Finding Taiwanese mandarins in Hong Kong

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Taiwanese mandarin orange

When I was living in Canada, I used to consume citrus fruits purchased in bulk with my family — a whole box of 30+ orange from Costco or crates of clementines from the supermarket. They make for a great quick snack, especially clementines, that are seedless and very easy to peel.

In Hong Kong, oranges are easy to find, but not so much for clementines. Since moving to Hong Kong, mandarin oranges (or 柑/kam in Cantonese) are the alternative. They are bigger, but usually have the trade-off of not coming in a seedless variety and are still somewhat harder to peel.

Mandarin oranges sold in Hong Kong usually overwhelmingly come from mainland China. Despite knowing about the Taiwanese ones, it wasn’t until recently, after consuming a lot of them as I was trying to shake off a seasonal cold back in March, that I paid attention to them. I even bought some a few years ago in my neighbourhood, but never realized how different they could be.

The mainland variety peels a lot easier, but the ones that I bought have always been drier and of varying quality (they taste fermented). Taiwanese mandarins are a lot sweeter and considerably juicier.

Taiwanese mandarin orange

Taiwanese mandarin orange

The Taiwanese ones are harder to find and you have to look to find them. According to a FAO estimate, 15.2 million tonnes of tangerines, mandarins, clementines, satsumas were produced in mainland China in 2013, compared with only 185,000 tonnes in Taiwan (around 80 times less).

In Taipei, I bought 8 for 100 TWD (~3 USD, so one is close to 40 cents) at a fruit shop outside Songjiang Market. The ones I bought on Friday were 6 HKD each, which is 77 cents, so roughly double the price. But if they’re specifically selling the fruits as coming from Taiwan and that the difference in taste and texture are so noticeable, it’s not surprising that there would be a market for them.

Sheung Wan fruit stall - Taiwanese mandarin orange

Sichuanese at the Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

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良品

I really enjoy going to cooked food centres, natural descendants of the Hong Kong dai pai dong. One of my favourite ones is on the 2/F of the Shek Tong Tsui market, in the west of Hong Kong Island, close to HKU. I’ve never known it by name and simply called it “the Sichuanese” (for the record, it’s called 良品 / leung ban) and used to go there with friends after work.

We returned to that market for the first time in maybe a year or two, and ate at the Sichuanese, where we hadn’t been back for even longer (last time, we had hot pot nearby). The bright yellow signs that served as menu were gone and replaced with something a lot more sober. I was initially afraid that the place closed down, but upon asking whether they had their trademark “saliva chicken” dish, to which they answered positively, I was at least sure that if it was new management (not sure if it was), they kept their old dishes.

I did the ordering: saliva chicken, green beans fried with ground meat, pork slices with garlic and shrimp with a salted egg “sandy/golden” sauce. And we shared two large bottles of cheap lager, which is what you definitely should have with a cooked food centre meal. Back in the days, they even kept Pabst Blue Ribbon in the freezer (or a very cold refrigerator), and the bottles would be covered in frost from summer’s humidity.

Pork slices with garlic / 良品 at Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

A bottle of Tsingtao

Prawn with salted eggs sauce / 良品 at Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

It’s too bad that I forgot to take photo _before_ eating. But it was just simply too delicious.

Saliva chicken is really more like a “mouthwatering chicken” than being made from any corporeal fluid. It’s a boiled chicken that’s then served with a mixture of chili oil, spices (including peppercorns) and maybe peanuts, garlic if you like that.

With bowls of rice and drinks, it was only HK$105 per person, and we were definitely full.

Making a Montreal smoked meat in Hong Kong

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Montreal smoked meat sandwich in rye flour bread with yellow mustard

On almost every trip home that I make, I would bring back a piece of my home back with me to my new home. This is my third attempt to recreate what Eastern European Jews brought to Montreal a hundred years ago, which soon became synonymous with Quebec’s metropolis (on par with poutine and bagels). The other times, I tried with pieces of beef brisket that were simply too small or cut for stews where you weren’t expected to cook the piece whole.

