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Sep 28, 2011 05:03 AM

Seeking GTA restos serving certain kinds of Chinese dishes

When I was living in China in the late 90s, I ate so much fabulous food, including some very simple but delicious dishes. I have found nothing like it here, and certainly not the various forms of bean curd! I never learned enough Chinese to talk to wait staff about dishes I want, and I can't read Chinese, so I'm in the position of the average non-Chinese patron of a Chinese restaurant.

1) Some examples of groovy forms of bean curd that I pine for: [A] In Beijing I had tofu that came in the form of flat ribbons, served in a cold dish. [B] Elsewhere I had something (a fermented tofu, I think) that looked like green scrambled eggs (at a resto in/around Beijing that served very traditional dishes). It was yummy! [C] There was also a spiced tofu, very firm and very flavourful. [D] My all time favourite form of tofu was riben doufu, or Japanese tofu, with egg yolk in it. I have finally seen it in a store in Toronto, but I haven't seen it in any restaurants I've been to. I loved riben doufu. I used to have this dish that had broccoli, riben doufu and some kind of lemony sauce. mmmmmmmmm.

Where is there a GTA resto that serves doufu in forms beyond the usual, and where can I get dishes made with riben doufu?

2) I spent several months in Changchun and Shenyang and had all kinds of fab food there. I'd love to find a GTA resto that serves good DongBei food (DongBei = EastNorth, non-Chinese might think of the area as Manchuria). I especially love Di San Xian -- eggplant, potatoes, bell peppers, onions. Any suggestions?

3) In Beijing, I ate a delicious dish that was essentially a tangled mass of spicy deep-fried potato laces/strings. I forget the first word, but the last three words were Tu Dou Si (potato strings, I guess). Is there any place in the GTA that serves something like this or serves _any_ dishes made with potato? Until I went to China, I never knew that anyone there cooked with either potatoes or tomatoes.

4) Speaking of of my favourite dishes, wherever I was in China, was scrambled eggs and tomatoes served with rice. There were usually spring onions in the eggs, and probably some very simple flavourings (garlic, maybe?). It's never listed on menus in GTA Chinese restos, and I don't know how to ask for it. Would _any_ resto serve this if I asked for it? Is there a particular place I ought to go to in order to have it?

Are there any other Chinese dishes with tomatoes that you can recommend?

5) Finally, I absolutely loved breakfast in China, and my favourite breakfast was xifan (rice porridge) with pickled greens and veggies (including something pale and crunchy -- daikon????) and half of a salted duck egg crumbled into it. One place in Xinjiang laid out tons of little dishes of things to add to xifan, including peanuts! I also had mifan (cornmeal porridge) at that place, too. I also loved mantou (plain steamed buns). Is there a place in the GTA one can go to get a northern style breakfast? And I'm afraid that Cantonese congee is just not the same thing as xifan with the pickles and salted duck egg.


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  1. Hello vjb

    The dishes you eluded above are almost all ' authentic traditional house-hold ' dishes that are common in 'Mainland China' but will be hard-pressed to find outside of the country. Only exception might be in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    As I have remarked quite a number of times, apart from 'Cantonese' cuisine, Toronto is a wasteland for 'good' regional Chinese cuisine, especially Shanghainese, Szechuan and Beijingnese food. However, amidst this desert there are 2 relatively authentic places that might serve you the dishes you asked for.?!

    First one is ' The Old House ' in 3 Glen Watford Drive, Scarborough, whilst the second is Al Lah Kitchen just behind First Markham place, Markham.

    In fact I just had your 'Dish #2' last week at the Old House and found it very well executed with tons of 'Wok-Hay '. The sauteed potatoes were very tasty!

    As for your 'Tomato with egg' dish.. Quite a few ' Hong Kong style Fast Food Eatery ' like Richmond Court or Ken's Noodles do serve them. However, I noticed that dish was also available in the hot food counter of the Weldrick branch of T&T Supermarket. You might keep an eye open for them at your nearest T&T branch.

