How about a bowl of Lanzhou noodles?

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兰州拉面 Lanzhou noodles / 北方人家 (La Maison du nord)

兰州拉面 Lanzhou noodles / 北方人家 (La Maison du nord)

They are perhaps the most interesting handmade noodles I ever had. La Maison du Nord (北方人家 – Bei Fang Ren Jia), within a block from Guy-Concordia’s St-Mathieu exit, is remarkable for its pork sandwich, a common northern Chinese snack. It’s basically a shredded pork sandwich served with a variable set of seasoning, which can hopefully included fresh coriander leaves.

On the menu are also these Lanzhou noodles, another common eatery item. They are wheat-based handmade noodles, and apparently not always available depending on whether the “noodle master” is available to make them, according to this Chowhound thread.

Also on the menu, dumplings of many kinds, although not as many as their cousin Qing Hua Yuan.

北方人家 (La Maison du nord), 2130, rue St-Mathieu

北方人家 (La Maison du nord), 2130, rue St-Mathieu. 514-670-3188

Montreal’s Noodles and Dumplings: Noodle Factory (3 of 4)

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Fresh noodles

Fresh noodles

Noodles, fresh

Noodle Factory on St-Urbain in Chinatown is the only place in Montreal that makes its own Chinese noodles. The must-have is its zha jiang mian, or “fried sauce noodles”, which are wheat noodles served with a soybean-based sauce usually with ground pork in it. It’s really like a kind of Chinese spaghetti.

The other must-have are the xiao long bao — which would be a lot better if the long (steamers) could be a little larger. The problem is that pieces tend to stick between them, making the broth contained in the xiao long bao (the main attraction of those) be quickly evacuated through the parchment paper. In Montreal, they are still the best I’ve had. The skins could still be thinner, if you wondered.

Montreal’s Noodles and Dumplings: Making your own (2 of 4)

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Stuffing dumplings is a methodical business

Making dumplings is not a family tradition at all. My father occasionally makes wontons (once a year perhaps) in its most basic form of shrimp and pork and skins that you buy from the supermarket.

On the other hand, in my desire to be different from family tradition, I’ve been inviting friends over for many years to make dumplings. We treat it as a social activity, sort of to pay hommage to the cult of slow food – because making dumplings is kind of slow.

There was this time last month when coming home from a long day at work, I felt like making dumplings at home. I also happened to have a pack of frozen ground lamb (from Adonis, a Middle-Eastern supermarket chain) that had been sitting there for many months. Here’s what it looked like after I added coriander, green onions and seasoning (soy sauce, sugar, salt):

Ball of lamb meat

Then, I decided that they wouldn’t be homemade dumplings if I didn’t also make my own skins. In my first few dumplings parties, I always made my own skins, but found that most people didn’t and that it was so time-consuming that it started to have an averse effect on appetite… Skins are fairly simple: flour + water, until you get a ball of moist dough.

Using a plastic beer mug that followed me since one of those inter-university conventions of my undergraduate years, I would make individual skins starting from small ball (roughly the size of a large marble).

Spread the dough

Lamb dumplings, ready to get steamed

Then, you can either send them to the steamer or the frying pan. The fried option is perhaps tastier and requires you to add half an inch of water to a frying pan and a good tablespoon of oil. Boil the dumplings until the water dries out and fry both sides to get the crisp brown texture. Then, serve and enjoy.

It took me maybe an hour and a half from the time I broke open the flour bag to eating the first (steamed) batch. With a ball of lamb the size of a softball, I had enough dumplings for the night, lunch and one more portion for the freezer.

I must say that I still have trouble making skins that are as thin as those served in restaurants like Qing Hua Yuan. However, it’s a rather simple and easy meal to prepare; probably even fun to do with friends in any season.

Montreal’s Noodles and Dumplings: Qing Hua Yuan (1 of 4)

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Pork and anise dumpling at Qing Hua Yuan 青花苑, Montreal

Dumplings at Qing Hua Yuan 青花苑, Montreal

Dumplings at Qing Hua Yuan 青花苑, Montreal

Edit: Qing Hua Dumplings closed down in June or July 2009 because of a zoning issue. They are going to re-open somewhere in the Lincoln / St-Mathieu area with a larger location. Are handmade dumplings becoming the new sushi?

I discovered Qing Hua Yuan Dumplings (1240 St-Marc, corner Tupper) just over a month ago. Like a lot of people, according to this Chowhound thread, I’ve been waiting and waiting for a restaurant specializing in the Chinese dish of dumplings (jiaozi).

Well, there it is, opened by a certain Mr. Song, on St-Marc, just south of Ste-Catherine on what seems to be a residential block. It’s also really close to the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

About the dumplings, they can either be boiled, steamed or fried. The fried option: I never actually had it and doubt that it is even available. The steamed option is by far the best one in terms of experience, but not if you are in a hurry. It will take an average of 20 minutes to get your steamers of dumplings.

