Kanpai Snack Bar is the hippest Taiwanese snack and drink bar in Cabbagetown and beyond, and they only get better with their recent menu offerings.
Their extensive menu offers Taiwanese fried chicken, fried rice, hot & cold dishes, and desserts. An equally impressive variety of drinks are served, including tea pots, locally-crafted libations, and tapped beer from a pipe attached to intriguing knife handles.
With influences from China and Japan for their xiaochi or “small eats” – equivalent to Spanish tapas – as well as old school rap tributes used to name menu items, this cozy yet rustic wooden-panelled restaurant definitely brings a trip down memory lane for locals and foreigners alike. The unique vibe for this modern street food pub is accredited to the owners Trevor Lui – formerly specializing in hospitality and an operations manager – and Chef Ike Huang – formerly at Liberty Noodle.
Da Punch Pot ($55), a boozy concoction custom-made daily by the bartender poured from a traditional tea pot, is the perfect way to “kanpai” (bottoms up) and lighten up the atmosphere. For the evening, Trevor himself mixed up the “Cheating Communist”, a spicy infusion of Shochu (fermented barely wine), Calpico (Japanese & Korean yogurt drink), lemongrass syrup made in-house, and lychee & lime juice. The Formosa Ceviche, a secret menu item, is served with in-house fried taro chips and is the perfect meal equivalent for the drink. The freshness of the cured squid and shrimp really comes out with a real kicker from the citrus and spicy flavours.
Edamame Said Knock You Out ($4) and Ain’t Nothing But a Green Bean Baby ($7) are both delicious traditional vegetable dishes derived from Japanese and Hakka culture, respectively, using an aromatic garlic and chili seasoning.
If you would like a fun dish with a unique twist, get the Kung Pao Cauliflower ($6) which veggifies the classic elements in Kung Pao Chicken; with edamame and flash-fried cauliflower for that extra crunchy texture. The Sam Adams Rebel IPA goes well with the dish, where its light, clean and crisp finish balances out the saltiness of the fried vegetable. Also, my favourite of the night was You’re Sizzlin’ Baby ($12), a pork shoulder served over a buttered sizzling teppan plate mixed in with a memorable house sauce, which definitely got everyone talking.
What makes Kanpai special is how some of their dishes hits close to home with their comfort food. Even though Hot in Herre ($7) is a seemingly simple dish of homemade wontons, and Mary Mary Why You Buggin’ ($12) is lamb shank stew, you cannot go wrong with their undeniable complexity of flavours.
Kanpai is abundant in Taiwanese night-market-appropriate dishes with many spicy and gluten-free options on their menu. They creatively integrate other cultures’ dishes as their own, giving not only a unique twist on fusion food, but also paying utmost attention to their ingredients and cooking methods for superb food quality you can taste. If not to have a full meal to share with others, definitely try their best seller: the Wu Tang Beef ($9), sliced black pepper sirloin beef with onions, or their UberEats favourite, the Juicy ($8), their famous succulent popcorn chicken in sweet and sour sauce.
Photos by Janey Tso