    Richmond Court Restaurant
    328 7 Hwy, Thornhill, ON L4B1A1, CA

    12 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      I think I know the plaza at Glen Watford Drive. Some of the restaurants' names are given only in Chinese, if I recall correctly. Will I see the English words "Old House" on the sign?

      By the way, Charles Yu, you may be the ideal person to answer a question I have:

      Is going for dim sum the same thing as going to "yum cha"? I went out a few times with my students in Guangzhou late in the evening to yum cha, and while there were lots of dishes of small things, those dishes were nothing like the dim sum I had come to know in Toronto. If yum cha is unlike dim sum, is there a good place in the GTA to yum cha? If dim sum = yum cha, is there a place that goes beyond steamed dumplings and BBQ pork buns?

      I left China in 1999, and I still pine for the food. sigh.

      1. re: vjb

        If you're a fan of fermented tofu, then check out Wei's.

        They have the ubiquitous deep fried variety, but the real winner there is the smelly tofu hotpot for $5.99. It's a stew so the tofu isn't deep fried, wonderful flavours with this one.

        Dim sum and yum cha are one and the slang, yum cha is just slang for dim sum. Literal translation is drinking tea because it's a good idea to consume copious amounts of tea to cut the richness of the meal.

        As for where to go for dim sum? Quite a few threads on those here. The consensus is on the Casa family, Yang's, Regal 16, Emperor, Lai Wah Heen. Do a search, you'll find more info than you care for to be honest.

        There are a few Xinjiang restaurants but to my knowledge none of them serve the breakfast items you're seeking. The one in metro square serves a pretty good version of lai mein, albeit I had it 2 yrs ago, chef could be long gone.

        Lai Wah Heen
        108 Chestnut St, Toronto, ON M5G 1R3, CA

        1. re: aser

          I haven't lived downtown for a few years, so I didn't know there's a Xinjiang restaurant in Metro Square (CBC/Roy Thomson Hall area, right?). Do they serve mutton kebabs? I had a _whole lot_ of mutton kebabs in Xinjiang. Many from freshly slaughtered sheep. When food was fresh in China, it was reallly, really, really fresh. I loved how they would bring you the live shrimps or the live snake you ordered before they cooked them/it.

          But it would be great to go to a place that makes and serves la mian/laghman (if I recall correctly, the 'gh' was a gutteral sound, like the 'ch' in Loch Ness). Did you get to see the chef make the noodles?

          Metro Square Cafe Restaurant
          3636 Steeles Ave E, Markham, ON L3R1K9, CA

          1. re: vjb

            I see by the Chowhound-inserted link that Metro Square is something in Markham!!!!

            Metro Square Cafe Restaurant
            3636 Steeles Ave E, Markham, ON L3R1K9, CA

          2. re: aser

            I looked up smelly/stinky tofu. Hmmm. I don't remember the green scrambled tofu in Beijing smelling strong. I'll have to try the Taiwanese smelly tofu. As long as it's not stinky like durian, I'm happy to try it.

          3. re: vjb

            The late night snack you are talking about almost sounds like "da lang" to me (at least what Cantonese people call it) As acer mentioned, most people here associate yum cha with dim sum.

            1. re: Wil

              Here are what these terms mean, at least from a Hong Kong perspective.

              Yum cha - literally means "drink tea", but also means the morning or early afternoon meal where you would have the small dishes like har gow, cheung fun.

              Dim sum - means a snack. It can apply to the small dishes that you have at yum cha, or in a western style late afternoon tea it can apply to cakes and pastries. In English it is used exclusively for the former. BTW in Chinese we never say "Let's go have dim sum", it's always "Let's go yum cha."

              Da lang - a Hong Kong term for a Chiu Chow style late evening meal, consisting of many cold items like crab, braised duck and tofu, and hot thin congee.

              It is possible in Guangzhou the usage is slightly different and as Wil said maybe you had "da lang" instead of "yum cha".

            2. re: vjb

              Fellow chowhounders aser and Wil have answered your questions on my behalf! Thanks guys!!