The result is something that goes unmatched in Montreal with its main qualities being thin skin and quantities of tasty broth. Qing Hua Yuan is also remarkable because its menu is almost exclusively dumplings. No General Tao chicken (thank Gott), and only cold Chinese salads (cucumber, or cabbage and vermicelli) as the “stomach-holder” while waiting for things to steam.

Briefly before the Mirror‘s Mark Slutsky and La Presse‘s Marie-Claude Lortie wrote about Qing Hua Yuan, you could order some beef noodles, which is a bowl of handmade wheat noodles served in a spicy soup with Chinese vegetable and slices of precooked beef.

Dumplings steamer

Qing Hua Yuan 青花苑 (Green Courtyard) - 1240 Rue St-Marc

Les nouilles chinoises à L’épicerie sur Radio-Canada

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Voici un reportage de L’épicerie qui a passé la semaine dernière à la Télévision de Radio-Canada:

On imagine souvent que les nouilles chinoises sont toutes les mêmes. Il en existe en fait plusieurs variétés, fabriquées à partir de farine de riz, de blé ou de fèves. Chaque région de Chine a sa spécialité, et il existe même des nouilles fabriquées spécialement pour l’exportation. La diversité se retrouve aussi dans la façon de les cuire et de les apprêter.

Finding potted Asian plants and herbs in Brossard

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Asian plants at Heng-Heng grocery store


Asian plants at Heng-Heng grocery store

Just as your local home renovation centre is bringing out flowers, herbs and other greens to seduce you, I found out on Monday that a grocery store in Brossard (Taschereau, where else), Heng-Heng, is in turn selling potted plants of all sorts: melons, chilis, herbs that you put in your pho (the middle pic, says Vietnamese friend).

I didn’t in fact buy anything there, preferring to settle for “Western” plants for now. They include the very versatile coriander, one that can be used interchangeably in dishes, east, west confounded.

Asian plants

If my notes are accurate, the three plants in the previous pic were, from top to bottom, chili, bitter melon and cucumber.

Most plants were priced at 2$ per pot. For a limited time, I guess.

Des oeufs de canard à la douzaine!

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Oeufs de canard du Québec

Voici un petit complément à mon article sur le nouveau Kim Phat à Brossard… C’est en explorant la section des produits laitiers que j’ai découvert comment se vendait le tofu en feuilles (enroulé comme des croissants), mais également que des oeufs de canard y étaient vendus à la douzaine. Ils sont également surprenamment abordables à $2,99. Sauf que la question demeure: se sert-on d’oeufs de canard comme on se servirait d’oeufs de poule?

La nouvelle Place Kim Phat à Brossard

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Place Kim Phat - 7209 boulevard Taschereau

Kim Phat 金發 Brossard (new one)

Fresh produce

Comptoir des sojas

Ça faisait des mois que je spottais le nouveau Kim Phat qui devait ouvrir au 7209 boulevard Taschereau près de la sortie de la 10. Ça a ouvert au début de l’hiver dernier, mais ce n’est qu’à la fonte des neiges (au retour d’une sortie à la cabane à sucre) que j’ai finalement pu faire mon touriste de banlieue.

Brossard n’a rien à voir avec Markham, et le boulevard Taschereau est à des mondes de différence d’avec Highway 7. L’espoir d’un café à desserts / hangout de twentysomethings en banlieue ne s’est malheureusement pas matérialisé, mais nous avons tout de même droit à un strip mall à connotation asiatique.

Il y a un hypermarché Kim Phat comme centre d’intérêt, qui remplace les deux autres de la même chaîne dans le coin. Sino-Québec, l’organisme communautaire sud-riverain lié au Service à la famille chinoise du grand Montréal, a transporté ses bureaux tout juste entre un magasin de thé et une nouvelle succursale de la fondue mongolienne Little Sheep (小肥羊). Le restaurant Kam Fung fait impressionant et le take-out coréen a l’air bien sympathique.

Pour ce qui nous intéresse en tout cas, il s’agit d’un autre grand supermarché asiatique/chinois qui s’ouvre dans la grande région montréalaise. On se plaindra sûrement que ce n’est pas aussi achalandé qu’un Oriental Food Market ou alors que ça n’offre pas une qualité imbattable (mais à des prix pas trop compétitifs) et des heures d’ouverture malades comme dans un T&T, mais on trouve quand même de tout sous un même toit.

Y compris une bonne soixantaine de variétés de nouilles instantanées aux dates d’expiration très suspectes. J’ai constaté qu’un bon tiers des clients n’étaient pas asiatiques – et pour cause, car les prix parfois bons et la fraîcheur (des poissons et fruits de mer vivants quelqu’un?) ça n’a pas de frontières. Mes parents, qui vivent dans l’Ouest-de-l’île, préfèrent eux aller chez Adonis.