Before Easter, last week, I went to a butcher shop called Feather & Bone on Gage Street in Central that sold chilled Australian beef at a reasonable price (about 1/2 of what you normally pay at City Super). Beef brisket was HK$135 per kilogram (per comparison, 1 kg of smoked meat is sold CA$18/kg or HK$100). I got a portion worth HK$220, about half of the piece that the butcher had at hand.

I took out the extra fat covering the chunk of meat and covered it with a mix of curing salt (hard to find anywhere — I had to order it online and had it delivered to my parents in Canada), and spices in seed form (coriander, mustard and pepper), and a little bit of Schwartz’s mix (not necessary if you have stuff like onion powder, garlic powder or paprika).

For six days, I let the salt and nitrites in the rub be absorbed by the meat in my refrigerator. On Thursday, I put my brisket in cold water and put it back into the fridge. And did the same on Friday. Then on Saturday, I started the smoking, which consisted in having some wood chips be lightly burnt in a large pot that I destroyed in a previous attempt at making smoked meat. You could probably substitute this with liquid smoke, as suggested in the Lady and Pups recipe.

I steamed for two hours, but the result was pretty tough, like a roast. From previous experience with stews, I could definitely tell I didn’t steam it long enough.

Today, I steamed it again for myself and guests, and this time in a much smaller pot and for longer (around three and half hours). The result was absolutely perfect and felt and looked like what I expected buying at the best delis in Montreal.

(If you try this at home, salt and spice quantities are relative to your meat, maybe a tablespoon of curing salt per kg of meat, around the same quantity of regular salt. Spice mix should just be enough to cover the piece, and you could get creative, but coriander + mustard + pepper sounds just right. You’ll just need to prepare some more spice mix to rub again after desalinating.)

Montreal smoked meat pre-curing with dry rub

Montreal smoked meat cut in slices

After the steam today, you could cut into the meat as it was butter. The meat filaments would lightly break up and crazy delicious when picked from the plate mixed together with the beef fat and leftover seeds. The slices were served in homemade rye bread that I made on Saturday with yellow mustard spread all over the place.

If I had to change something next time, I’d probably try to source my pepper better. I’m not sure if what I got was correct (a random HK brand selling seeds from Malaysia). But more importantly, I’d probably use less salt and curing salt (with has 6% nitrites — which gives the red tinge to cooked meat). Despite desalinating for one day in fresh water twice, it was still too salty in the end.

The only effort really was in grinding the spices and waiting for the smoking to work. If I substitute for liquid smoke, maybe this could be extremely painless and a sure winner for future parties.

I’m always extremely happy to try making things myself, like back in the days on this blog when I explored for Chinese food in Montreal. Nowadays, it happens more often with Western food that I try to make on my own, because the restaurant equivalents are either out of price (for what they are) or denatured beyond acceptability.

Le cristal chinois (BBQ) 水天一色/燒臘

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Le cristal chinois 燒臘/水天一色

A new shop for siu mei, or siu lap, opened in the past couple of weeks. It’s called Le cristal chinois (水天一色 or literally “water sky one color”, aka the horizon), which is also the same name as the restaurant in the same building (presumably the same management).

This sort of Cantonese-style BBQ (the only sort, really) is popular in Chinatowns across the world, with its BBQ pork (char siu/叉燒), roasted duck (siu aap/燒鴨), white cut chicken (bak chit gaai/白切雞) and, my favourite, roasted pork (siu yok/燒肉, literally roasted meat, as if it were pig equaled default meat).

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The counter at cristal chinois

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Full on pork. Ask for the ribs part, if you can!

Despite raving regularly about Chinese food in Montreal and elsewhere over the years, Comme les Chinois has never written about siu mei. Siu mei is probably something just so default, so easy to pass over: my family has always ordered it for takeout when we were young and I would buy it on my way home when I didn’t have time to cook.

When I moved to Hong Kong four years ago, I would be constantly enthused to find it anywhere I go, including at the university cafeteria (at ridiculously low prices too — CA$3 for a rice and meat lunch). It’s simple, cheap and nourishing. And tasty. What more can you ask?

