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What happened to our Chinatown??

o
OliverB Aug 20, 2010 12:27 PM

Why is it such a worn-out and run-down district and how did it devolve into such a wasteland of shabby and tiresome restaurants and empty lots?

Growing up 20-30 years ago, Chinatown was synonymous with eating out and typical Sunday night family dinners. I remember what was once a fantastic restaurant on (I think) St-Laurent on the block just above Renee Levesque. I forget the name of the place or the nice couple who owned it, but it had huge round doors and a parking lot to the right. I believe this place has been empty and decrepit for nearly 15 years now. It served your average North American style Cantonese/Szechuan complete with white plastic table coverings and big rotating lazy susans int he center. Chinese guardian lions and large Buddhist urns greeted you upon entering and there were wonderfully intricate painted murals adorning all the walls of what appeared to be fables from the far East that used to fascinate me as a kid. I remember my dad would make up stories to go along with the paintings. The bathrooms were downstairs. I'm sure someone must remember the name, it was quite a popular restaurant in the neighborhood some-twenty years ago. I truly miss these types of restaurants that were a lot more common back then. Places where you could order a simple Sunday night take-out meal of won ton soup, egg rolls, shu mei dumplings, Cantonese chow-mein, chicken fillets and black bean sauce with brocoli and baby corn, etc. It seems as though all of the restaurants that have survived the years have become so marginalized, bland and tasteless to the point that they simply to be avoided out right.

While I love that more authentic Asian cuisine is finally being offered in this city, I yearn for the nostalgia of these typically Jewish Montreal Chinese restaurants that used to serve simple but delicious fare. I just ordered from Cafe Wok on St Catherine after hearing good things and it was pretty awful. How did Chinatown fall apart to the state that it's in now and what happen to all the businesses... was it the separtist scare in the 90s that ran everyone out of the city and sent people packing for Toronto??

Where can I still taste the remnants of these old Chinatown haunts for basic yet delicious Cantonese and Szechuan? Is Kam Shing on Cote des Neiges the last 'decent' outlet for this sort of fare? What about the place on Somerled, is that still around and any good?

  1. l
    lagatta Aug 20, 2010 01:01 PM

    I think it is more that food cultures and neighbourhoods change, as you would observe similar changes in Toronto, except that the development of new Chinese (and other East and Southeast Asian) restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets and shopping malls is even stronger there. And of course Jewish food culture has changed as well, as there are many more alternatives that are somehow culturally acceptable to the old Ashkenazi community. Obviously Middle Eastern cuisines are a biggie for all my friends of this origin, whether they keep kosher or not. And the food you refer to may simply be out of fashion.

    It will be interesting to see what will happen with the new Swatow complex. http://www.swatowgroup.com/ Chinatown did get a big blow when a lot of it was torn down to build the Guy-Favreau Federal Building, and all the Quartier des Spectacles redevelopment is confusing and not conducive to visiting the area.

    Has anyone on the board visited any restaurants or other food-related businesses at the new shopping and restaurant complex?

    1. anachemia Aug 20, 2010 02:26 PM

      Oliver, is it possible the place you went as a child was Ming Do (1050 Clark just north of de la Gauchetière? As far as I know, they're still there...can't vouch for the food as I've only eaten there once several years ago.

      For old-school Jewish Chinese food that hasn't evolved with the times, the best time-warp place I can recommend is Yangtze on Van Horne east of Victoria. Both sides of my family have eaten there pretty regularly since they opened in the 1950s, and from what I hear the food and decor have not changed at all, save for a few additions to the menu. Their classic specialties are their eggrolls, homemade plum sauce (with fried noodles, of course) and Cantonese chow mein. In fact, there was a big spread about them in the Gazette when they celebrated their 50th anniversary not too long ago.

