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hakka chinese food? 'splain please!

vox Sep 16, 2006 12:01 AM

what's the deal with hakka chinese food?

i live about a 30 second walk from danforth dragon, and in all my years here (4) have never ventured in, although i'm next door at sakawaya all the time.

i'm a born and bred fanatic of chinese cuisine, but i was raised in markham so i'm spoiled for the choices up there. what is hakka chinese cuisine? how does it differ? anyone recommend any particular dishes?

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  1. Vise RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 12:18 AM

    Hello vox... we meet again. :-)

    In the GTA hakka is billed as 'indian style chinese food', although I think the dishes vary from place to place. Think chinese prepartions with indian (ie. curry) flavours. It seems to be hit or miss on Chowhound, some people like it while others don't. Such is life.

    Anyways, my favourite is Lin Garden in Scarborough, it is considered one of the better hakka places in the GTA (at least for me anyways)... the chili chicken, house shrimp, and green beans combo does it for me everytime. Their chicken pakoras and manchurian vegetable balls are also great.

    As for Danforth Dragon... ordered from there a bunch of times, its ok but not outstanding (relative to Lin Garden imo). I think their best dish is the crispy honey garlic beef, but their chili chicken , chicken pakoras, and a few others are decent as well. Take a look at their site for their definition of what hakka is... and you can also search 'hakka' here, the topic has been covered a bunch of times.


    6 Replies
    1. re: Vise
      galambo RE: Vise Sep 16, 2006 02:51 AM

      while i have never tried the dragon, i have tried (and will NEVER go back to) the lin garden. Dry chili chicken, with little flavour. .

      In the west end my fav is the ming room. I have tried alot of their menu but their chili chicken is one of the best around.

      around the airport there is china garden also very good. (line ups most lunch hours)

      east end i like china cottage also a hot (and they can make it even hotter if you want) chili chicken

      1. re: galambo
        chalenegirl RE: galambo Sep 24, 2006 05:27 AM

        where is china cottege? thanks in advance

        1. re: chalenegirl
          galambo RE: chalenegirl Sep 30, 2006 02:33 PM

          pharmacy one block east of vic park, on the north side.

      2. re: Vise
        chalenegirl RE: Vise Sep 24, 2006 05:28 AM

        where is lin garden? thanks

        1. re: chalenegirl
          Vise RE: chalenegirl Sep 24, 2006 02:54 PM

          It's in Scarborough... Pharmacy & Sheppard, just south of Sheppard on the west side in a small plaza. It's actually right next store to Cafe Michi which has been discussed here as well.

          1. re: Vise
            chalenegirl RE: Vise Sep 24, 2006 04:32 PM

            thank you!! i will try!

      3. a
        Atahualpa RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 01:35 AM

        From an Ethno-Historical perspective, the term Hakka refers to an ethnical distinct group of people originally from part of China. The Hakka have been particularly important at various points in chinese history -- particularly the Taiping Rebellion. Theri migratory history and outsider status has led to the formation of Hakka communities outside of China -- particularly in Calcutta, Malaysia or even in the Carribean.

        Even Hakka cuisine from within China has elements that show influence from the subcontinent, but, Vise is right that Hakka cuisine in Toronto seems to have particularly strong ties to the expat communities of Hakka in Calcutta or the Carribean and taste strongly of those cuisines.

        For more info on the people try:


        Even if you don't like Wiki, there are some links at the bottom of the article.

        1. y
          Yongeman RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 10:14 AM

          galambo, I've had Lin Garden's chili chicken and green beans several times and loved them. I could never describe the chili chicken as 'dry'. Just moist, flavourful and delicious. On the other hand, I'd like to try some of the other places you mentioned.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Yongeman
            galambo RE: Yongeman Sep 16, 2006 09:34 PM

            we will agree to dis-agree. Lin garden is in the bottom of my list for rest. your maybe the top, so be it.

