Trekking to the Toronto Suburbs for Excellent, Cheap Chinese Food
I was trudging through calf-high grass in an industrial zone just a couple of miles north of Toronto’s city limits. Having crossed through a car dealership, I sprinted across a highway and traversed a seemingly endless mall parking lot. There were now large swaths along the road where the sidewalk completely disappeared; construction was constant, and new buildings appeared to be popping up everywhere. I made a mental note to drive next time.
Why would I bother to spend time in Markham and Richmond Hill, when Toronto and its wonderful restaurants, welcoming public spaces and extraordinary cultural diversity were so nearby? Because I was looking for good — really good — Chinese food. And everyone I spoke to told me that the classic Toronto Chinatown, with the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West as its nucleus, while charming, had begun to decline in terms of quality. And so I was headed to the suburbs, to the corridor along Highway 7, an unscenic but pulsing artery of high quality, delicious and inexpensive regional Chinese cuisine.
Watson Zhang prepares hand-pulled noodles at Sun’s Kitchen, Markham, Ontario, Canada.
Back to my trek through the weeds: I finally made it to my destination, an enormous, generic-looking strip mall called First Markham Place. I wanted dumplings, and xiao long bao were prominent in my mind. I walked into Ding Tai Fung (not Din Tai Fung, the famous Taiwanese chain) for an order of the soup dumplings, which are shaped a bit like a flattened onion and pinched together at the top, and come steaming hot in a bamboo basket. The dried scallop and pork version (8.49 Canadian dollars, or about $6.40), served with a red-tinged vinegar and slivers of ginger, were small explosions of flavor.
Peaktop restaurant, in the same mall as Ding Tai Fung, specializes in Cantonese cuisine, particularly barbecued meats. I paid 11.50 dollars for a half duck that was covered in crispy skin, glistening and deep brown. I don’t love the fattier meats, but this duck was quite flavorful, if heavy. My dining companions and I were licking fat off our fingers on the way back to the car.
One companion was Suresh Doss, a local food writer and journalist who had directed me to a number of the places I visited. “Over the last 10 or 15 years, uptown Markham has quickly become the best place for Chinese food,” he said. Rising costs led business owners in the downtown core to spread out toward the suburbs. “The result — you have a large cluster regionally specific restaurants that use the commuting conduit of Highway 7 as home base,” he said. Additionally, he said, families coveted the larger, newer homes that were being built in northern Toronto suburbs.
Or as my Aunt Grace Kwan joked, “Chinese people like new things.” (It is a traditional Chinese belief that old houses, used cars and the like have the potential to be contaminated with bad history or disagreeable spirits.) She lives in Toronto and we shared a meal one evening at Congee Queen, which sounds like something you might read on a sash at a county fair. Regardless, the southern Chinese cuisine there is excellent, particularly the namesake congee, a hearty rice porridge to which any number of toppings can be added. We ordered the House Super Bowl Congee and received an enormous bowl packed with surf clams, shrimp, scallops, salmon, grouper and other sliced fish. It was a dish to bring tears to the eyes of any seafood lover, and, at 12.95 dollars, a fantastic bargain.
或者就如我的阿姨格雷斯·关(Grace Kwan)的那句玩笑话：“中国人喜欢新东西。”（根据中国传统观念，旧房子、二手车之类的东西有可能受到不幸的经历或者邪灵的污染。）她住在多伦多，我们到皇后名粥(Congee Queen)共进了一顿晚餐，它听起来就像是你会在县里大集的绶带上看到的名字。不过，这里的中国南方美食真的很棒，尤其是其同名粥品——让人有饱足感的米粥可以加入任何数量的配料。我们点了家常大碗粥(House Super Bowl Congee)，端上来的碗超级大，里边堆满了蛤蜊、虾、扇贝、三文鱼、石斑鱼以及其他鱼片。任何一个爱吃海鲜的人看见这道美食都会热泪盈眶吧，而且只卖12.95加元，简直太便宜了。
The other direction down Highway 7 and a short detour off Kennedy Road, one finds the Pacific Mall, a huge structure housing hundreds of businesses, including an excellent food court. At Sun’s Kitchen, I watched as a man prepared hand-pulled noodles with a satisfying thwack on the steel countertop. The beef noodle soup (6.99 dollars) with thick, chewy noodles and chunks of tender meat had a pleasantly savory broth that tasted of star anise. The other item I got there, the dandan noodle soup (6.50 dollars), was a riff on the traditional fiery Sichuan dish. The noodles sat in a spicy, peanuty broth that went well with a free glass of soybean milk.
沿着七号公路的另一个方向，从肯尼迪路拐进一条短短的岔路，就能看到太古广场(Pacific Mall)了，这座巨大的建筑里驻扎着数以百计的商铺，其中包括一个很棒的美食广场。在拉面王(Sun’s Kitchen)，我看到一个男人很响亮地把做拉面的面团弹到钢制台面上。牛肉汤面（6.99加元）里的粗面条十分筋道，嫩嫩的肉块饱含鲜美的汤汁，带着点八角的味道。我在拉面王还吃了一种非常流行的火辣四川传统美食：一碗担担面（6.50加元），这里的版本味道厚重。面条泡在辛辣的、有着花生的汤里，配上一杯免费豆浆刚刚好。
Nearby in the same complex was Fortune Star, a stand serving Hong Kong-style small bites. I ordered a small plate of spicy grilled squid, both tender and satisfyingly chewy, for 5.95 dollars that caused beads of sweat to form on my temples. I drank an ice-cold Hong Kong milk tea (2.75 dollars) to quench the fire on my tongue.
