One thing about Manila Grey: they’re all about Vancouver. The Juno-nominated Filipino-Canadian duo know the city like the backs of their Supreme racing glove-covered hands. You can hear it all over their latest album No Saints on Knight Street, a shimmering collection of West Coast hip-hop named after the roadway that connects Van with their hometown of Richmond. But you can’t really know a city without knowing its food scene—and the boys assure us that’s a department they are well versed in. And really, there’s no talking about Vancouver’s food scene without talking about its Asian cuisine.
“Oh bro, it’s like the main thing out here,” Soliven tells Complex. “Sushi here is crazy. We got some fire sushi, we got some fire Korean fried chicken spots. We just had some last night, actually.”
Adds Neeko: “Anything Asian out here is super fire, man.”
That checks out, given that about 43 percent of Metro Vancouver residents have an Asian heritage—more than any other major city outside of Asia. Manila Grey say they spend a great many of their nights hanging out at the city’s Asian eateries, from Chinese restaurants to Vietnamese joints, mowing down on everything from bò lúc lắc to xiao long bao. It’s something they speak about with considerable zeal and expertise. When Soliven sings “Now all my day 1z eat, all my day 1z mufuckin’ feast” on “00 Luck,” he may very well mean that quite literally.
For Asian Heritage Month, we caught up with Manila Grey—who are up for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Juno Awards on June 6—to talk grub. They touch on their connection with Filipino food and their desire to pass recipes down to future generations, before listing their favourite restaurants in the Asian foodie paradise that is Metro Vancouver. They eventually get ravenously hungry. Chances are, by the end of this article, so will you.
Since your new album is called No Saints on Knight Street, can you tell me: What was the last sin you each committed?
Neeko: Leaving my house without a mask on, bro. [Laughs.] Eating too much Korean fried chicken over the past week.
Soliven: Yeah, probably that. Breaking the diet.
Oh, actually, that’s a perfect segue. I wanted to talk to you guys about food. As you know, Complex is pretty big on food. Let’s start with this: If you could only eat one Filipino dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Neeko: I’d rock with sinigang, man. It makes me feel good. That’s like my feel-at-home dish, you know?
Soliven: For me? My mom always cooks the best bulalo. It’s kinda like sinigang but with cabbage. Yeah, I’d fuck with that for the rest of my life.
Neeko: What about you, bro?
Hmm. Maybe lechon.
Soliven: For the rest of your life?!!
Neeko: You’re gonna go the rest of your life eating lechon?!
Straight up pork! Get me some Mang Tomas sauce and I’m good! Fuck it!
Neeko: That’s crazy bro. [Laughs.]
Those crispy pig ears… I can eat that all day!
Neeko: Yeah, that’s pretty fire.
Soliven: It’s an art, man. Making lechon is an art.
It is! Can you guys cook it at all?
Neeko: I haven’t actually learned. But that’s something I want to do this year. I want to learn how to at least make that one. Or just get my mom to make a recipe for me.
Soliven: Bro, that’s the thing. I was actually just telling my mom. I was like, “Yo, you got to teach me all this, and sooner than later because this needs to get passed down.” And I love cooking, so I’ve got to know the ingredients. My girl, too, she loves to cook. And what’s crazy is they have their own family recipes. I’ve tasted her mom’s cooking and it’s like, that has its own vibe. So, they’ve got to pass that knowledge down.
Neeko: It’s crazy, my mom was telling me she knew how to cook all these recipes at like 15, just because of how it is back home. Growing up with your family back home, you’re very hands-on. But here, it’s like, not once growing up was I like, Oh, I can’t wait to help my mom cook some sinigang, you know what I’m saying? But you know, as you grow older, you appreciate it more and you definitely want to hold onto this.
Yeah. I’m just banking on my mom cooking me this stuff forever.
Neeko: That’s what I’m saying! [Laughs.]
I want to talk about the food scene in Vancouver. How up are you guys on the Asian food there?
Soliven: Oh bro, it’s like the main thing out here. Sushi here is crazy. We got some fire sushi, we got some fire Korean fried chicken spots. We just had some last night, actually. Had some soju and some fried chicken. But yeah the Asian food out here is A1.
Neeko: It’s unreal. The dim sum out here is fire. Anything Asian out here is super fire, man.
Soliven: The Malaysian food out here is fire too. But the sushi dominates the city.
Neeko: Yeah, untouchable.
I’m gonna go by category of Asian food and I want you to each pick your favorite restaurant in each category.
Soliven: Aite, bet.
Neeko: OK, let’s go.
Best Korean Fried Chicken
Neeko: There’s one in Richmond called Cocoru. It’s super fire. But the one that Sol bought for us yesterday, what’s it called?
