Kat and I woke up somewhat late (which is when we naturally wake up without the use of alarm clocks) last Thursday, meaning that we ended up in Toronto...eh, closer to dinner time than lunch time. Which meant one less meal to enjoy in Toronto. But don't worry; we still ate more than we should've. Where'd we go first?
...Um, not Toronto Rehab...
The land of the Chinese! WE'RE FREAKIN' EVERYWHERE!!!
(By the way, if you've never been to Chinatown before and upon exiting the St. Patrick station you walk on Dundas towards the Chinese signs, you're going in the wrong direction. Chinatown lies beyond what you can see from that intersection. The other signs are decoys.)
What treasures does Chinatown hold?
I hope the restaurant didn't pay whoever drew that kitty; it looks pretty bad. Actually, it looks beyond pretty bad—it definitely counts as plain old unadulterated bad. If it were scrawled by a 5-year old at least it would have some charm, the only kind of charm that underdeveloped motor skills can give off. On the upside, it catches your attention. Not that that got me to each there, but now I have the name of the restaurant burned into my mind. Burned! That, and the image of an unintentionally frightening cat presenting a plate of what I think are pancakes. Or flat potatoes.
Ooh, dumplings! Not just any dumplings but Mother's Dumplings, which sounds far more enticing than "Crazy Second Cousin's Dumplings."
We were seated at a table right right behind a door covered in notes written by loving customers. "BEST DUMPLINGS EVER!", "MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT!", "I'D GIVE MY LEFT KIDNEY TO LIVE HERE!"; you know, stuff like that.
You mark how much of each item you want on a piece of paper, kind of like the way sushi orders are taken at some Japanese restaurants. I guess it's easier that way since there are so many little dumps. Boiled! Steamed! Fried! There are buns! There are noodles! It's like everything I've ever dreamed outside of the categories of "battling my incessant loneliness" or "increasing my self-esteem." I would totally give my left kidney to live here.
The first dish to arrive at our table was covered with little lumps of hand-made dough pinched together to hold in their bellies of ground pork and green pepper. The skin was soft, not too think or thin, perfect for holding the porky juices within. After a couple of bites each dumpling ceased to exist outside our stomachs. We needed more. MOOORE!
And then more arrived, this time stuffed with pork and dill. Dill? Yup, there are some interesting combinations here—nothing complicated, just untraditional. Kat wasn't sure if she liked dill before eating the dumplings; after taking a bite she realized that she did. Dill is one of my favorite herbs so I knew I'd love em before actually tasting any of it. If you like dill, these dumplings are awesome.
I've had some disappointing scallion pancake experiences at Chinese restaurants—too tough, too bready, too something—but Mother's Dumplings were as good as their dumplings. Soft layered innards loaded with scallion bits were encased in a thin, crispy crust. I wish I had had enough stomach space to try the other pancakes.
I also wish NYC had its own branch of Mother's Dumplings. NYC has plenty of places to get dumplings, but I want something with more variety than those 5/$1 places while still specializing in dumplings without offering a full menu of meats and vegetables and whatnot. I want a small homey place with a door covered in dumpling love notes from customers. And a giant plush manatee. Is it too much to ask for? IS IT?
Renée recommended visiting Kim Moon as an old school Chinese bakery. I suppose it must be quite popular as by the time I got to survey the bun selection all I saw were empty trays depressingly speckled with the ghostly crumbs of the buns whose baked bellies previously lied on the paper liners, buns that were snatched up by people who woke up much earlier than I did. I suppose I should've woken up earlier. ...Poop on me.
I liked the no-nonsense name Chinese Bakery, but is that really what it says in the Chinese characters? If I had to guess from what the characters resembled, I'd say the real name is "Man Battles Dragon With Flamethrowers, Locks Dragon in a Giant Cage and Is Crowned Hero of the City and Given a Honorary Parade by the Emperor," or something. Those pictograms do nothing, man. (My mom just told me it says "Big Dragon and Phoenix Bakery," so I got a bit of it right! Kinda.)
While walking up Spadina we passed an Asian supermarket. I cannot resist the pull of a good ol', grimy Asian supermarket in Chinatown. I swear they all have the same feel to it with their yellow fluorescent lights, worn out floor, heaps of produce, unidentifiable smells, and row upon row of imported treasures littered with Engrish.
Take this awesome walnut snack packaging. While the name "WALNUTMEATS" isn't completely incorrect, "WALNUTS" would have sufficed. And it would've sounded less funny. A corn kernel-shaped mascot sporting a red boot-shaped hat and one five-fingered hand lurks in the bottom left corner to give you an approving THUMBS UP for indulging in such an excellent treat. Not just excellent, but "The Best Food No.1," emphasized by a underlining yellow swish. The swish doesn't lie. Nor would Mr. One-Handed Corn Kernel. These walnutmeats are the real deal.
I didn't buy em.
