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More favourite places - tamales, joong, pork buns, and ferry food

I went to the Mexican festival at Centennial Square on the weekend, listened to the music, watched the dancing, and ate a tamale. This is embarrassing to admit, but I think it might have been my first-ever tamale.

I went to the Mexican festival at Centennial Square on the weekend, listened to the music, watched the dancing, and ate a tamale. This is embarrassing to admit, but I think it might have been my first-ever tamale. I ordered the mole chicken version — a piece of chicken embedded in corn meal dough wrapped in a corn husk, then steamed. Price: $5. I skipped the hot sauce that everyone seemed to be pouring on it. Verdict: I'll be eating more tamales.

The place to do it, according to my colleagues, is Orale, which is below street level at 1002 Johnson Street in Victoria. Tamales there are also $5 each.

Times Colonist restaurant critic Pam Grant included Orale on her Restaurants to Remember list for 2008.

I'll report back when I make my own visit.

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The tamale experience reminded me of the leaf-wrapped rice bundles my grandmother made when I was a child. She would spend an entire day assembling the ingredients, wrapping them in bamboo leaves, tying the bundles with string and then boiling them in a giant pot. The assembly with the leaves was amazing to watch. She overlapped several leaves, folded them just so, and scooped in the ingredients, tamping them down as she went along. The string part was amazing too. She crisscrossed and made artful patterns. The main ingredient was glutinous rice. She added whatever she was in the mood for — sausage pieces, chicken, duck egg yolk, mushroom, pork, mung bean. 


On some websites, they call this bundle a Chinese tamale. They also call it zongzi, which is unfamiliar to me. But joong is what I remember my grandmother calling it. That spelling is swiped from a YouTube video title.


The Asian Dumpling Tips website has detailed instructions. On YouTube there are all sorts of how-to videos for joong. There's this solo effort. And another one, where joong is being made as a group effort — a wrapping party. And another one, where it's being made with the help of a contraption. eGForums has a series of photos. From all this, I gather people are fascinated with the making of joong. They're also very proud if they know how – which they should be.


I've bought joong from Wai Lai Yuen Restaurant in Victoria's Chinatown, 560 Fisgard. It was OK, but not as good as my grandmother's. You can also find them in the freezer section at Fairway Market grocery stores.


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Pork buns are terrific for a quick lunch. They're baked buns with barbecue pork inside. I've had varying success with Victoria's pork buns. They're sometimes underfilled, and you end up with a mouthful of dry bun. The meat is sometimes tough or too fatty (though, some people like fatty).


I've generally liked the ones at a couple of Chinatown shops – Wai Lai Yuen and around the corner at Victoria BBQ House, 1714 Government Street. Fairway Market also has decent pork buns and some batches from there have been more generously filled than the ones from Chinatown.


The Chinatown versions are not refrigerated, which might give you pause, but I've never had a problem.


The buns are at their best fresh, so try to get them around the noon hour. Later in the day, they might not be available.


Going price seems to be $1.25 per bun.


If you take them home and want to re-heat them, the microwave is not a good option. The result can be a doughy, sunken mess. Instead, re-heat briefly in regular oven at low temperature.


There are variations on the pork bun, including the curry beef bun. I like the one from Wai Lai Yuen with a filling of slightly spicy ground beef. A "C" pattern is on top of the bun so you can tell that it's the curry version.


Problem with pork or curry beef buns for lunch: no vegetable or fruit element. You will need to provide your own.


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I mostly like the Pacific Buffet on B.C. Ferries. The prices might seem a little steep on first look – $16.50 for breakfast, $19 for lunch, $22 for dinner. But, it is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal. You're surrounded by terrific scenery. The tables are widely-spaced, so you don't have people crowding you. The food is decent. More details soon. A ferry journey is on the horizon, so I'll report back on the latest.


The buffet is only available on the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen run -- on the Spirit vessels and on Coastal Celebration.


More favourite places to eat.


More Eating Adventures.