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Nov 27, 2012 12:01 PM

Kwai Fei Chicken - help me find Toronto's best?!

Ok Chinese-foodie-holics, let me have it! I'd love to know where you think the best Kwai Fei Chicken in Toronto is. My Mom's 75th party coming up and I'm determined to make sure her favorite dish is the best one! Will go anywhere to get it.... just tell me where. THANKS ALL!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Looks kinda like this, if you're wondering what I'm on about.

    28 Replies
    1. re: dameems

      How is this different from "white cut chicken" which is found in Chinese BBQ restaurants?

      1. re: T Long

        TLong, I've never made it myself but definitely tastes different to me. White cut chicken (bak chit gai) is a regular steamed chicken, I think. Gwai Fei Chicken is free range chicken marinated in some special Chinese wine, and also involves certain Chinese herbs, methinks. Both are usually served with ginger/scallion/sesame oil sauce.

        1. re: dameems

          You got it almost right. Dameems! The marinade is actually a 'Chicken, Chinese ham, Pork bone base 'Shang Tong' broth' with herbal addition. Chinese wine is not a key component! BTW, here in town not ALL places use free range chicken in order to cut cost. Be sure to ask!! However, the places I mentioned above all uses free-range bird!

            1. re: dameems

              The Kwai Fei / empress chicken I grew up eating in HK in the 1980s, the closest rendition I've had so far is John's BBQ in Richmond Hill, in fact I'd say a dead ringer. Then again I haven't eaten at John's in 10 years...but their flavor brought me back great memories.
              I'm sure the ones Charles recommended are more up to date than what I've had and known and maybe better.

              The picture you added is a variation with a marinade/sauce, that arguably comes from the dish known as 菜膽雞, where the prep is virtually identical to what Charles described, except that it is normally served with mustard greens, and there's actual ham in the dish. So the pic version is a variation on that.

              1. re: K K

                That's very interesting. I had thought that what makes Kwai Fei special is that it is a different variety of chicken?
                After some wiki-ing, apparently it is originated in Beijing.
                I remember the chicken being lean and small but served with alot of juicy 'jus'. But then again, I always find chickens served in asian restaurants smaller in size.

                1. re: happycamper

                  @happycamper, I'm not entirely sure on the Chinese wiki entry for that dish, even though it claims to have originated from a play/opera/script is claiming this dish is Shanghainese in origin, yet their photo entry looks nothing like this glorious poached/steamed chicken. My guess is that the Southern Chinese/Cantonese interpretation of the dish is what we're more familiar with. The version with sauce has a bit of a Hakka Cantonese feel to it. The Hakka Taiwanese version is different, where they take large leeks or scallions and drizzle it also with oil, soy sauce (good in a different way but not called Empress Chicken).

                  10 years ago John's BBQ's paper placemats had some painstaking detail on their receipe and process of making Gwai Fei Gai....I wish I kept a copy from my last visit. Lots of ingredients that went into the marination.

                2. re: K K

                  interesting, ive had this before but i didnt really know it had a different name

                  my family friend at home actually makes it for me when i go to his restaurant

                  btw K K what are the characters for kwai fei?

                    1. re: K K

                      Yup! Thats right!!
                      Wow! Both west coast and east coast hounds getting involve over a chicken!!! Ha!

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        Lots of chicken love going on on Chowhound tonight... thanks for the education K K?! And happycamper too!

                        1. re: dameems

                          Yeah so I looked at the link you provided of the wedding banquet with the Kwai Fei chicken. The geographic location is Kuala Lumpur Malaysia which explains a few things

                          - The style of Cantonese there is very different than Hong Kong Cantonese, let alone Toronto/Richmond Hill.

                          - Kwai Fei chicken as we all know it, contains no sauce typically, even the version at John's or at my favorite KFC place in Hong Kong that's no longer in existence.

                          - There is arguably a lot of Hakkanese influence in that version of Kwai Fei chicken in KL. This is apparent from the abundance of large leeks or scallions shaved on top. There is a rendition of this dish called 蔥油淋雞 (Tsong Yau Lum Gai), where the chicken is poached or steamed, then drizzled with soy sauce and oil...the shaved scallion provides a boost to the dish...very popular in Taiwan (in pockets of Hakka Taiwanese communities/restaurants...and when range chicken is used, it's fantastic). The broth/sauce is definitely an influence from 菜膽雞 (choy dahm gai), especially if it was made with chicken and Chinese ham.

                          Not sure if there's any Hokkien influence in that version of the chicken, but it all looks very interesting indeed.
                          Seems like a fusion of three receipes...
                          The pork stomach stir fry Charles mentions below is also a great Hakka Cantonese dish. The key is sourcing a good cut of stomach, and it needs a slight crispy texture to it. It can be kicked up a notch if stir fried with XO sauce...