            Ming room, which i mentioned earlier is the best of the lot, with china garden a close second. There in the west is a place called bombay chopsticks, one of the first hakha in toronto. last time i went the service was not so good, but the food was not bad... a tad more money though

          2. Kagemusha RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 03:24 PM

            I'd really enjoy seeing some examples of "subcontinent influence" on Chinese Hakka food, simply because I can't see ANY. Hakkas(or kejia in Guoyu, lit. guest people)tend to be from upcountry Guangdong province and most are Meixian dialect speakers. They were once scattered around s.e. China, mainly in marginal areas but often took work at the fringes of urban economies. I guess their closest Western social analogue would be the Cajuns--uprooted, linguistically distinct, and culturally dissimilar from the larger society around them. So-called "Hakka" Sino-Indian food doesn't have much to do with any of this.

            1. a
              Atahualpa RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 04:12 PM

              Kagemusha, you're absolutely right. I wrote that sentence went away and thought about it and realised I had it wrong -- but, the edit feature disappears after couple of hours and now I can't change it.

              The cuisine is distinct though. Tofu and pork heavy, seafood poor and a sizable number of salt-cured dishes.

              1. designerboy01 RE: vox Sep 16, 2006 05:21 PM

                Hakka people are nomads and their food culture is adopted to wherever they go. Some of the most popular dishes are salt baked chicken, duck stuffed stuffed with 8 jewels, lotus leaf rice, are just some.

                3 Replies
                1. re: designerboy01
                  simonetai RE: designerboy01 Jul 22, 2007 08:16 PM

                  I've tried to find traditional Hakka dishes but it seems that when you ask at the Hakka restos, which are mostly run by Hakkas who lived in India, they say: try chili chicken or the Manchurian dishes....but I learned chili chicken was invented in the 40s in India...and why are these dishes Manchurian? They seem to have big indian influence - i.e. spicy. When you say Hakka - it seems to mean "Hakka-Indian"...Traditional Hakka is at home food because the Indian clientele don't eat it. And Hakka food is heavy in pork so the Indian clientele who don't eat pork wouldn't order it...so the restos don't make pork and serve halal meats.

                  1. re: simonetai
                    Westy RE: simonetai Aug 19, 2010 12:51 PM

                    My experience in Hakka homes: Heavy on pickles, preserved meats, stuffed tofu. Thick sauces, use of offal. I see posts further down indicating it starts branching out once it leaves earlier generations and moves away from China/Hong Kong. I would have to agree. I ended up loving Hakka-run Chinese/Indian food when in Bangalore.

                    1. re: Westy
                      Teep RE: Westy Aug 20, 2010 12:06 PM

                      Offal also plays a part nf Chinese Hakka dishes, since as deep fried pig intestines.

                      One reason why there is no Chinese Hakka restaurants is because that cuisine has been incorporated into the Cantonese repertoire and many Hakka dishes can be found in those restos.

                2. i
                  indianchik RE: vox Sep 17, 2006 02:44 PM

                  the best hakka food i've had is FEDRICKS in scarborough.. ellesmere and bellamy. (near mccowan)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: indianchik
                    galambo RE: indianchik Sep 22, 2006 12:02 AM

                    long ups and just so so food.

                    try china cottage or china garden or Ming room all alot better

                    1. re: indianchik
                      cwong5 RE: indianchik Sep 22, 2006 01:42 AM

                      Totally second FEDRICKS.
                      My recommend Dishes:
                      Chilly Chicken (It's Spicy!)
                      Crispy Chicken (The chicken dice one)

                      Although all friends usually like their "fried noodles" (Shanghai, whatever type), I find them too dired and flat. The noodles are sometimes unevenly cooked. ) I recommend steam rice with it. (I believe they come with the chicken anyway!)

                      1. re: indianchik
                        wordsworth RE: indianchik Sep 24, 2006 04:23 PM

                        Federicks is absolutely horrible and not just poor but unedible. It is cheap, which must account for its popularity.