      3 Replies
      1. re: anachemia
        o
        OliverB Aug 20, 2010 02:41 PM

        Thanks anachemia,

        It's definitely not Ming Do as the place has undoubtedly been resting dormant for more than several years. It's one block up from Renee Levesque and would be sintantly recognizable due to it's large round doors and private parking lot on the right, which is a rarity in Chinatown!

        I do know Yangtze very well but didn't realize that the food was still up to par... I used to eat there from time to time years back. I'll have to give it a try sometime soon!

        1. re: anachemia
          c
          celfie Aug 21, 2010 08:11 AM

          yangtze is beyond disgusting now. their food is horrible - not even good junk chinese food. the eggrolls are still good and that's it.

          1. re: celfie
            hungryann Aug 24, 2010 11:55 AM

            i agree

        2. b
          blondee_47 Aug 20, 2010 02:39 PM

          Oliver sounds to me that you are craving one night of comfort Jewish Chinese to satisfy you: because while I, too, was brought up at Yangtze; all you have to do is go back for one night and order and you will quickly realize that while this food might be simple it is also far from delicious.

          Then the next weekend you can walk on down to the corner of Victoria and Van Horne and eat at a place that has become the 'new Jewish Chinese Food' place (Kam Shing?) and it fares far better in taste than it did when our parents took us out.

          Fay Wong also comes to mind when for the 'old' style chinese food you are thinking of.

          4 Replies
          1. re: blondee_47
            l
            lagatta Aug 21, 2010 07:25 AM

            Blondee, have you eaten at either Kam Shing (?) or Fay Wong recently? Do they do old standards, but with fresh flavours?

            There was a thread on this board about "Best Westernized", or "Unauthentic" or something Chinese.

            1. re: lagatta
              b
              blondee_47 Aug 21, 2010 07:35 AM

              I have eaten at both, and in fact recently, and of the two I would say Kam Shing beats out on that block by miles. Fay Wong is the old style Jewish Chinese Food restaurant with no distinct flavours between any of their dishes. In fact perhaps I could say their food is bland which is why most customers are our parents and grandparents. However they are in an area where most of this population lives and therefore they thrive. It is not a destination I would chose to eat at, but every restaurant has its place and those that survive as long as they have are doing something right.

              1. re: lagatta
                m
                mtlmaven Aug 22, 2010 06:25 AM

                Non-Authentic Chinese cuisine.

                This is the link you were refering to:
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6224...

                1. re: mtlmaven
                  l
                  lagatta Aug 22, 2010 07:52 AM

                  Yes, that is it, thanks.

                  My great "Non-Authentic Chinese" moment was a visit to Bill Wong's when I was a little girl, several decades ago. I thought it was the height of sophistication and exoticism, but I think I was around 6. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of current foodies, epicures and chowhounds had their cultural and culinary horizons first expanded by such food experiences.

                  Working-class and lower-middle-class families didn't go out to restaurants very often back then - it was a very special event.

                  -----
                  Bill Wong Restaurants
                  7965 Boul Decarie, Montreal, QC H4P2H5, CA

            2. porker Aug 20, 2010 06:34 PM

              I'm 44 yrs old.
              I've been visiting chinatown since about 1969 when the folks would have too much to drink then have a craving for egg rolls. They'd load me in the car and off we'd go - in those days, their fav place was a joint called SunSun on Clark, south of LaGauchetiere on the east side (its a hairdresser now).
              I'd nibble on some egg rolls, have a spot of soup, then sleep on two chairs pushed together while they had their fill of snails in black bean sauce (its about 2:00am or so...).
              Ming Do? From the stories my dad told, it was a loose and seedy bar called Lodeo (a western themed bar with the Chinese "pronounciation" of Rodeo). Seems very few people remember that place (the doors were the round ones on Clark, neon sign above blazing L-O-D-E-O)

              Ahhhh nostalgia, and how Chinatown has changed through the years. Yeah, OliverB, I miss it as well, but for perhaps different reasons.

              Whattyagonnado?

              I will say that I still feel good walking the tiny 'hood...