              Going back to your 'Chinese Tomato' dishes. Both Fantasy Eateries do a ' Stewed pan seared red Snapper with tomatoes'. Haven't been back for a long while since last time I dined at their Scarborough branch, the meal was a total disaster!!. Also, establishments like Richmond Court, Congee King, Queen.....etc, John's B-B-Q and Big Mouth Kee.... all do a Sauteed beef with Tomatoes on rice, especially at lunch time. The Big Mouth Kee version has added scrambled eggs to the mix whilst Richmond Courts version tasted a bit like sweet and sour pork

              Congee King Restaurant
              4271 Sheppard E, Toronto, ON M1S4G4, CA

              Big Mouth Kee
              280 West Beaver Creek, Thornhill, ON L4B3Z1, CA

              Richmond Court Restaurant
              328 7 Hwy, Thornhill, ON L4B1A1, CA

              1. re: vjb

                Adding to what's already been said, in HK terms, "siew yeh" (aka 'small things') is the term for late night snacks. Usually way past dinner time. It's similar to dim sum / yum cha in that there're small dishes of various foods. Sometimes just mini versions of entrees.

                Some other places to try for northern style chinese food:
                - Northern Dumpling Kitchen, in the Times Square plaza of Richmond Hill. Also discussed in this thread:
                - NorthEast Chinese restaurant, downtown. I had #126 last year and it was really good! May not be spicy enough for "authentic" but was freshly made (including the noodles!). The dumplings are a good deal, and similar to the ones I had in Xi'an.
                - In Markham/Scarborough area there are a few northeastern and shanghainese restaurants along the south side of Steeles, past Kennedy. They're around Star Walk Dr and the Scotiabank. Sorry I can't remember names right now... but if you take a drive you 'll probably be able to pick them out by name. Haven't eaten enough there to really review.

                Good luck!
                Maybe this calls for a chowmeet on north-eastern Chinese food? ;


                Northeast Chinese Restaurant
                476 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T1G9, CA

                Northern Dumpling Kitchen
                550 7 Hwy E, Richmond Hill, ON L4B3Z4, CA

              2. re: Charles Yu

                I forgot to ask:
                What is "Wok-Hay"?

                1. re: vjb

                  Wok-Hay is the typical aromatic flavour introduced by the wok over the course of its use. The flavour is developed by high temperature that the food reaches especially through the 'flambee' process when the oil catches fire whilst the food are being tossed in the wok.

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  Which other dishes are good ones to try at Richmond Court?

                  Richmond Court Restaurant
                  328 7 Hwy, Thornhill, ON L4B1A1, CA

                3. I've asked for scrambled egg and tomato at Cantonese restaurants outside of Toronto and had no problem getting it, you could just ask at your favourite place and see if they will accommodate you.

                  1. Actually, this "Japanese tofu" is tofu that may not made from soybeans at all, but an egg custard mixture (with or without soy milk) that resembles tofu. In Cantonese restaurants it is called 玉子豆腐. (玉子being the Japanese word for egg.) Waiters may not know what you are asking for if you order it in English though, and mostly this dish is listed as specialty items on the wall, in Chinese only.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Teep

                      No soybeans? Wow.

                      In any case, it's delicious. There was only one riben doufu dish I had that was ho-hum; it was in some kind of brown sauce (some version of hongshao, maybe?).

                      I've bothered to ask for it in only two or three places that had dumplings on the menu (figuring that if they serve jiaozi, they might have other foods outside the usual Cantonese menu). And I've only ever asked using its Mandarin name. But even if I remember the appropriate tones for a phrase, I don't execute them properly. So I might actually have asked for something totally unrelated to food.

                      I'll cut and past the characters in your post, Teep, for use in a restaurant.

                      1. re: vjb

                        I left China in 1989 so my culinary knowledge of mainland is much less current than yours - but you nailed it in the head since your search is really for simple tasty things restaurants used to offer before they went all trendy and overwrought.