                      2. j
                        julesrules RE: vox Sep 17, 2006 02:50 PM

                        I was totally disappointed with Danforth Dragon. I also live nearby and figured I had to try it since I'd never had Hakka. But it reminded me of the bad Chinese take-out of my youth - trust me, egg rolls still don't taste good even if they are free!

                        Just my own opinions of course, but I expected more complexity of flavour from the Hakka dishes. The chicken cilantro soup for exampe is just a very bland corn-starchy chicken soup with some cilantro in it. I ended up adding a bunch of salsa verde which is how I doctor canned soup. Other dishes are similar, bland boring sweet or greasy old school Canadian Chinese with something added to make it slightly different but still not good.

                        1. c
                          chimichimi RE: vox Sep 19, 2006 03:22 PM

                          I know this was originally posted for GTA, but perhaps someone knows about Hakka in Ottawa? This sounds really interesting!

                          1. b
                            Blueicus RE: vox Sep 19, 2006 08:32 PM

                            I have to admit that I normally equate Indian-Chinese food to be Canadian-Chinese food if the immigrants went to India instead of Canada and catered to these tastes. Not to say that it can't be good, but I also find that many of their dishes would be what I would imagine at a Canadian-Chinese restaurant located in Calcutta.

                            Oh, I went to Frederick's and that is exactly what I got when I ordered a lunch plate (which was admittedly disappointing). I'm going to give some of these other places a try, though before sentencing.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Blueicus
                              wordsworth RE: Blueicus Sep 20, 2006 08:45 PM

                              You went to Frederick's? My condolences. It's the worst Chinese food in Toronto.

                            2. w
                              wordsworth RE: vox Sep 20, 2006 08:44 PM

                              Hakka seems to have 2 different meanings. The one that I had learned from Chinese friends years ago on the west coast was that Hakka is an ethnic group with some specific types of food. For example, salt encrusted spare ribs would be a common Hakka dish. There were no specifically Hakka restaurants in Toronto, but you could get some Hakka dishes at a few places like Lee Gardens.

                              Now there seems to be this newer meaning of Hakka as Chinese -Indian cooking. I'd never heard ofg this until recently and am unsure whether it is related to the ethnic one.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: wordsworth
                                Blueicus RE: wordsworth Sep 21, 2006 04:43 AM

                                The Hakka are a subgroup of Chinese people, as explained above by a couple of the posters. A lot of Hakka emigrated from China to various parts of the world and most likely India too. This Indian-Chinese cuisine is probably simply an adaptation of traditional Hakka or Southern Chinese style of cooking to Indian tastes.

                              2. w
                                Westy RE: vox Sep 21, 2006 08:45 PM

                                Hello -

                                Worked and lived in Taiwan for a couple of years and my wife is from Hsin Chu (a city with lots of folks who are Hakka). My experience has been the food is quite salty, and as someone noted above, pork rather than fish-centric. There is a famous Hakka-stuffed tofu dish that is usually pretty good.
                                Linguistically, it reminded me of a cross between Korean (the same word in both languages is "mahkchoo", and Cantonese.

                                When I worked in Banaglore, most Chinese noodle dishes were dubbed "Hakka."


                                1. Nab RE: vox Sep 30, 2006 03:15 PM

                                  Another place in the Airport-Derry Rd nabe to check out for the "Indian-style" Hakka cuisine is Asian Wok'n'Roll. I probably would never step inside a place with such a terrible name, but on the advice of relatives, I tried it once and it was fantastic. Hot'n'sour soup, chicken manchurian, chili fish, it was all great. It's right across the street from China Garden.

                                  The Indian-style Hakka cuisine seems to be much easier to find than the other style that uses pork belly and swine in general. It's been said above, but I agree there are several interpretations of Hakka food, most probably due to the nomadic culture.