In Montreal, there aren’t so many takeout places anymore. In Chinatown, you got the one up on St-Laurent on the east side of the street, north of de la Gauchetière, and in the mall with the Kam Fung, across Dobe & Andy. Restaurant Hong Kong used to be the classic place for siu mei, but their counter shrank to the point that I wonder whether they still make their own. There may be some other places on de la Gauchetière on the pedestrian stretch, and I think Le rubis rouge restaurant has a stand attached.

However, the most prized item, the rice and meat (and double kinds/雙拼) lunch box, is a rarity and not frequently offered for takeout.

It’s hearty chunks of meat for $6 a box, with a side of Chinese cabbage, and $7 if you take a double kinds of meat of your choice. Too bad there isn’t enough volume to do suckling pig “on-demand” (as far as I know, in Montreal it’s only available as pre-order for takeout or in restaurants).

You can get the rice and meat combo at Restaurant Hong Kong for about the same price across the street, but it just isn’t the same in terms of your experience (no counter to check them meats out). Probably also at other siu mei places across town if they have warm rice on hand.

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The menu and market prices

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My double kinds of meat: roasted duck and roasted pork

Du caca pigeon avec ça ?

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En général, Toronto est synonyme de bouffe chinoise. Du chinois de Hong Kong, du chinois de Shanghai, du chinois de Chaozhou. Du chinois.

Pour faire changement, je suis allé bouffer ce midi chez Samosa King Embassy Restaurant, qui est également un comptoir à emporter. Scarborough, sur Finch, c’est près d’où mes grandparents maternels vivent, et c’est aussi à la confluence des communautés chinoises et indiennes (ou sud-asiatique).

» C’est du caca pigeon «, dit le paternel. Le caca pigeon, ce n’est pas exactement ce qu’on voit sur la photo avoue mon père, mais c’est comment ils appelaient le mélange de machins frits et d’herbes et de légumineuses séchées, un genre de party mix qu’ils vendaient au magasin de mes grandparents paternels à Madagascar. Mon père aidait ma grand-mère à préparer ce mélange, que je présume était d’origine sud-asiatique.

Mada, c’est aussi un haut lieu de mélange culturel. Une grande île sur la côte sud-est de l’Afrique, elle est au carrefour des cultures africaine, arabe, indienne, chinoise, et française.

Un des plats de prédilection qu’on a adopté dans la famille avait sans doute des saveurs de cette région : un ragoût de boeuf au gai choy (feuilles de moutarde), avec des tomates et une pincée de mini crevettes séchées. Lorsque j’étais enfant, je dormais l’été dans des draps venus de Madagascar aux couleurs indiennes.

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Yung Kee, a Chinese BBQ and cured meat shop in Marham

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When I come to Toronto with my parents, we will inevitably do a trunkload full of Chinese food that you can’t find in Montreal. It’s less and less the case nowadays, with places like Kim Phat and others like C & T in Ville Saint-Laurent, that opened while this blog was busy living in Hong Kong. There are however still some items that you wouldn’t be able to find at the same level of freshness or quantity of production or year round availability.

One of those things is the Hong Kong-style cured meats. We went to Yung Kee BBQ (Market Village, Unit A10) to grab some of those. The shop sells the regular siu mei, but also had the regular kinds of cured meats that are typical in Hong Kong. In Montreal, as far as I know, you can only purchase them vacuum-sealed in Chinese grocery stores. Not that having them exposed in ambient air is a sign that it is fresher, more “home-made”.

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My mom, browsing the meats

When we were growing up, we typically had Chinese sausage (dried, uncooked, Chinese spirit-flavoured) in the refrigerator drawer alongside dry Italian cheese, western-style cold cuts and Chinese dried fish. The other items that we bought yesterday, namely the cured duck, was a bit more of a rare sight. The preserved pork belly (I think they use a mixture of soy sauce as a base) was even rarer.

How do you prepare them? We did them in the rice cooker, while cooking rice. It seems like the typical way of preparing Chinese cured meats for the eating. You can either put them directly on the rice in the mid-stages of rice cooking, for extra flavouring (and fat all over the place), or just on a plate over the rice. It could probably work on a plate in a steamer too.