                        I have been in Toronto for more than a decade and there are still only a few staple mainland restaurants worth mentioning - hope things will improve since the demand seems to be rising.

                        1. Cross Bridge Noodles Yunnan restaurant - located in Miliken Plaza on Finch/Miliken opposite the National Bank building. Simple tasty fare and decent owners ( no rise in price over last 5 years despite more demand - definitely earned my respect). You will find your tofu ribbon cold dish and I think Di San Xian too. Other recommendations are the seaweed salad, thousand layer fatty pork, mushroom green pepper fried rice. I like their noodles as well.

                        2. Old House near Sheppard and Midland (fore-mentioned by Charles) - it is the second or third one from the south end of the mall. Decor really not great but food to be had there is the Beijing staple Xia-er bing - meat filled thin pancakes. Good potato strings too. I am sure they can make you a decent tomato omelette as well if you ask nicely, or just show them these words -西红柿炒鸡蛋. I think the reason this dish is not on any menu is probably it is such a simple comfort food that most mothers make sure their kids learn how to cook this dish before they move out !

                        3. For Dong Bei food, best is still the Dumpling King chains - good dumpling varieties ( at least better than frozen supermarket ones) and typical stews and veggies like Di San Xian. I believe they have one in Scarborough north of Finch and Midland, and another one in First Markham Square on Hwy 7.

                        4. For the round egg tofu ( coin tofu in some of the English versions on menus) your best bet is likely a cantonese resto. I have had the stir fry broccoli and coin tofu in Peak Top restaurant in First Markham Square that is pretty good. Most of the casual Cantonese stir fry restos also offer a tomato beef dish which is tender strips of beef in tomato sauce stir fried - decent too.

                        As for your search for breakfast items - best bet is to find a Northern Chinese mother-in-law (assuming you are still on the market).... If not, head to a supermarket and buy the jarred pickles ( likely you are referring to preserved turnip chunks). Just bring them along next time you are heading out for Congee!


                        Dumpling King
                        3290 Midland, Toronto, ON M1V4W8, CA

                        1. re: Iron Buddha

                          Hello Iron Buddha!
                          To your #3, may I suggest adding ' Northern Dumpling Kitchen' inside Times Square, Hwy7 to your list! I found their dumplings, all with flavourful broth inside, one of the best in town. Especially the pot stickers with veggies and pork filling.
                          Say Hi to Royaljelly for me! Your two kids must have grown a lot since our last chowmeet?!

                          Northern Dumpling Kitchen
                          550 7 Hwy E, Richmond Hill, ON L4B3Z4, CA

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            Thanks Charles - yes a great alternative and we have tried and enjoyed it too. Parents been around and I still have a frozen stash of dumplings at home so I am good for a while!

                          2. re: Iron Buddha

                            Alas, I'm no longer in the market for a mother-in-law, but perhaps my husband and I can adopt a Northern Chinese mother. Is there an agency we can apply to? I can provide references!

                            I like the idea of bringing along some xian cai to a congee resto (and half of a salted duck's egg). :-)

                            Husband and I went to Old House just recently. I liked the Di San Xian, and I did get tomatoes and scrambled egg, too. It was a lot sweeter, and had more sauce, than any I'd had in China, but it was good to have. My husband really liked it!

                            Thanks for further leads, and thanks for the advice about coin tofu (how do I say coin in Mandarin?).

                            1. re: vjb

                              Actually in English version of the menu it would say coin tofu at times - but it is still YuZi (玉子)in Chinese. Good luck!

                      2. [A] In Beijing I had tofu that came in the form of flat ribbons, served in a cold dish. --- 百叶结 They’re served mostly in Shanghai restaurants either with port or with soup. You can print out the google image and tell them what you want.

                        Ding Tai Feng (鼎泰丰)

                        A La Kitchen (阿拉厨房

                        1. [B] Elsewhere I had something (a fermented tofu, I think) that looked like green scrambled eggs (at a resto in/around Beijing that served very traditional dishes). It was yummy! --- 麻豆腐 I haven’t seen any in Toronto.