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Aug 20, 2010 12:27 PM

What happened to our Chinatown??

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?

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  1. 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. 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. 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

        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

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

        2. 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

            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

              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

                Non-Authentic Chinese cuisine.

                This is the link you were refering to:

                1. re: mtlmaven

                  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. 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.


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

              1 Reply
              1. re: porker

                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. 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

                  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

                    > OnLuck

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

                    1. re: kpzoo

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