The sausages are cured, so could you eat them raw? I’m too used to eating them steamed to try, but some people do argue that they are cooked and edible, thus as good as eating those pepperoni sticks. :S

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Preserved duck pieces

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Preserved pork belly

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Chinese sausage (“lap cheung”)

A new siu mei shop in Chinatown!

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Was lunching in Chinatown today and stumbled upon a new siu mei shop on St-Laurent at the ground floor of the Swatow. Le Cristal chinois probably opened a few days or weeks ago.

Siu mei (BBQ pork, roasted pork / duck chicken) used to be my default lunch when I lived in HK. I’m always excited when something new opens in Chinatown.

I peeked inside and saw that they had rice boxes with a roast for 6$, only written in Chinese. Will try it out in the couple of weeks.

Kam Kuen Food 金卷: Lamma condiment shop opened by Montrealers

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Kam Kuen Food (November 2009)

I always thought I was the only Lamma resident of Chinese origin from Montreal. Well, that’s no longer the case.

You might think that in an overcrowded city of seven million people like Hong Kong, you would not know your neighbours. This is not true on Lamma Island, a sparsely populated locality of about 6,000 people, where it was in fact my cross-balcony neighbour who tipped me on other Montrealers living on Lamma.

I wanted to make a fresh dish of tofu tonight, and needed to buy a good chili oil. I remembered about the Chinese condiments shop on the main street that my neighbour was telling me about, stopped there on my way home, found the chili oil I wanted, and started chatting with the two owners, who confirmed their Montreal origin. In fact, they were as surprised as I was originally, saying how small the world is.

The lady said she grew up in Montreal, and finished her university there. I was told they were even of one of Lamma’s old families. Montreal has a tiny Chinese community compared with Toronto (or even Calgary, a much smaller city) and it’s always remarkable to find other Montrealers settling back here in Hong Kong. Some like actress Christy Chung (鍾麗緹) and Cantopop singer Denise Ho (何韻詩) even achieved household-name level of success here.

I’ll have to chat longer with these newly found Lamma-Montrealers next time. This island is definitely a place where you can’t possibly be anonymous in your immediate physical environment.

They are called Kam Kuen (金卷), Golden Roll in English, and are situated on the main street, next door to Green Cottage cafe, and diagonally across from Emily’s ice cream parlour. The small pot of chili oil with garlic was HK$20 (CA$2.54), and they said that they had a new variety of chili oil that also contains dried shrimp (蝦米) and smelled just like it — grandma would probably like it. Now that I know that the owners have a Montreal connection, I can probably feel good about buying tourist stuff from Lamma to bring back to my folks back home (it’s all made by hand in their shop)… G/F 32A, Yung Shue Wan Main Street, Lamma Island. Phone: +852 29820812

…now, how exactly can you use chili oil? With wonton noodles is a good idea, and stir-frys too. But tonight, it was, like I said, for cold tofu:

Bloc de tofu

Sauce pimentée faite sur l'île de Lamma... par des Hongkongais d'origine montréalaise !

Tofu chinois frais et huile pimentée

Un pain moelleux et dense à Hong Kong, est-ce possible ?

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Donq boulangerie, Hong Kong
Boulangerie Donq à Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

On dira ce qu’on voudra, mais le pain à Hong Kong… est fait au goût des Hongkongais. Ainsi, plus souvent qu’autrement, le pain que je mange à Hong Kong, c’est le pain tranché, marque Garden, communément appelé Garden Bread. Les miches sont hautes et font de grandes tranches.

Ceci est un exemple de pain tranché fait dans une petite boulangerie locale, Electric Road à Tin Hau:

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Pain style « Garden Bread », dans North Point

C’est du pain tranché, alors bon, pour à peu près 10$HK (1,30$CA) la miche (qui nous dure 5 jours pour une personne), on ne s’attend pas à trop… Il a un goût doux et quelque peu pâteux. Peut-être même qu’on y met un peu de poudre de lait.