              1 Reply
              1. re: porker
                o
                OliverB Aug 21, 2010 06:41 AM

                I used to drive down for the snails in black bean sauce all the time too... It was always a last-minute resort for a quick sit-down meal with my dad. I guess nothing lasts forever. It's strange how quickly time can change a place though. It really is a different neighborhood now.

              2. c
                C70 Aug 21, 2010 09:39 AM

                last week I had THE CRAVING, and I was in NDG, so I tried Tchang Kiang, the dinner with the chick. chow mein, chicken soo guy, ribs, egg rolls, & rice. If this is the kind of stuff you're craving, I'd highly recommend it. I have seen their delivery boxes while walking dogs, and they use grain-fed chicken breast, the ribs were meaty and tender, and even the egg rolls were half-decent. for the price of $31 after tax for a HUGE dinner for 2, we were more than satisfied. It is what it is.

                -----
                Tchang Kiang Restaurant
                6066 Rue Sherbrooke W, Montreal, QC H4A1Y1, CA

                3 Replies
                1. re: C70
                  porker Aug 21, 2010 03:47 PM

                  Seems Tchang Kiang is one of the older Chinese restaurants, along with Chows near the Dorval circle, and OnLuck on Sources at the end of Dorval Airport Runway #7.
                  I've never stopped at the OnLuck, but everytime we pass, I tell the wife we'd better eat there soon (cheap western Chinese) or else they'll close and we'll have missed our chance.

                  -----
                  Tchang Kiang Restaurant
                  6066 Rue Sherbrooke W, Montreal, QC H4A1Y1, CA

                  1. re: porker
                    kpzoo Aug 21, 2010 04:39 PM

                    > OnLuck

                    Trust me, you wouldn't be missing anything. Very, very, very, bland, mediocre and tasteless. Did I mention bland?

                    1. re: kpzoo
                      porker Aug 22, 2010 06:49 AM

                      I'd still like to try it...but if it closes before I get there, your words will provide consolation
                      {;-/)

                2. w
                  whiskeytits Aug 21, 2010 03:42 PM

                  Haven't you heard? Chinatown has moved.

                  Introducing, Chinatown 2: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611866

                  Authentic is the best way to describe such restaurants as Maison du Nord and Qing Hua.

                  1. t
                    The Chemist Aug 21, 2010 04:33 PM

                    Would someone please define the term 'Jewish Montreal Chinese' for me please? I have never heard of this before.

                    I have to say the kind of food being described here sounds like the kind of Chinese 'cuisine' that us 'youngens' consider the epitome of outdated and obsolete. Personally, I cringe when I see General Tao's chicken on the menu of places like Cuisine Szechuan. I agree with another poster that this type of food is just very out of fashion, especially with many of the people frequenting chowhound. Perhaps this type of food deserves to be forgotten. Having said that, I'm sorry that you can't find something that you enjoyed.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: The Chemist
                      l
                      lagatta Aug 21, 2010 04:44 PM

                      Actually, I think General Tao's is more recent than most of the food the original poster is referring to. As for "Jewish Montreal Chinese', if you google Jewish Chinese Food or similar entries you'll find a lot about this culinary and cultural history, which almost certainly began in New York City.

                      1. re: lagatta
                        o
                        OliverB Aug 22, 2010 08:33 AM

                        Exactly, it's the kind of New York (Manhattan) old style Chinese take-out meals that provided hearty comfort food for last minute and latenight meals for many singles & families: Cantonese style chow mein, shrimps in lobster sauce, chicken fillets in black bean with brocoli and baby corn, bbq pork spare ribs, egg foo young, moo shoo chicken with hoisin, snails in black bean sauce, kung pao chicken, salt and pepper squid, vegetable fried rice, won ton soup and crispy fat overstuffed egg rolls.