C’est beau et tout neuf, alors ça vaut bien le détour. Comme au Kim Phat sur Jarry, il s’agit d’une grande surface avec des comptoirs à pâtisseries, BBQ, boucherie et la fameuse poissonerie vivante. À l’opposé, il n’y a pas d’espace commercial à l’intérieur du supermarché pour une bijouterie ou un restaurant.

Ouvrez l’oeil pour les paniers-comptoirs suspendus au-dessus des réfrigérateurs horizontaux!

Kam Fung 金豐酒家 Brossard

La Fondue Mongolienne à Brossard

Dae Jang Kum 大長今

Callia: a new Hong Kong-style bakery-restaurant sets shop in Chinatown

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Pâtisserie-restaurant Callia 嘉莉 麵包茶餐聽

Pâtisserie-restaurant Callia 嘉莉 麵包茶餐聽 (intérieur)

Pâtisserie-restaurant Callia (嘉莉/麵包茶餐聽) just opened over the weekend in Montreal’s Chinatown and I went to check it out.

I was initially surprised at how fast it appeared – I didn’t even notice that the former tenant, a Chinese restaurant presumably branded as upscale, had closed shop. The owners, I think, are from Hong Kong, based on the use of traditional Chinese characters. It is a Hong Kong-style bakery-restaurant and its restaurant part is better known as cha chaan teng (literally tea salon – but better known for that sub-genre of European-Chinese fusion cuisine evolved from the colonial era in Hong Kong.

Callia’s formula is the same as long-time incumbent MM Legende (Lai Tsing), which has been around for at least a good decade. The same stretch of De la Gauchetière between Clark and St-Urbain now has four different shops selling drinks and pastries. Is it going to be one too many?

Another cha chaan teng called Pêches used to exist across from MM Legende (downstairs from Bubble Tea L2 – where “My Cup Of Tea” used to be) but won the war of the cha chaan teng. Montreal Chinatown hardly sounds like a battlefield for this kind of business, but with Harmonie at the corner of St-Urbain, it seems this time unlikely that MM Legende could be able to compete solely based on looks – it is my grandparents’ one and only hangout place when they are in Chinatown.

Pâtisserie Harmonie
A customer browsing Chinese pastries at Harmonie in Chinatown

May - MM Legende
MM Legende, bottom-right corner

However, we have yet to actually try things out at Callia. It was incredibly packed today as the staff (interestingly wearing suit uniforms) was selling stuff at a big discount for the grand opening. The dining room was a big mess. We’ll give their Hong Kong milk tea and whatever macaroni-in-its-broth a try before giving any non-aesthetic appreciation of the place!

Edit (2009-05-03): Apparently, this place was opened by the people of Keung Kee, a few doors down. I actually ate at Callia tonight and it was pretty good. My dad got a brisket noodles, while my mom had a Yu Hsiang Eggplant (with bits of delicious dried fish). I had a Brisket Rice with a cream soup with corn (not corn cream) and of course a standardly good Hong Kong milk tea.

Yu Hsiang Eggplant

Beef Brisket Rice

Montreal’s other Chinatown in 2009

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Qing Hua Yuan 青花苑 (Green Courtyard) - 1240 Rue St-Marc

Thé Tapioca, Sichuan cuisine 川菜

Grillades Bizou - 2065A Rue Bishop

Chinesified patch of houses

Ste-Catherine & Pierce, Montréal

I took advantage of Good Friday to go out with my camera to take pictures in the neighbourhood west of Concordia University. A new Chinatown has been thriving there for at least fifteen years. It was my personal experience as a consumer of Chinese food that usually led me to this area. It goes back to 1993 when Soupe et Nouilles’ (Ste-Cath & St-Marc) concept of a soup and noodles fast-food restaurant with its kitchen in front was still novel to many Montrealers.

What used to be confined to North Americanized versions of Cantonese and Szechuanese (Sichuanese) regional genres is now evolving along the growing student and immigrant population from Mainland China. We now see an influx of new quick food restaurants that you commonly find in China, like brochette (chuan – 串) and homemade noodles, dumplings houses.

The pork sandwich, two loaves of flat crunchy bread with a mix of braised fatty pork and coriander (see picture), can notably be found at a cafeteria-like resto on St-Mathieu north of the Metro exit. Homemade noodles and dumplings (topic of a photo-article to be published) can also be found in the neighbourhood as a dumplings house opened on a residential stretch of St-Marc close to the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

General Tao Chicken and Orange Beef, ubiquitous in any Chinese restaurant ten years ago, are nowhere to be found in these of Chinatown West’s newest components.

Chinese restaurants, but also hair salons, “Asian-style” clothing stores now live side by side with Middle Eastern épiceries, takeouts and shisha joints. Whereas Chinatown is evolving in a very dramatic way with the building of a shiny new shopping and business centre, I find that Montreal’s other Chinatown has perhaps changed in a more gradual and low profile manner. And I’m sure it will continue to surprise me, at least food-wise.

View Montreal’s new Chinatown in a larger map

This article also appeared on Spacing Montreal.