Little Mermaid: le plus facile à se procurer

Alors dans les pains un peu plus sophistiqués, qu’avons-nous à mettre sous la dent ? Il y a d’abord la boulangerie Little Mermaid, qui est la plus facile d’accès en général. C’est une boulangerie japonaise (voir site du Japon), mais qui a quatre petits magasins dans des supermarchés city’super. Le pain est malheureusement beaucoup trop léger à mon goût et se conserve très mal si vous vouliez vous faire un lunch pour le lendemain. La baguette se vend 20$HK. Les petites pâtisseries sont bien bonnes par contre et soulagent souvent des fringales de fin de semaine lorsque je débarque de mon ferry, juste à l’extérieur du city’super du IFC Mall.

Facile à se procurer, parce que les city’super sont dans des grands centres commerciaux mainstream (pas des centres commerciaux super haut de gamme, comme les autres ci-dessous), et parce qu’on en fait en plutôt grandes quantités pour qu’il en reste à l’heure de la fermeture.

Robuchon: le meilleur à Hong Kong

Récemment, je suis allé chez Robuchon à The Landmark. Mon collègue me l’avait recommandé il y a quelques mois de celà, mais Robuchon est probablement l’un des endroits les plus inaccessibles pour de la bonne bouffe étrangère dans Central (idem pour Oliver’s Deli). L’atelier de Joël Robuchon est l’un des restaurants les plus reconnus de Hong Kong. La boulangerie était dans le restaurant au 3e étage dans le fond du Landmark. C’était à la fin de ma journée de travail, vers 19h30, alors il n’y avait plus grand chose au comptoir: juste un pain de campagne et une baguette courte au blé entier.

Baguette de chez Robuchon à Hong Kong
Baguette de chez Robuchon à Hong Kong

Robuchon : un pain dense et moelleux, comme il n'y en a pas assez à Hong Kong
Une baguette dense et moelleuse!

Le pain que j’ai acheté 14$HK était juste suffisant pour me faire un sandwich au saucisson et camembert, et il était certainement le meilleur que j’ai acheté jusqu’à ce jour à Hong Kong (Celui de Première Moisson à Montréal est probablement un peu mieux). La baguette ordinaire était toute vendue, mais habituellement à 20$HK. Celle que j’ai acheté, qu’on m’a dit être de blé entier, aurait en fait pu être un pain au levain, au goût quelque peu acidulé et à la réconfortante odeur de levure.

J’y retournerai et prendrai de meilleures photos.

Donq: excellente et accessible

The best French bread in HK comes from... Japan
Donq

En attendant, il y a deux autres boulangeries auxquelles je suis allé dans les derniers mois. L’une d’elles est la boulangerie Donq (voir la première photo). Elle était, avant Robuchon, la meilleure que j’ai mangée à Hong Kong. Le pain était croustillant (plus qu’à Little Mermaid) et se conservait relativement bien la journée suivante.

Comme Little Mermaid, Donq est une boulangerie d’origine japonaise et a deux succursales à Hong Kong. L’une est au sous-sol du grand magasin japonais Sogo à Causeway Bay, tandis que l’autre se trouve à North Point, près de la station de MTR Fortress Hill. Le pain est généralement bon (croustillant et moelleux), et on peut avoir du pain chaud à deux ou trois reprises dans une journée. Il arrive que les baguettes soit trop cuites et prenne une amertume marquée. Pour 17$HK (et plus longue et dense que chez Little Mermaid), c’est moins cher que tous les pains sophistiqués de Hong Kong! À chaque fois que je vais à Causeway Bay, je m’arrête toujours chez Donq pour m’acheter une baguette.

Simplylife: Pour faire changement

Baguette from Simplylife, Hong Kong
Simplylife

L’autre pain à essayer est chez Simplylife dans IFC Mall. Simplylife est un bistro style occidental et a également un comptoir à pain. La baguette est bonne, mais est plus chère que les autres mentionnées ci-haut, à 22$HK, en plus de n’être pas plus dense que celle de Donq et d’être souvent, sinon toujours, brûlée (à toutes les 4-5 fois que j’y suis allé). Peut-être qu’il y a une logique pour le pain trop cuit, pour une croûte qui reste dûre toute la journée (c’est ouvert jusqu’à ce que le resto ferme, vers minuit on présume), mais ça ne fait pas des baguettes trop appétissantes. Mais c’est aussi une des baguettes qu’on peut aller acheter facilement, car c’est direct dans le IFC Mall, en route vers les quais de Central.

