You don't have to zoom out too far from the Whistler bubble to realize we're a blessed lot. Yes, we're staring down the barrel of some very real challenges when it comes to housing, affordability and traffic, but in the grand scheme of things, it's hard to deny we've got it pretty good. Most of the things Whistlerites tend to complain about — whether it's long lift lines, weather, or our new corporate overlords down in Colorado — fall easily into the category of First World problems. But since whingeing about the trivial has become a cottage industry in this social media age, I plan on using my precious inches of column space today to discuss another matter of very little importance: Whistler's lack of a Chinese restaurant.
As a stubborn kid growing up in the '90s, my parents made sure to expose me to a pretty eclectic mix of ethnic cuisines — often against my will. When all I wanted was a cheeseburger, we would instead go out for steaming bowls of Vietnamese pho or a generous buffet of scorching-hot Indian curries. Eventually, their insistence paid off, and I grew to love our Sunday visits to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese spot for dim sum.
Along with affording me a small window into cultures I would probably have learned little of otherwise, my family's adventurous eating also helped me develop an appetite for the bold flavours of elsewhere that Whistler is tragically unable to satisfy. There are times, usually after a night of heavy drinking, when my basest epicurean urges become almost too much to bear. Hell, at this point, I would sell my soul to the devil himself if it meant regular access to the greasy goodness of even the most mediocre Chinese takeout.
When every one-horse town from Flin Flon to Fogo counts a Chinese spot in the Yellow Pages, it makes you wonder why Whistler, with its international appeal, cosmopolitan resident base, and close proximity to a city that dishes out some of the finest Asian food on the planet, has been Kung-Pao free for so long.
It's not that people haven't tried. The Chinese Bistro, located on the edge of Skier's Plaza where Mexican Corner is today, never really caught on with diners and closed after only a short time in operation. Then there was Gold Leaf in Marketplace, the less of which is said about its overpriced menu of gloopy, MSG-laden fare the better. Mercifully, Whistlerites looking for their Chinese fix can call up longtime local hedonist Michele Bush, a.k.a. the Spring Roll Lady, who will come right to your kitchen and cook up a spread of Chinese-Canadian favourites, customized to your liking. (Seriously, though, her spring rolls are unreal.)
But that still leaves a gaping hole in Whistler's restaurant scene, one that will only grow larger with the expected boom in Chinese skier-visits to the resort as Beijing prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. So what's the problem here, you ask? Well, as shouting Internet meme and The Rent Is Too Damn High political party founder Jimmy McMillan once said, the rent is too damn high. At least that's the prevailing theory, the thought being that the low-cost, high-volume model adopted by most Chinese restaurateurs would be unsustainable in Whistler's $150-a-square-foot retail market. But then you have a place like El Furniture Warehouse proving the exception to that rule: its $4.95 food menu has packed the village pub to the gills on a near nightly basis since it opened five years ago.
I'm no realtor, but you have to imagine a half-decent, reasonably priced Chinese spot catering to the late-night cravings of Whistler's working class should be able to make a go of it. Who in their right mind would say no to a midnight buffet run?
Maybe it's something our elected officials could take on. After all, if they can lease the land for the Audain Art Museum for $1 a year to a multimillionaire real-estate magnate, surely, a selfless restaurateur feeding chicken balls to Whistler's broke and hungry could catch a break, too? Let's make it happen, folks. Raise your chopsticks in unison and say it with me: We want some goddamn General Tso's chicken, and we want it now.
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