Restaurant Hong Kong

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Restaurant Hong Kong, Boulevard St-Laurent

Je ne vais plus au restaurant Hong Kong, sur Saint-Laurent à Montréal. Lorsque j’y suis retourné la semaine dernière, juste pour voir, pas pour manger, j’ai remarqué qu’on avait complètement changé l’intérieur, et qu’on avait tout enlevé le mur qui séparait le comptoir du BBQ chinois du reste de la salle à manger.

Le Hong Kong est probablement l’un des plus vieux restaurants chinois du Quartier chinois qui soit encore debout aujourd’hui. Dans les années 80, lorsque j’étais enfant, je me souviens qu’en bas du Hong Kong, il y avait une poissonnerie du nom de Kowloon. Comme une blague que seuls ceux qui connaissent Hong Kong comprendront (car sur le territoire de Hong Kong, Kowloon est la partie péninsulaire en face de l’île appelée Hong Kong).

Dans un des premiers articles de ce blogue, écrit il y a plus de deux ans, je reprenais des photos prises du Chinatonwn par mon père en 1984. Le restaurant Hong Kong existait déjà, mais c’était une épicerie sur de la Gauchetière, avant qu’un incendie vienne la ravager quelques années (mois?) plus tard. Ça, je ne m’en souviens pas du tout.

Boulevard St-Laurent 1984
Boulevard St-Laurent en 1984, photo par Jean-Pierre Sam

Viewshop, 1972 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest

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Viewshop, 1972 Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, Montreal

Viewshop, 1972 Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, Montreal

I know that I should stop amazing for these things, but I just can’t help it. These are photos of a new shop on rue Ste-Catherine Ouest in Montreal (near du Fort). It has been replacing the old Movieland (physical world video rental, what a backward business model) for at least the past month, I asked one of the clerks. It is basically borrowing from the concept of small shops within a big one that you see a lot over here in my corner of Asia.

Viewshop is like the little brother of the department store model. Most of the shop(s) belongs to its owners, but small open spaces within it are rented out to tenants, such as the Korean cosmetics booth (Korean brands like LaNeige are hugely popular all across China).

Some of the products sold in the shop are remarkably Chinese. They could be sold in some upscale-ish store in Shanghai or Hong Kong, I feel. On one side, it’s all clothing, all for women I think, and on the other, you would find various electronics gadgets (alarm clocks, USB cup heaters) and fancy stationery (an apple-shaped notepad?). Then, a small (bubble tea) café, and the cosmetics.

Yes, the owners are Chinese, after I asked, but wasn’t that already obvious? Yup, that is Montreal’s other Chinatown, far from Asian fonts clichés.

San Francisco Chinatown — Colours of Chinatown

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San Francisco Chinatown - Far East Flea Market

Maybe I became colour-blind with Montreal’s Chinatown, but San Francisco’s struck me in awe as spectacularly multicoloured — especially in shades of fluorescent orange, green and yellow. Well contrasted with generous usage of the Asian font and you find a Chinese America from a past era, or at least, forever stuck in a generation’s imagination of what a Chinatown should look like.

Somehow, it’s an interesting walk, in the same way a walk at Windows of the World is interesting.

San Francisco Chinatown

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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

Mapping Chinatown, Visioning Your Chinatown

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Mapping Toronto Chinatown

If you are in Toronto on September 12th and are interested about the history of its Chinatown, be sure not to miss Mapping Chinatown, a Walkabout around Toronto’s Downtown Chinatown.

Toronto East Chinatown

In the same theme, that of Toronto’s old Chinatown, I recently found out about East Chinatown (in Riverdale), which I read about on Spacing Toronto.

Ming Do + street vendors

Sun Yat-Sen Park

Montreal’s own Chinatown is changing. In this past decade and a half, a new Chinatown has emerged further west, close to Concordia University. My uncle and aunt who were visiting Montreal this summer, after being abroad in Hong Kong for more than 10 years now, told me that they were not aware of this second Chinatown. When she was a student at Concordia, my aunt never noticed such concentration of Chinese-owned restaurants and boutiques. (It was also a time when they could watch Hong Kong films in a movie theatre in Chinatown and see big Cantopop stars perform in the city.)

I’m very curious to see what Plaza Swatow, what seems to be the largest Chinese commercial centre in Montreal ever, will bring to our Chinatown(s) in the coming year.