Dim sum with my friends

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Dim sum with friends

We celebrated the actual St-Jean-Baptiste as it should at the dim sum restaurant (Kam Fung on St-Urbain). Frankly, dim sum, “small bits” Chinese brunch, may not always be my favourite meal to have. But in Montreal, it doesn’t get better, as a way to assemble our group of friends around the same table.

In fact, one good thing about Chinese restaurants is the round tables, instead of rectangular ones that you’d find in Western restaurants. It’s really nice, because I wouldn’t have been able to speak to everyone sitting around the table otherwise.

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On a célébré la St-Jean-Baptiste comme il se doit, c’est-à-dire au restaurant dim sum (Kam Fung sur St-Urbain). Mais pour être franc, le dim sum est loin d’être mon choix personnel de resto, mais y’a rien qui bât ça quand vient de trouver quelque chose pour rassembler tous mes amis autour d’une table.

Le resto chinois, peut-être comparé au resto occidental, a la qualité de placer les convives autour d’une table ronde, ce qui favorisera les interactions. Si on s’était mis autour de tables rectangulaires, je n’aurais certainement pas pu parler à tout le monde rassemblé ce midi-là. Alors, bravo au concept des tables rondes !

Dai Pai Dong in Guangzhou, near Xinghai Conservatory of Music

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What if you are in a city that you never visited before, and it’s 11pm, in a remote area and you are hungry? We were hanging out near Xinghai Music Conservatory in the northern part of Central Guangzhou, and wandered slightly off to get a really late dinner.

We were previously at the Ping Pong, an arts and music bar right next to campus (opened by a Frenchman, and also serving trademark French/Chinese-style rhums), with occasional performances by some brand names of Chinese independent music. Using the advice from one of the school’s security guards posted nearby, we set off to a nearby street some five minutes away.

As we arrived to it, we picked the one of the two that had more people. Seeing and hearing the foreigners that we were, patrons of the nearby table started chatting us. They were nice and soon helped us order some American beer (while we wanted some local Zhujiang) as well as some food, more importantly.

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Don’t (necessarily) let yourself be fooled by the looks. Indeed, the hygiene is questionable, and it’s not very clean-looking. They had live shrimp, but our friend Nick picked the dead and cooked ones b/c the former dwelled in too murky waters. Neither of us got sick on the next day, so we can assume that the stir-frying does its sanitizing job.

The shrimp was were in fact some of the best that I ever had, just because they were bite-sized, and have been perfectly fried such that the meat was still tender, and the shells crisp enough to be eaten whole. It was minus the head, most of the times, but I can believe that the fatty heads were perhaps the tastiest part of the poor animals.

Also had a garlic stir-fried veggies platter (choy sum) and “pork” fried with noodles. I wish I was hungrier so to be able to try more. But the shrimp were like the popcorn/chips with the beer (eventually a mix of Zhujiang and Bud in the same glasses that our newly-made friends and the place’s regulars poured for us).

The owner of the place is a quiet man surnamed Liu, who worked the kitchen with his wife.

In all, the three dishes (and lots of beer bottles) set us back about RMB60 for all three of us. Don’t be fooled by this post: there are tons of places like this one. The take-home message is that it’s always a good and safe bet to try a place that has a lot of locals eating at.

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Loving Hut: Vegan food in Hong Kong

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Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

Disclaimer: I am not vegan, let alone vegetarian. But my friend Kim, who happens to be vegetarian, was in town a few weeks ago. Often I would take the tramway from Central to Causeway Bay, and notice this shiny, flashy new fast-food restaurant along it in Wan Chai on same block as the gas station. The restaurant is called Loving Hut and is in fact a chain originating from Taiwan, but with branches all across the world.

Kim told me that the Chinese-style fake meat she gets in Montreal is often imported from Taiwan. In the Buddhist tradition, followers would have these “vegetarian” days, which I know as “sek zai” (my grand-mother would do these once a week or so, and have tofu-based meals for an entire day).

Just like at a Maxim’s or Cafe de Coral, you must order from a menu next to the cashier. Then, you pick up your receipt and present it to the kitchen counter.