                                  1. c
                                    CHINESE DRAGON RE: vox Feb 5, 2007 05:54 AM

                                    Hello folks, I just want to tell people about my experience at Tangerine restaurant in Markham on 14th ave and hwy 48 (Markham rd). I must say that I have never been humiliated like this before. First of all the owner was very rude, and always giving me hard time to give me their hot sauce for take out, and then they started charging me for it, and even then the owner was rude to me by telling me why don't you ask for you food to be spicy, instead of asking for hot sauce, I even tried telling them that I don’t like their behavior towards me, but no response. The funny thing is that I was their regular customer for the past 8 months, and the only reason I went their because I was hoping that they might change their attitude towards me, and because of their hot n sour soup, but that doesn't even taste good anymore, and the food is not that great, so my advise is to stay from this place..

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: CHINESE DRAGON
                                      estufarian RE: CHINESE DRAGON Feb 5, 2007 07:23 AM

                                      I agree - tried it once a year ago and never went back!

                                    2. j
                                      Jammie RE: vox Aug 18, 2010 01:53 PM

                                      Hakka is the name of a group of chinese people as well as a language/dialect. A lot of Hakka people moved from north to south and out of china to India and Caribbean. I found that most of the chinese dishes in Jamaica are Hakka Chinese dishes, very very tasty dishes and very different from the Hakka dishes in other parts of the world such as Toronto & area.
                                      If anyone visits Jamaica and stay at www.thebluehousejamaica.com they will definitely get the Jamaican Hakka cuisine.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Jammie
                                        Kagemusha RE: Jammie Aug 18, 2010 03:14 PM

                                        "Hakka is the name of a group of chinese people as well as a language/dialect."
                                        Yes and no. The name Hakka might have stuck but there's slight--if any--resemblance between the Caribbean version and what anyone familiar with Hakka dishes in Hong Kong would recognize. The Indian influence is far more pronounced. "Hakka" food in the GTA is what's described above in the thread.

                                        1. re: Kagemusha
                                          Jammie RE: Kagemusha Aug 20, 2010 05:14 AM

                                          you are sorta right, the HK and Indian influence is far greater in the Toronto GTA, however, each country where the Hakka people reside have different types of Hakka cooking, I still think that the Caribbean version is much tastier, usually home cooked as the dishes are very expensive.
                                          I eat out a lot, I like trying different types of cooking and have been on a Hakka restaurant binge recently and am still looking for 'that taste'.

                                      2. s
                                        szw RE: vox Aug 18, 2010 06:57 PM

                                        In my small sample size of friends and family, I don't know any Chinese people (myself included) who like Hakka Chinese food. We all love Indian food though. I went once when I first moved to Toronto, as it sounded interesting. I thought it would be like Nyonya food which I love but I found out it wasn't like that at all.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: szw
                                          skylineR33 RE: szw Aug 18, 2010 07:26 PM

                                          You try it once when you move to "Toronto" - maybe you and your Chinese friend have not tried any good one ?

                                          1. re: skylineR33
                                            Connoisseur RE: skylineR33 Aug 20, 2010 08:43 AM

                                            Help me out... How does Frederick's land @ completely opposite ends of the spectrum??? Is it great or is it gross? I like it well enough but... I'm no expert and I've not experienced any other offerings.
                                            Inquiring minds

                                            1. re: Connoisseur
                                              estufarian RE: Connoisseur Aug 20, 2010 09:44 AM

                                              Federicks uses more 'heat' in its dishes than most. So it is one of the spiciest versions of Hakka. Some people crave this heat and are impressed.
                                              However, just because something is very hot, doesn't mean it is well spiced - a dominance of a single spice misses the complexity of a range of spices, so Federicks is somewhat 1-dimensional.
                                              I prefer a bit more subtlety in my spicing, so don't rate Federicks in the top layer.

                                              In addition, the food is inconsistent. Usually large helping of grease and occasionally over-tenderized meat.

