi well into its sixth year now is itself a reflection of the resiliency and flexibility of this generation. That's because many Vancouver restaurants, like Anh and Chi, had to dig deep when the pandemic sunk its claws into the city's hospitality sector in the spring of 2020, and figure out a way to stick it out and not have to lose any staff members.

So the Nguyễns came up with take-out meal kits and started bottling condiments to help customers get that next-level restaurant-quality experience at home. (You can purchase the sauces and dressings at the restaurant or online from Legends Hauls.) All of the staff were able to stay on, thanks to quick-thinking and making the most of the challenging times.

Long An Grasshopper cocktail - credit Leila Kwok courtesy of Anh and Chi
The new Long An Grasshopper cocktail at Anh and Chi in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant. Photo by Leila Kwok / courtesy Anh and Chi

With just a bit of time left in this roller coaster year, and the restaurant steadily humming with customers inside and out on their winterized all-season patio, it's a great time for a celebratory meal. The special Anh and Chi anniversary menu is available for the first half of December and features dishes like the special crab noodle soup, an appetizer of Crispy Tumeric Prawn Cakes, the crowd-pleasing signature "street-side" hands-on skewer and wrap platter, and a choice of two featured mains: Cari Cua (Curry Dungeness Crab) with sides and Gỏi Bắp Chuối (Seared Scallop & Banana Blossom Salad) together with Cơm Chiên Cua (Soft-Shell Crab Fried Rice).

For dessert, tuck into Bánh chuối (Banana Cake) - a homey, warm bread-pudding style treat that's lightly sweet - and Anh and Chi's collaboration with Cadeaux Bakery, a decadent slice of chocolate cake filled with jasmine cream and coffee mousse, finished in Vietnamese coffee buttercream.

Designed to be shared by four or six people, the anniversary menu is a great way to get to know the bright flavours of Vietnam if you aren't already an Anh and Chi loyal, or a wonderful way to revisit the restaurant and try new items. While you're there, be sure to order up something from the bar - the team has created some new cocktails to toast the season and occasion, like the bewitching Long An Grasshopper (brandy, Branca Menta, pandan-infused coconut cream, taro syrup, nutmeg), which merges the holidays with some tropic vibes. Be sure to raise your glass in honour of resilience, the power of gathering to eat, and five wonderful first years of Anh and Chi.

Anh and Chi’s anniversary dinner menus are available Dec. 1-16, 2021, and must be booked 48-hours in advance. Reservations by donation can be made online. The menu is priced at $65 to $75 per person.