Soliven: It’s called Todak Todak, and it’s in a city called Burnaby. And bro, they have this thing called the honey butter garlic boneless fried chicken…
Neeko: Crack. It’s crack, man.
Soliven: It’s like made out of sugar, bro. It’s so good, man.
Soliven: It’s a small little spot with a very sassy lady that runs it, and their aburi sushi is amazing.
A sassy lady? [Laughs.]
Soliven: Yeah, she’s so sassy, bro! [Laughs.] I’ll say, “I’ll get chicken teriyaki, and I’ll get—” And she’ll be like, “I’m not done writing it. One second. OK, chicken teriyaki…” [Laughs.]
Neeko: The food just speaks for itself.
Neeko: Ohhh man, that’s tough.
Soliven: We go to Little Ongpin a lot and they’re also family friends. And they’ve got another spot in Surrey. There’s only a few here, actually, but the best one for me in Richmond is Ongpin, I would say.
Soliven: Oh! Neeks, remember that one spot? It’s one of my dad’s best friend’s spots, actually. It’s called Chibugan. They had an ube champorado. You know what champorado is?
Yeah! It’s like a chocolate rice porridge.
Soliven: Yeah, it’s like that but the ube version. It’s A1, bro. Amazing.
I’m so hungry. So hungry!
Neeko: Same, man. Need to get some grub after this.
Soliven: Yeah G-Men, I would say.
Neeko: But there’s this other spot. It’s the one we went to downtown. It’s a dry ramen. I think it’s called Kokoro. It’s like dry ramen, and then once you finish it they give you rice. And then you put the rice in with whatever’s left and it’s so fucking good. But G-men too, for sure. That’s in Richmond.
Soliven: G-Men definitely. We have a few branches out here. We have a road called Alexandra Road in Richmond and it’s just like all Asian restaurants. And it’s just this little restaurant there. It’s super fire, man. Authentic as fuck. Super, super fire.
Neeko: Hmm, Chinese restaurants. No.9, to be honest with you.
Soliven: [Laughs.] Yeah, it’s a spot called No.9. It’s a quick Chinese food spot.
Neeko: It’s where you go after late-night drinking with the boys. It’s open 24 hours and their fried rice is just something else, man. They put something else in there, it’s so good.
Neeko: Oooh, there’s a place, I think it’s called Pho 37. It’s this new one that my girl and I went to. It’s by Richmond All You Can Eat Sushi. There’s a new pho spot there and you order No. 44, and their broth is like, untouchable. And we’ve tried a bunch of pho spots—like, we’ve gone to like almost every single one in the city, but this one is something else. It’s legendary. We love food, man.
Yeah, clearly. [Laughs.]
Soliven: Man, there’s so many. I’m not too picky when it comes to pho but I always go to this franchise called Pho Hoa, and also Lotus. And it’s not pho, but there’s another spot here in Chinatown called Phnom Pehn, and they have like the most iconic wings ever, bro. And their beef lúc lắc is like… incredible. [Laughs.] You gotta come out here and try it.
Neeko: Oh, there’s that other Vietnamese fusion spot we went to called Lunch Lady. Bro, Lunch Lady was fire. Remember that one, Sol?
Soliven: It’s super hip. Yeah, I remember that one. It’s a dope fusion spot.
Neeko: Man, now I’m super hungry! [Laughs.]
I know! I’m so fucking hungry. [Laughs.] I’m hopping right on Uber Eats after this.
Soliven: Ohhh Thai spots.
Neeko: There’s one called Pink Elephant that’s pretty good.
Soliven: Yeah. There’s not that many Thai spots out here for some reason though, man.
Neeko: Wait, is Banana Leaf thai?
Soliven: I think it’s Malaysian.
Neeko: Oh gotcha, it is Malaysian. It’s pretty amazing, still.
Soliven: Yeah, not too many Thai places. There’s more Malaysian spots here.
Neeko: Thai Express, bro! Shout-out Thai Express! [Laughs.]
Soliven: Yeah, Thai Express. Richmond Centre. [Laughs.] Yo, Thai Express is actually fire, though.
Neeko: It’s a hitter, bro!
Soliven: It’s a quick pick-me-up.
Neeko: Yeah. [Laughs.] They fit so much food in that little box, man.
It’s endless. It’s an endless supply of food.
Soliven: It’s an endless box, bro! You’ll never run out.
You can’t go wrong with it!! That pad sew… damn.
Neeko: Alex is daydreaming of pad sew, bro. [Laughs.] Just cap the interview, get some Thai Express!
I think you’re right, man. Let’s call it here and grab some lunch.