Enjoying familiar old standbys is great, but it’s always a pleasure to be introduced to a type of cuisine you’ve never tried before. At the Federick restaurant in the New Delhi Plaza I experienced a mash-up of Indian and Chinese cuisine. (They call it Hakka Chinese, though that term usually just refers to an ethnic group in China. The origins of the term in relation to Indian food may lie with Kolkata-born Chinese chefs.) The combo pakora (11.50 dollars) contains the items to get — big chunks of chicken, scallops and shrimp rolled in chickpea flour and deep fried. They go fantastically with soy sauce and black vinegar.
享用熟悉的传统佳肴当然很好，但品尝以前从没吃过的某种菜品向来都让人愉悦。在新德里广场(New Delhi Plaza)的福利酒家(Federick restaurant)，我品尝了一种兼具印度和中式风味的菜肴。（他们称之为客家[Hakka Chinese]风格，不过这个词通常仅指中国的一个族群。它之所以和印度风味的食物扯上了关系，或许是因为厨师是出生于加尔各答的华人。）这种帕可拉(pakora)套餐（11.50加元）中最诱人的部分，是裹了鹰嘴豆面粉、用油炸过的大块鸡肉、扇贝和虾。配上酱油和黑醋，美味无比。
The series of plazas we rolled through on this food crawl were, not to put too fine a point on it, unattractive. The New Kennedy Square in Markham was no different, a drab and squat complex. But it held one of the better and more imaginative desserts I’d had in a while. Woofles and Cream serves up Hong Kong-style egg waffles with different toppings in imaginative and unconventional flavor combinations. Some tastes are predictably delicious, like a red bean- and coconut-flavored waffle that visually resembles soundproofing in a music studio. Other combinations, like lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and seaweed aren’t as obvious, but work wonderfully as a savory counterbalance to the sweetness of the waffle. Alongside a big portion of matcha-flavored soft-serve ice cream, it’s the ideal treat. Both waffles cost 4.50 dollars.
坦白地说，我们在这趟美食之旅中经过的一系列购物中心并不吸引人。万锦市的新肯尼迪广场(New Kennedy Square)也是如此：一个乏味、低矮的建筑群。不过，这里的一家甜品店，是这段时间来我吃过的格外美味和有想象力的一个地方。Woofles and Cream甜品店供应港式鸡蛋仔，顶料有各种充满想像力的、不同寻常的口味组合。有些组合的美味是可以预见的，比如红豆和椰奶口味，鸡蛋仔的外形有点像录音棚的隔音材料。其他一些组合的美味可能不是那么显而易见，比如腊肠和海藻，但它的咸味可以很好地中和鸡蛋仔的甜味。再搭配一大份抹茶口味的软冰激凌，非常完美。两种鸡蛋仔都是4.5加元一个。
Southern Chinese cuisine is fairly well represented in the area, but there are some good Northern joints, as well. Northern Dumpling Kitchen, or NDK as it is known, serves some cheap and high-quality northern fare. Leek and pork dumplings (4.99 dollars) are savory and teeming with natural juices. The onion pancake (2.99 dollars) is a crispy, oily, reliably delicious stalwart. The cold dishes are where Northern cuisine really shines, though: cold, spicy and garlicky diced cucumbers (4.99 dollars) as well as slivers of savory, sour potato (4.99 dollars).
中国南方美食在这个地区得到很好的展示，但也有一些北方的美味。兴隆轩(Northern Dumpling Kitchen)供应一些物美价廉的北方食物。鲜肉韭菜水饺（4.99加元）咸香味美，饱含天然的汁水。葱油饼（2.99加元）酥脆油香，是绝对值得信赖的美味。不过，凉菜是北方菜真正的亮点：加了辣椒和蒜的清凉黄瓜丁（4.99加元），还有酸辣可口的土豆丝（4.99加元）。
There’s no better place to cap off a day of eating than with a visit to the outstanding Lucullus Bakery in Richmond Hill. My companions and I enjoyed a Chinese smorgasbord, if you will, of fresh baked goods: a coconut bearclaw and a buttery and crunchy pineapple bun (1.35 dollars each), chestnut bao with chestnut purée (2 dollars), and an almost comically bright yellow egg tart (1.35 dollars).
The most enjoyable item, though, was the iced Ovaltine. I’m biased because I drank Ovaltine as a kid. If you didn’t, you may find chocolate milk preferable to the sweet, slightly grainy, almost minerally drink. But if you drank Ovaltine as a child, it’s a must-try. The 2.95 dollars cost will provide you with a cold, syrupy blast of nostalgia worth 10 times the price.