I’ve been a frequent patron of Han’s in Calgary’s Chinatown ever since I discovered it back in 2009. Han’s is literally a hole-in-the-wall restaurant inside the City Plaza strip mall with about eight tables. They have been a true hidden gem in Calgary and easily became my favourite Chinese restaurant in Calgary for the last couple of years. They serve up spicy Taiwanese and Szechuan food. I was really sad last year when the original owners sold it. Even though the menu and recipes were kept the same under the new ownership, I could taste the difference in some of the dishes. Don’t get me wrong – Han’s still serves up delicious Taiwanese and Szechuan fare under the new ownership. Their food is still very good by Calgary’s Chinese food standards. It’s just that the depth of flavours and consistency in the execution during the original ownership were second to none. I still go to Han’s every now and then when I crave Taiwanese/Szechuan food.
Recently, I went with my coworkers for lunch and we mainly ordered our favourite dishes. We ordered #11 Kongpao Chicken ($12.00), #15 Stir Fried Pork on Hot Topan Sauce ($13.00), #37 Soya Sauce Sautéed Eggplant ($11.50), #40 Deep Fried Green Bean ($12.50), and #56 Hotpot Szechuan Fish ($14.50).
The Kongpao Chicken (also commonly known as Palace-Style Chicken) was actually a dish we tried for the first time at Han’s. The version at Han’s is more traditional than the typical sweet Western version. It contained dried chilies and Szechuan peppercorns. I enjoyed it a lot as it was the perfect combination of flavours – slightly sweet and spicy with a the slight numbness and citrus flavour from the Szechuan peppercorns.
The Stir Fried Pork on Hot Topan Sauce is actually a classic Szechuan dish also known as Twice Cooked Pork or Huí Guō Ròu. The dish is called Twice Cooked Pork because the pork belly is first simmered and then sliced into really thin pieces, almost like bacon. It is then stir fried along with cabbage and Szechuan-style hot bean paste (also known as toban or topan sauce). I usually like this dish at Han’s as pork is fried just long enough in the wok to be slightly crispy and brown along with the cabbage that is al dente. On this occasion, the cabbage was slightly undercooked so it was a little more crunchy. I would have preferred the cabbage to be cooked thru a bit more although if it was between being overcooked or undercooked I’d rather have it be undercooked.
The Soya Sauce Sautéed Eggplant is basically eggplant braised in a deliciously rich soya based sauce with a garnish of Thai basil. This used to be one of my favourite dishes at Han’s when the original owners were running the show as the dish was consistently executed each and every time and the eggplant was cooked perfectly al dente. I was always amazed at the depth of flavours in the sauce combined with the flavours of Thai basil. Lately, under the new ownership this dish has been somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes the eggplant has been overcooked, other times there has been too much sauce to the point of being soupy. The flavours are all there for the most part, but I’m not a fan of mushy eggplant. On this occasion, the eggplant was overcooked again and there was a bit too much sauce.
The Deep Fried Green Beans should actually be more accurately called Dry-fried Green Beans, which is another classical Szechuan dish. The beans are dry-fried in the wok until they start to pucker and then combined with minced dried shrimp and garlic. This dish has been pretty consistent for the most part at Han’s even under the new ownership, although I would say that version prepared by the original owners had more “wok hei”, which is the essence and flavour imparted by a very hot wok during stir-frying.
Lastly, the Hotpot Szechuan Fish is actually better known as Water-Boiled Fish or Shuizhuyu (水煮魚). This was my first introduction to Water-Boiled Fish when I tried it for the first time at Han’s back in 2009. At that point, I had no idea that there are different variations or interpretations of this dish. The version at Han’s is more like a bouillabaisse or fish stew. Since then, I’ve tried various versions of this dish at different Szechuan restaurants in the Vancouver area and interestingly enough, none of them resemble the version from Han’s. I’m not sure if it’s because of regional differences or Taiwanese influences. I still miss the version of this dish when it was prepared by the original owners of Han’s. This dish used to be so much spicier and had a depth of flavour that kept us craving it and going back frequently. This version now at Han’s is still tasty but it lacks the depth of flavour. To this day, my coworkers and I are still trying to figure out what was the secret ingredient that gave the broth that depth of flavour. On this visit, even though we told them not to hold back the heat, the dish wasn’t that spicy.
Overall, the food at Han’s is still very good and probably some of the best Szechuan food that one can get in the Calgary area. The food is very authentic and always prepared fresh. Although the prices are higher than normal Chinese restaurants, I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars for tasty food.
#116 – 303 Centre St SW