                                              If you like your protein 'fork-tender' and the dish 'super-hot' then you'll love Federicks.

                                              I don't rush there, but have had a few satisfying meals.

                                              1. re: estufarian
                                                LTL RE: estufarian Aug 30, 2010 08:50 AM

                                                Which dishes did you enjoy during the satisfying meals you did have at Frederick's?

                                                1. re: LTL
                                                  estufarian RE: LTL Aug 30, 2010 09:27 AM

                                                  Don't recall exactly - think it was chili beef (taste good but beef tenderized), but could be confusing it with another meal.

                                              2. re: Connoisseur
                                                skylineR33 RE: Connoisseur Aug 20, 2010 10:28 AM

                                                I am not a fan of Indian Chinese food (ie. "Indian" hakka) just like I am not a fan of Canadian Chinese food. I am not saying it is bad and I know a lots of people love this kind of food. But for me, I will borrow estufarian's term "1-dimensional" to describe this kind of food.

                                          2. b
                                            Big Kahuna 1 RE: vox Aug 20, 2010 10:01 AM

                                            Hakka in Cantonese means "guest family". This referred to Chinese originally from the north of China who migrated south and had a very visible presence there for many generations. Their nomadic instincts also took them to the far flung reaches of the world, including the Philippines, southeast Asia, India and even the Caribbean (as has been pointed out by other CHers). The Hakka cuisine of my youth in Toronto was confined to a couple of Chinatown restaurants, most notably one small one on the south side of Dundas just east of Spadina. (the name escapes me and it was torn down a long time ago). I remember fondly the salt-baked chicken, the pork-stuffed tofu cakes, and a delicious slow braised and rich pork belly dish called "Kow Yuk" (Cantonese transliteration). Over time, these Hakka dishes became so popular that they were integrated into mainstream i.e. Cantonese restaurants in Toronto' s Chinatown and no reference was made to the fact that they were Hakka dishes. I was recently introduced to "Hakka" food that has seen the proliferation of small family -run places serving "Chinese" food that has been "Indofied". My wife and | walked into The Wok and Roll in Meadowvale Mississauga. We were surprised to see that we were the only non South Asians in a very busy dining room. We asked our waitress to recommend some dishes and she sent us a fabulous lemon chicken, a flavourfully delicious ginger shrimp, and absolutely wonderful Hakka Noodles. The portions were enormous and the prices reasonable. Our friends recently took us to Lin Garden in Scarborough. The hot and sour soup was mild but chock full of delicious ingredients. The Chicken Pakoras were very tasty and not doughy, an obviously Indian dish. The much ballyhooed Chili Chicken was disappointingly bland and limp. The Crispy Ginger Beef was soggy, not crisp and overly salty. I've had other versions in town that were dry and much better. The House Shrimp were fabulous ( I wish our friends had ordered more), and the green beans were by far the best I've had in Toronto. The Hakka Noodles were a little bland and lacking in toppings. Overall though, we will definitely return and try other menu items. The portions were large and prices ridiculously low. It seems that these dishes are the ones our fellow CHers most often mention, regardless of restaurant. We would like to be a little adventurous and try all the others. Our hosts also like Danforth Dragon and Federick's. It seems that to eat Hakka today means we are looking solely at this type of Indo-Chinese cuisine. It is very flavourful to be sure. I guess it helps that my wife and I both enjoy Indian cuisine very much. However, our preference will always be for the good Hong Kong style Cantonese cuisine with which you are familiar.