I was intrigued by the can of Palm's Seeds since it didn't look like anything I had ever eaten before. No Engrish here, just weird, shiny, semi-translucent, ghostly looking beans, rising from the bottom of the can like a grotesque mountain of...ghostbeans.
Mm, Chinese pork luncheon meat. I have no clue what horrors lay in this can. Maybe I should've bought one to satisfy my curiosity.
You know how supermarkets have those last minute impulse buys right at the checkout, like a pack of gum or M&Ms or an eyeglass repair kit? Right before hitting the checkout I saw a Vietnamese Red Bull-esque energy and—like the bolt of inspiration Edison may have gotten before coming up with the idea of a lightbulb, but on a far less impressive scale, maybe more like the drizzle of inspiration the dude who invented Silly String got before blessing us with his invention—I thought, "I MUST TRY THIS DRINK AND SEE HOW BAD IT IS." Which is silly considering that I was never so interested in trying Red Bull that I was driven to actually buy a can of it. But as I said before, foreign foods are more appealing. I don't think I'll be going to Vietnam anytime soon.
It actually tastes worse than Red Bull! Gee wilikers! Worse because it's not carbonated, something that would've taken the edge off the feeling that I was drinking syrup infused with poison. I should've taken note of the ingredients, but I'm pretty sure the first was something like sucrose or snake venom.
As bad as it tasted, it wasn't gag-inducing bitter like coffee or alcohol. But I wouldn't want to drink a whole can of it, a combination of the gross taste and the fear of what negative effects it would have on my neural functions.
I poured out the remaining contents through a sewer grate, releasing a river of urine-colored fluid into Toronto's underbelly. Mm, nutritious!
We went to Ding Dong Pastries (yeah, we loved saying that name) for some bun action and ended up getting more than some...
...For when met with row after row of bun-filled incubators lit by a soft, angelic glow, you cannot help but pig out a little. Kat in particular gave a look of happiness usually reserved to waking up up on Christmas morning to a mountain of brightly colored gifts, except this happiness was directed towards buns filled with flavored mixtures of ground meat. She was instantly drawn to the savory choices while I went straight for the sugary.
Did we get too much? Is six items too much? Nah. All together I think the stuff cost $3.80. Man, I love Chinese bakeries and all their cheap, tasty wonders.
I think this is Kat eating a chicken bun. SHE IS ALL KINDS OF HAPPY!!
The chicken bun was kind of hollow, like a balloon made of bread with chickeny matter clinging to the inner wall, but it was tasty. So...yeah. That's all I have to say.
Nestled among the buns was AN EGG CUSTARD TART, one of the best desserts you could get in a Chinese bakery as long as you get one of those flaky many-layered crusts filled with soft, jiggly custard. Which I did. The crust seemed to be made of 20 super-thin layers of dough pressed together. I probably consumed it in less than a minute.
I didn't take photos of innards and such since I ended up eating my buns on following days for breakfast/lunch, but I recommend the taro and chestnut buns. Both were generously filled; the taro bun had taro CHUNKS in it, which I like more than a complete smooth filling, and the chestnut bun just has...so much chestnut in it. Loads. Like a sausage's worth or something.
On the glass that separated the bakery from the kitchen is a frosted version of the logo seen on this bag. For some reason the window version makes the mascot look like his arm was amputated and replaced by a rolling pin. We were kind of disappointed when the bag made it more clear that he was just holding a rolling pin with his nubbly arm—the "rolling pin for an arm" version was way cooler.
I tried taking photos of all the bakeries I passed by. Here's another! It was kind of expensive compared to other places (it had more French style stuff). MOVING ON.
I was more interested in Jin Cheng Bakery. It had lots of buns, cakes, cookies and a hot table of Taiwanese food! I don't know what I was smelling in their, but the smells reminded me of...something I would eat in Taiwan. Or maybe it was just sticky rice. Whatever it was, I liked it. (If you look at their sign you may notice that their logo is of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall surrounded by a halo of wheat. I haven't though about the hall or the surrounding park in ages, but now I realize I miss it. From what I remember it was quite beautiful and ginormous, a sanctuary in the middle of a busy city. Except that time I visited during the Lantern Festival and thought I was going to die from being crushed by a hoard of people.)
I bought some kind of cream bun. It had lots of thick, eggy cream in it. ....Mm.
We walked along Dundas Street until reaching the Eaton Center, a huge-ass partially underground mall in the middle of lots of entertainment and shopping and whatnot above the ground.
Although I don't love malls (having grown up with them in NJ all my life), I think it's kind of nice to have a clean, air-conditioned space where you can roam around for a long time in the middle of a city. That's what Kat and I did at least, so we could stop sweating so much.
I liked the careful placement of the Elmo head in the window of this Hallmark store.
Kat and I ended our fooding for the day with a small cup of Yogen Fruz (raspberry and black currant, perhaps). Tasty as always.
And then we went home. Cos we were sleepy.
Kim Moon Bakery
438 Dundas Street West, Toronto
293 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Ding Dong Pastries
321 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Jin Cheng Bakery
419 Dundas Street West, Toronto