From food truck to the bricks-and-mortar Mogu Fried Chicken

Source: vancouversun.com

Opinion: Mogu started as a food truck but the couple who run it dreamt of opening a restaurant, which they did during the pandemic.

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Mogu Fried Chicken

Where: 1012 Commercial Dr., Vancouver

When: Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner

Info: 604-215-1778, eatmogu.com

In its younger, wilder days, Mogu hung out on a downtown street or hit foodie events like the Richmond Night Market. For the size of its tiny trailer, Mogu Japanese food had big buzz.

I once waited in line at Mogu’s trailer for a good 45 minutes under a blazing hot sun at the Brewery and the Beast festival one summer. For someone who has no patience for lineups, that’s something! I’d go to their permanent Howe and Dunsmuir streets location when I worked in the newsroom downtown. But I always only had eyes for the scrumptious chicken karaage (ka-ra-geh) with chili sauce, so I hadn’t tried much else.

Yuji Aoki, who runs Mogu with his wife, Kumiko, says that when they were at the annual New Westminster food truck festival before the pandemic, lineups “were insane.” People waited two hours to order, then an hour-and-a-half to get the food.

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“Five or six people were stuffed into that trailer making the food and we couldn’t move,” he says.

That amounts to a lot of mogu-ing, the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of chewing.

“If you open a comic book and see someone eating, ‘mogu-mogu’ is what it would say to show the sound,” says Aoki. “I had come up with a hundred names and my wife liked Mogu because it’s short and easy to say.”

Fried chicken at Mogu.
Fried chicken at Mogu. Mia Stainsby

After a seven-year run, in 2019, they sold the trailer and set about fulfilling a dream — opening a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. But dealing with the city for permits and then the pandemic delayed the opening of Mogu Fried Chicken until last September.

Upon visiting recently, I saw the menu still had a street feel. They had planned on an izakaya-style menu with sharing plates but, you know … the pandemic. Across one wall, an Edo-style mural depicts a dragon chasing a crowd clutching their Mogu fried chicken and sandwiches for dear life and why, it looks like they’re running down Howe Street.

The chicken karaage gets the starring role but is now just called fried chicken because it’s easier to say. But there is a difference between regular fried chicken and chicken karaage — the latter is made with marinated pieces of dark, boneless leg and thigh meat, and instead of flour, it uses potato starch for a crispier, lighter batter. Such a satisfying crunch upon biting into it!

Mogu fried chicken comes in three sizes: the mini, with five-to-six pieces; regular, with nine-to-11 pieces; or jumbo, with 15-to-18 pieces ($12-to-$27). There are three sauces, your choice: the original sweet chili, spicy gochujang sesame or shio garlic lemon.You can order it atop rice if you wish. Anyway, it’s still my Mogu fave!

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French fries at Mogu.
French fries at Mogu. Mia Stainsby

Panko-crusted prawn fritters ($14.50) were nice and light without an excess of breading and since I’m a French-fry fiend soI ordered the sea salt and aonori fries ($4.75). I was alarmed at the portion size knowing I had no resistance and yep, they disappeared. I asked Aoki if he had made them with kennebec potatoes. Surprise! He buys them frozen. He serves them with a house tartar sauce.

We also had the braised short rib rice bowl ($18.25) from the noodle and rice section, a food truck ‘greatest hit’ along with the fried chicken and the ebi katsu sandwich. Braised beef, scallions, kimchee and a perfect onsen egg sit invitingly atoprice. The Taiwanese stir fry udon on the menu, he says, isn’t accurate.

“I just named it that. I don’t know if they even have udon in Taiwan.”

The ebi katsu sandwich is a 100 per cent prawn patty and tucked inside Martin’s potato rolls — the same rolls used by Shake Shack and David Chang’s Fuku fried chicken restaurant.

“I love the texture,” Aoki says. “It’s soft and squishy.”

Other dishes include Japanese curries, which are very different from Indian curry. For one, it’s thickened with a flour roux. Curry arrived in Japan by way of the Royal Navy in the late 19th century, so it had already been lost in translation. But the Japanese love their sweeter, saucier curry.

“When I go to Japan, oh man! I gotta have some of it,” says Aoki. “It’s a top-five dish in Japan. There are tonnes of chain restaurants serving curry.”

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He adds a lot of fennel powder to his sauce.

There are also katsu dishes and grilled chicken. Katsu dishes or panko crusted cutlets, he says, “are different from cutlets in that the breading stands up like porcupine quills” but confesses his don’t have quills.

Aoki is a humble guy. Asked if he’s the chef, he replies, “no, he’s not a chef.”

“I went to culinary school but I’m not a Red Seal (certificate-holder),” he says. He’s worked at Suika izakaya in Vancouver and a restaurant in Japan and is in charge of the food at Mogu. So yeah, he’s a chef.

On the beverage list, there are a couple of house wines and a handful of simple and inexpensive cocktails but the real stars are the Japanese craft beers from brewers like Orion and Coedo, and a solid selection of sakes and premium Japanese whiskies. Also worth checking out are sakes infused with fruit flavours that may be best served with a splash of soda. 

mia.stainsby@shaw.ca

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