                                            Danforth Dragon
                                            861 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J, CA

                                            Lin Garden
                                            1806 Pharmacy Ave, Toronto, ON M1T1H6, CA

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Big Kahuna 1
                                              dyson17 RE: Big Kahuna 1 Aug 20, 2010 03:26 PM

                                              Excellent write up of Hakka origins Big Kahuna.
                                              I need to reiterate that the Hakka food in Toronto bears no resemblance to the original Hakka food found in many parts of the world.In Malaysia for example authentic Hakka food has a very strong presence. I would describe Hakka food as more "country style", very pork centric as described by other posters here.One of their signature dish is " kow yuk" (barised pork belyl with yam) as described by Big Kahuna and the other is "Yong Tow Foo" which is fish paste stuffed tofu cakes, eggplant ,bitter gourd etc.If anyone knows of an authetnic Hakka in TO ,please share.

                                              1. re: dyson17
                                                raebmv RE: dyson17 Aug 20, 2010 09:13 PM

                                                +1. If anyone knows where I can get (non-Indian) Hakka food in TO, please share. And not at your grandma's house, please - unless you can score us all invites ;) I was in for a surprise the first time someone brought me to a Hakka restaurant in Toronto. I am a big fan of this style now, but it was certainly not what I had in mind.

                                                1. re: raebmv
                                                  antonego07 RE: raebmv Sep 8, 2010 06:16 AM

                                                  Yeah, something like this:


                                                  Although I ate the same in Meixian/Meizhou.

                                            2. c
                                              chowbunny RE: vox Oct 12, 2010 12:29 PM

                                              While I tend to find fusion cuisine rather boring and misdirected, I have to say that I had some fantastic food at Wang's Kitchen in Mississagua.

                                              A few months back Mr. Chowbunny and I were driving back from the Waterloo area on our way to Ottawa. We had hoped to stop for dinner at Saravana Bhavan at Eglinton and Hurontario. Unfortunately, it was just closing. So we had a look at the menu of the place next door... and we were so glad we did.

                                              I don't care whether you call it Hakka or Indian-Chinese. It was unexpected, and VERY tasty. As I said before, I generally don't like fusion cuisines (with the exception of some of the Caribbean cuisines). It was just spicy, tasty, and awesome.


                                              1. Charles Yu RE: vox Oct 12, 2010 04:46 PM

                                                Although Toronto does not have any 'authentic 'pure' Hakka cuisine restaurant'. However, since the original Hakka people resided in South Eastern China like Guangdong and Fujian, a lot of Cantonese restaurants in town do carry some famous Hakka dishes.
                                                They are: ' Dung Gong Yim Guk Gai '- Salt baked chicken
                                                ' Noh Mi Ap ' - Baked/braised duck stuffed with gluitinous rice.
                                                ' Mui Choi Kau Yuk - Sliced pork belly with preserved mustard greens
                                                ' Yeung Dow Fu - Stuffed tofu with various minced shrimp or pork paste
                                                The aforementioned dishes tasted totally different and less spicy than the ' mutated Indian Hakka versions'!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Charles Yu
                                                  estufarian RE: Charles Yu Oct 12, 2010 05:07 PM

                                                  Certainly most of the places I've tried have tended towards Indian cuisine (rather than SE China).

                                                  BUT I recently passed a new place
                                                  Spicy Hot Rock Chinese Restaurant that advertises Hakka Food.
                                                  3460 Danforth Ave (just east of Danforth Road).
                                                  Certainly, the name suggests that they may feature more 'Chinese style' - but I can't locate a menu. Has anyone else tried this place (it's a bit out of my way) and/or can report back?

                                                2. jingloh RE: vox Oct 12, 2010 06:56 PM

                                                  The term Hakka Chinese food can be used in many variations such as Jamaican Chinese or even Cuban Chinese. Hakka food is really food from an ethnic group of "gypsies" that traversed the world. I'm Hakka Chinese and I've had a hard time finding true Hakka food. In Toronto, Hakka food is generally used for Indian Hakka, of which the food is quiet different from Hakka Chinese from China or Malaysia. In terms of Hakka food, you can think of fish pasted things like eggplants or tofu, the ones you get at dim sum. You can also find some variation at Asian Legend, like their fatty pork belly with preserved vegetables, one of my favourites!

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