                      2. re: The Chemist
                        c
                        celfie Aug 21, 2010 05:49 PM

                        general tao is hardly outdated. throngs of young montrealers eat it. while i agree it is cringe worthy, it is still probably the most popular item on most downtown chinese restaurants

                      3. c
                        celfie Aug 21, 2010 05:48 PM

                        perhaps the greatest mystery in all of montreal is the chinese restaurant on gouin at des sources. the outside lights are always on, the shades are always drawn. the parking lot is always empty with the except of a suped up honda civic from time to time. i have never seen anyone go in or out. i have heard rumours of this family or that family trying to order from them but quite frankly ive never believed these people because i couldnt imagine how they obtained the phone number! has anyone here ever dared approach the door. when i was kid my friends and i tried to go in but it was locked - 15 yrs later i am still wondering.

                        1. keelo Aug 23, 2010 09:55 PM

                          Jewishist of all Montreal Chinese restaurants... Yangtze!!!
                          4645 Avenue Van Horne. (514) 733-7171

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: keelo
                            b
                            blondee_47 Aug 24, 2010 12:57 PM

                            both these books describe what Jewish Chinese is...I have read both and both are funny and factual.

                            http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0061255599/ref=oss_product
                            http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/04465...

                            1. re: blondee_47
                              l
                              lagatta Aug 24, 2010 03:36 PM

                              Perhaps this rich and fascinating intercultural subject deserves it own post, but it would be on a topical board. It is probably mostly North American, and certainly mostly Ashkenazi, but I happen to have two close friends of Jewish origin in Paris who always seem to choose Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants (neither keeps kosher) and the storied Buenos Aires Jewish neighbourhood of Once (Eleven, think it was a tram line) is now host to an important Chinese community.

                          2. p
                            panpam Aug 27, 2010 06:15 PM

                            Mahjongg Bistro in the Ruby Foo's Hotel on Decarie does a good job with both authentic Chinese and Chinese-Canadian food. I think they're head and shoulders above most other Chinese restaurants in the city. They have a section of their menu that I think they call Ruby Foo's Specials that lists all the old favourites prepared according to the original Ruby Foo's recipes served from the 1940s to 1980s, including pu pu platters, dry garlic spareribs, egg rolls, shrimp in lobster sauce, etc. Most of the rest of their menu focuses on authentic Chinese items from various regions of China, including items that you don't find at other Chinese restaurants in Montreal. My wife and her family (from Beijing) like their shui zhu niu (beef cooked in a spicy peppercorn and chili pepper broth), pork tripe and preserved mustard greens soup (tripe is NOT for me, blech! but to each his/her own) and northern Chinese style steamed dumplings. Here is a link to a Gazette article talking about Chinese food nostalgia at Mahjongg: http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette... Also, search Mahjongg on this board and you will find a bunch of pretty decent reviews about the place.

                            1. dyslexicpimp Aug 28, 2010 02:05 PM

                              The little place on Somerled (corner Cavendish) I think you're referring to is Mirama, a take-out only joint which has been there since the 60s. They've been serving that style of chinese food for years. Love their cigar-shaped eggrolls, very sweet. The rest of the stuff isn't bad, but last couple times I ordered everything had a distinctly burnt taste to it. Think he's using the same old wok from the 60s. Hope this helps.

                              Street view:
                              http://maps.google.ca/maps?client=saf...

                              1. h
                                HappyMtl Aug 31, 2010 06:14 AM

                                In it's heyday, Ruby Foo's was the height of "Chinese Jewish Montreal" and one of the places in town to see and be seen. I remember going there as a young kid coming in from the suburbs and being completely dazzled by the experience. I later learned while going to school at McGill that Ruby Foo's was owned by a Jewish family - the Shapiros and his two sons who later became chancellor / president of McGill and Princeton Universities. Ruby Foo's is still partially owned by Jewish families but also now a Chinese family (Hazel Mah of Piment Rouge) who restarted the current Ruby Foo's/Mahjongg restaurants. The current Chinese restaurant is quite good - love the retro puu pu platter and sweet garlic spareribs in addition to the more authentic Chinese food they serve.

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