Wooden Boat for unique dishes

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Wooden Boat Food Company
#1-20 Hurst Avenue
Kitchener, ON   N2G 2Z7

A veteran of the local food-and-beverage scene and a waiter at the Elora Mill, Chris Kim proffers the following, which I have paraphrased: “The Wooden Boat Food Company might be the most important restaurant in the area.”

Kim’s position is arguable. Wooden Boat is the brand of chef-entrepreneur Thompson Tran. Having arrived from British Columbia a few years ago, Tran has built sustainability into his food business.

Tran is dedicated to cutting unnecessary food-production waste, as well as being possessed of a heightened engagement with of local food systems. He takes it seriously. That includes a kitchen free from aluminum, parchment and plastic wrap, and uses containers and utensils that are compostable.

“We use local, sustainable, pasture-raised, or free-range proteins, but we are also bring-your-own-container (BYOC) friendly,” says Tran. “We support the local economy and non-profits and treat the environment in a respectful and sustainable way.”

As for the food, that’s impressive too. They specialize as a Vietnamese street food-style eatery with about a dozen menu items, from classic Vietnamese banh mi baguette and gluten-free lemongrass noodles to Vietnamese fried rice and delectable daikon fritters with charred jalapeno and cilantro sauce which are gluten-free and vegan.

The hot honey fried chicken has made a name for itself as well. Prices range up to $15. The dish, though, that I’ve fallen for is lotus leaf sticky rice. Basically sticky rice stuffed with a finely chopped pork rillettes and scallion filling and wrapped in a earthy lotus leaf, it’s part of Vietnamese harvest festivals.

Wooden Boat chicken wings are good too (Photo/andrewcoppolino.com).

“Legend has it, people would throw these parcels into the river in memory of a high ranking figure who drowned to provide food for him in the afterlife,” according to Tran.

The dish is glutinous or Thai sweet rice soaked overnight. It’s strained and steamed for 30 minutes and lightly seasoned with salt and sugar. Pork shoulder is prepared as a confit in its own rendered fat with spices, ginger and onion. (There are vegan and gluten-, dairy- and nut-free versions.)

The aromatic lotus leaves are soaked overnight and then rinsed; a single layer of lightly packed cooked sticky rice and filling is added along with scallions and then more sticky rice. The combination is tightly wrapped in the lotus leaf and for serving it is steamed for about five minutes.

The parcel is cut open to reveal perfumed rice, and it gets dusted with toasted glutinous rice powder and topped with two over-easy eggs, scallions and fried shallots. It’s served with Tran’s house-made nuoc cham sauce and Vietnamese goi bap cai slaw.

In all, it’s a wonderful combination that takes some time to prepare, Tran points out.

“Although it seems humble, there is a lot going on,” he says. “It takes two days to make it from scratch. People love it. When we sell out, we sell out.”

The Wooden Boat Food Company is open with limited days and hours. Always check their website for updated information.

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