Cui Hua Gui Lin Noodle House’s standout soup experience on 97 Street
It seems I’ve spent January dashing between vegan restaurants (see: last week and the week before) and Chinese noodle houses. To be sure, January is the beginning of noodle season, with solar and lunar New Year’s observances necessitating the consumption of noodles to invite the blessing of longevity, and the fact that it’s so shit-ass cold you could stand to eat soup at every meal.
An additional inducement to eat noodles came in the form of Edmonton’s inaugural Chinatown Dining Week, which ran January 20 to 28. Following the lead of Downtown Dining Week, five Chinatown restaurants offered a special menu for a set price (in this case, appetizer and entrée for $15). Though few, the restos constituted a reasonable variety, with Thai and Vietnamese represented, as well as a hot-pot place where you make your soup at the table (Taipan’s nod to the traditions of the Chinese-Canadian diner, and the present subject).
Cui Hua Gui Lin Noodle House, or just Gui Lin as the spanking new illuminated sign above the door has it, is as clean and cheerful of a Chinatown restaurant as you’re likely to find. In fact, it strongly resembles the freshly refurbished Vietnamese restaurant that preceded it in the space—with a flat screen TV tuned to sports, laminated menus taped to the walls by way of decoration, and an enclosed foyer so the temperature in the entire room doesn’t drop five degrees every time someone opens the front door. As such, there’s not an especially bad seat in the house, presided over by a friendly young couple in matching green golf shirts.
Guilin is a region in Southeast China where Cantonese and Hunanese cuisine have collided and produced a distinctive style of rice noodles—similar to standard-gauge spaghetti—and soup. Soup is mostly what Cui Hua does, but there are surprise items like fried macaroni, salt and pepper duck necks and a “spice-corned egg”—more on that in a moment.
Their special Chinatown Dining menu paired one of their noodle soups—which normally run $11-$13 depending on your choice of meat—with a couple skewers of bacon-wrapped shrimp that do not appear to be part of their regular menu. Served with sweet chili dipping sauce, they were a delicious afterthought, simple and tasty but not really indicative of the joint’s prowess.
That expertise was evident in the beef brisket noodle soup, which arrives at the table within a couple of minutes of ordering. Fragrant, clear broth laced with green onion and cilantro is loaded with supple rice noodles, tomato wedges, two kinds of greens and tender chunks of slow-roasted beef brisket throughout, with a hint of spice boosting its warming power. The first mouthful conferred a surprise: some of the greens in the broth were pickled and sprung a sweet, vinegary tang on my tastebuds. Each bite conveyed a tantalizing permutation of ingredients and I slurped so eagerly that I had to put aside my steamed, spattered eyeglasses mid-meal.
Co-diner and I were so satisfied that we returned a few days later, after a snowshoeing expedition on Accidental Beach left us chilled to the bone. I was determined to try something different, but instead had virtually the same thing but with barbecued pork. I’d stick with the brisket in the future, but there was nothing wrong with the tender, flavourful porks slices and their distinctive pink rind. At first, I thought the kitchen had been stingy, but it turned out the pork was just trapped under all the noodles and there was plenty to get me to the bottom of the bowl.
Co-diner had the Lo-style beef brisket with vermicelli. This noodle bowl added peanuts and fried garlic slices to the ingredients in the soup, and the broth comes on the side to add as you see fit, or consume on its own. It did give us a chance to try the broth on its own, which allowed it to show off its gingery complexity. Because it cost just a dollar to find out what it was, we invested in a spice-corned egg. Corn didn’t appear to enter into it, but it was a hard-boiled egg tinted by soya sauce the mostly dingy ingredients of five-spice powder—cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel, Szechuan pepper—which had permeated the egg. Yummy.
So I got what I wanted out of Chinatown Dining Week: an introduction to a new soup standby on 97 Street. Hopefully it was a successful enough experiment for the participating restaurants that the event returns in 2019 with even more cheap, clean, cheerful places with distinctive food waiting to make my acquaintance.
Cui Hua Gui Lin Noodle House
10626 97 St.