Ordering seafood from restaurants in a landlocked province has always been underwhelming.
Transportation and storage make fresh seafood rare and expensive, while frozen seafood is generally watery, bland and disgusting. To add to all of this, the gastronomical culture in Alberta and many parts of North America dictate that fish must be eaten in square (sometimes rectangular), boneless filets, most likely pan fried and served with a starchy staple and some vegetables. Sometimes you get sauce that isn’t just a slice of lemon. But most importantly, your fish must never look or taste like fish.
This has led to adopt a somewhat jaded opinion, and I was very sceptical when I heard of a relatively unknown restaurant in Calgary that specialised in fresh seafood.
Kam Han is pretty damn weird.
If you look Chinese enough, the staff will bring you an order form, a tiny Ikea pencil and an iPad. This lets you choose from the traditional Szechaun menu, which features the spicy crab and fish dishes, as well as typical Chinese “salads”.
If you’re not, or if you don’t request the special menu, you’re presented with a typical westernized Chinese take-out menu with timeless classics like ginger beef and sweet and sour pork.
We ordered the spicy crab dish (spiciest option of course), cold tripe (also spicy) and some rice.
The interesting thing is that you have the option to add various vegetables and meats to your crab, and they just cook everything together.
Chinese style luncheon meat (less-salty Spam) and Enoki mushrooms were ticked off on the list since we were feeling adventurous.
The tripe came out first and was… completely unoffensive (which is an accomplishment). The spices used were typical of a Szechuan restaurant and the level of heat should be manageable for most. As with the rest of the other small plates on the menu, this one came out cold, and is meant to be more of a drinking snack than anything else.
The crab came out shortly after and was served in what can only be described as a giant stainless steel basin. This was heated by small tea candles, and was heaped full of crab bits, mushrooms and dried chilli peppers. The legs and shoulders were dredged in what I believe to be a cornstarch and hot pepper slurry before being deep-fried. Afterwards, ladles of aromatic chili/szechuan oil are poured over top, along with a generous fistful of dried chillis, cilantro and sesame seeds.
Flavor-wise, you don’t get much more than overwhelming heat and crab.
Which is exactly what you ordered.
The spice is mouth-watering, and eating the dish invokes a psychological conflict between wanting to eat more and the need to give your mouth a break.
As someone who loves spicy food and thinks he can handle his spice, this is about as spicy as I can tolerate for an everyday meal, which is honestly rare to find in a restaurant.
The one complaint I have would be the lack of flavor in the leg meat. The shell is drenched in spice, which makes extracting the meat a lip-numbing experience, but the meat itself is somewhat bland. It wouldn’t take much more effort to crack the shells before cooking, and it would improve the flavor dramatically.
From my experiences here, the rest of the menu is somewhat disappointing (even for north-americanized chinese food) and caters to a different audience.
If you’re going to come, get the crab or the fish. It’s served creatively, comes in generous portions, and wonderfully utilizes traditional szechuan flavors.