Chinese dessert in Markham

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B仔涼粉 / Grassjelly + fresh fruits

I’m not (historically) the biggest fan of this kind of Chinese desert which we generally denominate as tong sui, literally “sweet water”, designating any kind of sweet dessert soup or custard. I don’t think the previous picture, that of a B仔涼粉, or a dish of grass jelly served with fresh fruits, actually represents “tong sui” per se, but it was served in tong sui place in Markham where I had it.

In Montreal, my friends and I would try to find a similar kind of place, but in vain. There was one restaurant Sai Gwan, literally West Gate, appropriately near Chinatown’s De La Gauchetière western gate, which had a glass-windowed fridge keeping various kinds of typical tong sui, like ginger custard (薑汁撞奶/燉奶), sweet potato soup (番薯糖水) or – a personal favourite – black sesame soup (芝麻糊). Another one was the short-lived Congee Restaurant (豐衣粥食) in Brossard, which besides serving more variety of congee I’ve ever seen in the Province of Quebec, also had a large selection of tong sui.

I say that I am not the hugest fan of tong sui, because for most of my life, I’ve associated it with the stuff that they give you at the end of your meal in any Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. I could not assess the quality of the stuff, but as it was given for free, and very strangely either red-bean or a tapioca-pearl-based, not the most “expensive” kinds of tong sui, the idea that tong sui was something cheap was reinforced until I recently attempted to rediscover Chinese food (such as realizing that bok choy could be cooked in better ways than your parents were used to).

Relatives and friends have always been more excited (or just inclined) to bring me, or have me tag along for tong sui excursions and detours. It’s not an idea that comes naturally – mais c’est une idée qui fait son bonhomme de chemin.

薑汁撞奶 / Ginger daan lai

The previous pic was that of a ginger milk curd that my once-a-Montrealer Torontonian friend had. Also known by its short name of “daan nai”, the milk curd is produced by the reaction of ginger juice with milk – some cheat by using eggs in their recipe.

Edit (2008-11-27): One group in the Hong Kong Student Science Project Competition even did a project on ginger milk curd in 2006 (see PDF presentation).

Daan Nai @ Yee Shun Milk Co.

The one made by Yee Shun Milk Co is one of the best known in Hong Kong. The eatery/cafe has two branches in Causeway Bay that I know of and more on the Kowloon side (see map).

Tong sui is a particularity of Cantonese cuisine, thus one with sentimental value to me. I would really like it if Montreal could just evolve beyond bubble tea and adopt more serious types of food by upgrading its current concept of a cha chaan teng for instance, just like Xiao Fei Yang (Little Sheep) helped push the idea/market for hot pot in this city. However, I live on a different planet, where just a clean place serving Chinese desserts where you can hangout with a laptop simply defy the reality of our demographics (even with the influx of Mainlanders, some of whom might find Hong Kong-style food natural to have in their Chinese food landscape).

At this point, I’ve given up on waiting for others to feed me – I’m more interested in how our Chinese/Asian supermarkets have evolved and are becoming better places for buying the ingredients to make all this food I don’t have access to (I just got a new wok with chopsticks for frying). Speaking of which, Markham’s Oriental Food Market (華盛) will be the next food topic on CLC.

4 thoughts on “Chinese dessert in Markham”

  1. ced, those pictures make me miss HK so much! I could (& did) eat at dessert houses all day…

  2. The problem with Montreal is that if you open up one a real “cha chaan teng” or “tong sui” shop, you’ll end up being the only one in Chinatown. After the initial buzz, people will go back to their routine by returning to the same mediocre restaurants. The solution would have to open up a bunch of them to create kind of a scene. Think of al the Vietnamese Pho places that can survive in the southern part of St-Laurent boulevard in Chinatown. That way it’ll be inbedded into their collective realm that “cha chaan teng” and “tong sui” ARE part of their landscape, and not some sort of novelty.

  3. J: Yes, HK was quite a rush, and I ate perhaps once or twice at dessert houses only. This is a pic taken in Hong Kong that is now hanging in my kitchen:

    Tong shui in Causeway Bay

    K: I think the real “salvation” for these types of establishments in a city like Montreal may also ultimately come from new immigrants from the Mainland, who are becoming overwhelming in numbers and will soon ask for quality hangout places… I wonder what the the new Swatow Place will have for food tenants?

  4. Mainlanders already have their authentic joints representing them from various regions, with CCTV tuned to all the time just like back home, so they’re ok. HK food culture on the other hand suffers from a lack of population base to sustain. Witness the massive exodus of MTL-HK ex-pat to Toronto temporary during long weekends in order to re-live what is lacking in MTL.

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