                          1. re: K K

                            K K, you are my new favorite encyclopedia! I suspect I was attracted to the photo (from KL) with the chicken in pool of sauce because I lived in Taiwan for a number of years, so probably ate it there at some point. I suspect the photo triggered a deeply buried subconscious food longing. Like others on this board, I dream of the food of my past.

                            Also, my husband is Hakka Chinese and we met in Taiwan, even though he's basically CBC (Cdn born Chinese) like me. So, there's probably more hidden meaning there as well. Anyhow, KL probably does Asian fusion the right way, not like here in TO!!

                            I am so curious about this Pork Stomach, it will definitely be on the Friday's menu!! Look for my follow up report! Thanks K K for the great info.... I miss Taiwan!!

                      2. re: K K

                        K K - ohhhhh now that you showed me the characters now i remember why i remember the name of this dish, i just had it in HK. but i remembered the mandarin name of the dish not the cantonese name....super awesome


                        1. re: Lau

                          Hello Lau!! Saw your posting of the food pictures at Hong Kong's Kwan Kee. Pretty mouth watering!
                          For comparison, I would like to show you pictures of 'Stirred fry beef with Gai Lan' here in Toronto. Not too shabby!! IMO, quality, wok hay and skill of execution very often surpasses a lot of Hong Kong's top kitchen!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            oh man that looks so good, i love good stir fried beef with gai lan if you get the wok hay right.

                            Anything with good wok hay maybe one of the most satisfying things ever with some white rice, any dish cooked with real good wok hay has to be among my favorite foods in the world

                            i want to go up to toronto at some point next year to get some good chinese, its so close to NY

                            1. re: Lau

                              Most welcome!! We can have a few chowmeets in your honour!!

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                definitely, email me at and whenever i come up there ill get in touch

                            2. re: Charles Yu

                              Looks good Charles, who makes your favorite Toronto Beef 'n' Broccoli?

                              1. re: satsumadan

                                Toss up between ' Judy's Cuisine' and 'John's B-B-Q'.

            2. re: dameems

              Pick from either John's B-B-Q at Hwy7 ( make sure to ask for the free range Lung Kong version ) or Judy's Cuisine. Recently, I actually found the 'pseudo-version' from Golden Shanghai at Kennedy and 14th tasted the best! ( pre-ordered item! ). Maple Yip also does a pretty good job! O'Mei version lacked coloration but the taste is good

              BTW, where was the photo from? Traditional version does not have a pool of sauce!!

              I have posted photos of Maple Yip, O'Mei and Golden Shanghai version FYI.

              1. re: Charles Yu

                I knew you'd come through, Charles Yu. That is a wonderful and detailed list! Thank you.

                Question: if it were your Mom's 75th which spot would you choose? We're going for Cantonese family fun. Doesn't have to be too swanky, but shouldn't be too grubby, either.

                I grabbed the photo off the internet... it's from a fancy hotel in KL:
                Maybe you know it? I was also curious about the pool of sauce. Would consider that a disaster if steaming at home but it looks kinda yummy in the photo, don't you think?

                Nice to see you are having such success with your Chowhound parties, Charles Yu. Way to go! Sorry I can't join you tonight. Have fun and look forward to what is sure to be a mouth watering report!

                1. re: dameems

                  You are most welcome!
                  Which day of the week are you planning for the party and how many of you in the party?
                  If weekdays and not too big a crowd, I would choose Judy's Cuisine. They have some wonderful 'wok-hay' stirred fry dishes as well! Also, you can pick Maple Yip, following our chowmeet footstep.

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    We are thinking of this Friday. There are 6 of us only. I read your posts about the steamed fish at Maple Yip, Charles Yu, very intruiging. If I'm calling ahead for a table, should I also reserve a special fish? What would you recommend, CY, you are the expert on all things Chinese-foodie, esp N of 401!

                    1. re: dameems

                      Yes!! Definitely order a Florida Garoupa when reserving a table. I'm sure your Mom will love it and bring back happy memories. As for other dishes, use our chowmeet menu as guide!!
                      If OK with you, e-mail me with the name you will be making the reservation with and I'll put in a word for you during my Thursday chowmeet.

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        Wow, thanks Charles, that is above and beyond, as always!

                        1. re: dameems

                          If you read Chinese, there are tons of specialties posted on the walls! One of my favourite is the ' Stirred fry pig's stomach tips with pickled Chinese Mustard greens and fermented black beans ' Great 'wok-hay' and textural feel!!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            OK, Charles, keep it coming! I'm wiping the drool from the corners of my mouth!! Just sent you an email. Thanks for the tips and for putting a good word in for us. My Mom is really thrilled with the choice. Will report back on what we ate, etc!