When I went for the first time, I had red rice with mini tofu cubes. Now, I probably ate or saw this dish before in its full-meat version. The vegan version was no less tasty (maybe a bit salty) and I would definitely have it again.

Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

I also had a lemon basil seed (?) drink, which was served warm, and tasted sour with translucent seeds collecting at the bottom of the cup. There were char siu buns too without the char siu.

On a different occasion, now with three other friends, none vegetarians, we tried a larger variety of dishes. One was a classic yu hsiang eggplant, just without the ground pork. And then there was a bunch of noodles and a sweet and sour fried tofu.

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A days after Loving Hut, we went again for vegetarian food, but this time in a real sit-down restaurant. It’s called Gaia Veggie Shop and is situated in Goldmark, right by the south side of the Sogo intersection in Causeway Bay, in the building next to the empty lot (old Mitsukoshi).

My photos are super low-res, so I am not going to post them. It’s good to know that the goal of this restaurant seems to be to fool you as well as possible. I never had fake sushi fish before, but let me tell you that it practically has the same texture, The menu in fact never specifies that such and such meat is “fake”, and dishes are always simply listed with meat names in it (only that you won’t find any meat in the actual order). Thinking about what we ate already makes me hungry… Aside from the sushi, we had a broth served in a coconut, and beef-wrapped enoki mushrooms. There was perhaps a sweet and sour chicken in there as well.

Bakery renewal or when urban renovation goes through the stomach

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Pâtisserie chinoise La Légende - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Pâtisserie La Légende 麗晶餅屋 undergoing renovations

Pâtisserie Callia - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Pâtisserie-restaurant Callia (嘉莉/麵包茶餐聽)

Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Side of Pâtisserie Harmonie 麵包蜜語

Whereas the Chinese “food scene” (you can hardly call it a food scene when a city lacks quality Beijing and Shanghai cuisine) in 2009 has been dominated with the arrival of numerous restaurants and eateries opened by Mainland Chinese immigrants in Montreal’s new Chinatown, that of the traditional Chinatown on De la Gauchetière (between St-Urbain and Clark) was mostly revamped in the past two years with new Cantonese-owned shops, three of which happen to be bakeries.

Already in the winter of 2008, Harmonie (麵包蜜語) shook Montreal’s Chinese bakery standards by opening at the corner of St-Urbain and De la Gauchetière. Buns left to die on a colourless counter were a thing of the past. Now, Chinese pastries and other bite-size delicacies or cakes would be served in a decor on par with at least what you would see in Hong Kong or other larger Chinatowns of North America: lit-up counters, uniformed staff, floral decorations.

A year later in April 2009, a first competitor Restaurant Callia (嘉莉) was opened (by the family owning Chinese restaurant Keung Kee) across the street. It added the dining space and kitchen that Harmonie did not have, serving Hong Kong’s famed Cha chaan teng-style food of milk tea, beef brisket noodles and Italian noodles in Cantonese sauce, under big TV screens spouting soaps from TVB.

Now on my last visit of Chinatown during the Holidays, I noticed that my grandparents’ favourite (and personal longtime favourite, for lack of anything else) M.M. Légende took over the trendy “Asian-style” clothing store next door and hid behind wooden planks as it is undergoing renovations. For the past two years, I believe that it was to become the first casualty of the Callia/Harmonie combination. So instead, it renamed itself as Pâtisserie La Légende (麗晶餅屋) and decided to expand. Follow-ups would be greatly appreciated!

Maybe now this first casualty would be Dobe & Andy (right under of Kam Fung) if they don’t change. I’m now curious to see what is going to happen with this new huge space for a cha chaan teng, in spite of more restaurant space made available with the imminent inauguration of Plaza Swatow (長盛廣場).

Saturation, or serious signs of Chinese Montrealers moving back to Chinatown? My opinion is that this will largely depend on affordable parking space made available in the area from the Swatow building. Right now, paid parking is prohibitively expensive (no incentive as in downtown Montreal) and free spots can only be found four or five blocks away. A pleasure for nearby residents and public transit users, but a chore for a certain class of car-going suburbanites that I grew up with…

De la Gauchetière - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal