When we first read about B2J Suancai Fish, we asked some of our more adventurous foodie friends to join us, and they turned their noses up at the thought of eating “sour fish soup”. However, reading more about it, we learned that sauerkraut is gai choi or pickled mustard greens, which is called “suan cai” in Mandarin. It’s Chinese sauerkraut. Well, why the fuck didn’t you say so?
Cantonese often call it syun choi (sour vegetable) or ham choi (salty vegetable). The vegetables are fermented using only salt, washed rice water and gai choi for around 21 days. And while you may think it sounds weird at best, it’s delicious.
Owners Peipei Cao and her husband, Xiaoming Lui, opened this restaurant in Seattle after visiting a Chinese sauerkraut restaurant in Guangzhou, China. They knew that fresh fish tasted better than frozen fish and spent almost a year trying to find the right supplier in the United States.
They landed at Dutchboy Farm in Idaho, which is a hatchery and fish farm located on a geothermal spring, allowing them to raise warm-water fish like tilapia year-round. Live fish are flown in weekly and held in a tank until ready to serve. They are then placed in the spicy and sour broth where the fish flesh cooks to the perfect temperature.
There are four B2J Suancai Fish locations, two in Seattle, one in Houston, and one in Plano. The Plano Restaurant is located in a strip mall on Spring Creek Parkway near the Central Expressway. The sign on the building is unassuming; under the mandarin, it simply says “Chinese sauerkraut fish”.
For cold entrees, a popular choice is the Spicy and Sour Fern Starch Noodles ($6.99). It looks like squid ink noodles and is topped with chili peppers, sesame seeds and their signature sour sauce. The portion is large, so be careful not to fill it up before your starter arrives.
Other popular cold entrees are Sweet Rice Stuffed Lotus Root ($7.99) and Century Egg with Fried Jalapeño and Chinese Dressing ($7.99). Centennial eggs look like they’ve been fermenting for at least 100 years, but don’t judge this egg by its yolk. They are delicious and go well with soup. Take a slice of egg with the rice and broth from the fish soup and prepare for your head to nod.
For hot entrees, you can’t go wrong with the Fried Chinese Donuts ($6.99), Fried Milk Cream ($6.99), or Fried Chicken Wings ($8.99). Fried Chinese donuts are like unsweetened churros and are great for dipping in soup broth.
To some, their signature sauerkraut fish may not sound the least bit appetizing, but trust us when we say this rich, sour, fatty, velvety, spicy dish is nothing short of spectacular.
The broth is full of ribbons of pickled mustard greens, which is their take on sauerkraut. There is also plenty of ginger, dried chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. Delicious chunks of fresh fish or beef rise to the top of the broth. The fish is fresh, firm and holds up well when plucked with chopsticks.
To order, first choose the flavor of the soup: the classic hot sour, hot or peppery vine numb. Then you choose a size (small, medium, or large) and your main ingredient: tilapia, largemouth bass, wagyu beef, or a combination of tilapia and beef.
Then choose the add-ons, which include options like tofu, potato slices, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, rice noodles, lunch meat, tofu sticks, and fluffy cellophane noodles . Wait about five minutes and the party starts arriving at your table.
The presentation is spectacular. These huge bowls are served with a side of rice. Pour the soup over the rice and enjoy.
We ordered the small tilapia combo for two and opted for the classic spicy-sour flavor. We added tofu and enoki mushrooms which were excellent but next time we would try it with the cellophane noodles as it seemed to be a popular addition at other tables.
This soup was not too spicy, although we used extra napkins to wipe our foreheads. The table next to us got spicy and as their mouths were on fire they loved every bite. We didn’t see anyone ordering the pepper vine numb flavor; it sounds like a death wish or at least something that should require you to sign a liability waiver before eating.
They say the small soup is enough to feed one or two people, but the bowl is 18 inches wide. We say more like four people. The small soup ranges from $28.99 to $49.99 depending on your protein choice. Large soups range from $56.99 to $89.99.
The best deal is one of their special combos, which serves either two, three, or four people. In addition to soup, you get extras, fried Chinese donuts, finger foods, and rice ($48.99 to $96.99). It seems pricey at first glance, but considering the amount of food you get and the number of people served, it works out to about $12 per person with leftovers.
The place only has 10 tables. If you get there during peak hours, expect a wait. However, you can save yourself a very long queue by joining their waiting list through Google.
B2J Suancai Soup, 151 West Spring Creek Parkway, Ste. 517 (Plano), 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday.