September 1, 2007

Toronto: Day 4

GO trains
GO trains

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?

TORONTO REHAB
Rehab

...Um, not Toronto Rehab...

signs
Chinatown

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?

GREEDY KITTY
Greedy Kitty

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.

Mother's Dumplings
Dumps!

Ooh, dumplings! Not just any dumplings but Mother's Dumplings, which sounds far more enticing than "Crazy Second Cousin's Dumplings."

people like this place
Love notes

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.

time to order some dumps
Dumpling ordering time

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.

DUMPS LITTLE DUMPS ARGHAHRGA yom pork and green pepper!
The dumps, they have come

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!

DUMPLINGS OH YES innards of pork and dill dumpling
Plate number two

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.

mm, scallion pancake!!!
Scallion pancake!

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?

Kim Moon Bakery
Kim Moon Bakery

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.

Chinese Bakery
It's Chinese!

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.)

Asian supermarket
Asian supermarket, yay!

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.

the best food #1!
Nut meat

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.

They look like ghost beans
Huh

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, MEAT OF LUNCH
Lunch meat

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.

energy
I AM CURIOUS

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.

eeuh gulp
Why am I doing this?

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.

it looks like peee
The color of old pee

I poured out the remaining contents through a sewer grate, releasing a river of urine-colored fluid into Toronto's underbelly. Mm, nutritious!

Ding Dong Pastries
Ding Dong Pastries

We went to Ding Dong Pastries (yeah, we loved saying that name) for some bun action and ended up getting more than some...

rows of buns
Rows of buns

...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.

stash
Stash

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.

kat eats
HAHA she's eating

I think this is Kat eating a chicken bun. SHE IS ALL KINDS OF HAPPY!!

innards of chicken bun
Chicken bun innards

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.

egg custard tart flaky
Egg custard tart

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.

taro bun
Taro bun

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.

rolling pin for an arm
Rolling pin arm

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.

bakeryyy
A bakery

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.

mm....outside of bakery mm, bakery
Another bakery!

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.

walkinnnggguhh
Not in Chinatown anymore

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.

Eaton Center
Inside the mallll

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.

he's stepping on elmo
Elmo!

I liked the careful placement of the Elmo head in the window of this Hallmark store.

YOGEN FRUZ
FOOOD!

Kat and I ended our fooding for the day with a small cup of Yogen Fruz (raspberry and black currant, perhaps). Tasty as always.

GO station
GO station

And then we went home. Cos we were sleepy.

Addresses

Mother's Dumplings
UPDATE (August 8, 2010): A reader alerted me to a new address! They're no longer at 79 Huron Street, but here:
421 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2G6, Canada
416-217-2008

Kim Moon Bakery
438 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Hua-Sheng Supermarket
293 Spadina Avenue, Toronto

Ding Dong Pastries
321 Spadina Avenue, Toronto

Jin Cheng Bakery
419 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Eaton Center
Yonge St and Dundas St, Toronto

Posted by roboppy at 3:52 PM

Tags: Canada, Chinatown, Ding Dong Pastries, dumplings, Eaton Center, Jin Cheng Bakery, Mother's Dumplings, Toronto

Comments

I'M SO GLAD YOU WENT TO DING DONG PASTRIES!!! AND LIKED THE CHESTNUT BUNS & TARO BUNS!!!

Aren't they sooo good? I've never had their meat buns (my sweet tooth won't allow it) so Kat's with the non-existent innards look disappointing... at least it was yummy :P.

Wow, of all the places to go to, you walked into Mother's Dumplings?!! That's on a little side street on the downstairs level... pretty hidden. Once my family went there, and after we placed our order, the lady went out and came back with a package. My mom was like, "They went to another restaurant to buy dumplings to serve to us!!!" That was funny!!!

Happy to hear you had fun at the Asian supermarket, hehehe!

Chinese candied nuts are awesome - candied nuts always taste good, and they are nearly always sold cheaper than in Western stores! (Although methinks the "Walnutmeats" aren't candied.)

Palm's seeds are actually quite delicious! Texture is sort of like the tapioca in bubble tea.

That was brave of you to drink that "energy drink." Sorry to hear about your bad experience with it, though... hope it doesn't ruin your adventurousness!

Eaton Centre WOULD be refreshing after a hot day in Chinatown :P Good call.

Posted by: katie at September 1, 2007 4:59 PM [#]

Ahhh, good. I'm releived. ;) I now have faith in you. Some real TO food.

btw - i do read your site often, but never post...i am a very frequent reader of Serious Eats

Posted by: lilartist at September 1, 2007 7:04 PM [#]

M'IAM (isn't that what the French sometimes type when they're all chowing down and stuff? Either I'm right (hopefully) or someone has been showing me some whack faux-French comics, yo)

So, I repeat...M'IAM, M'IAM! Mother's Dumplings is sooooo good! The first time I went I did my Googling well in advance and heard that there are few spots and they fill up 'round dinner so I hustled down post work. I was the only one. And it felt like I was walking in on my grandma and her friends. But I didn't mind, because I got...dumplings! I got the melon ones, and the dill, and my favourite...shrimp/egg/chive. Oh, and a pancake. I would have opted for steamed buns, too, but they were out (thankfully; my dumpling euphoria didn't positively correlate with the fullness of my stomach by that point). I brought some frozen ones home, though.

Whew! Long post to say...thanks for making me crave Mother's (dammit; especially when I'm on the other side of the world) and thanks - as always - for your fun(ny) culinary reporting! Especially nice reading when it's a place that I know well!

Posted by: Alex at September 1, 2007 8:04 PM [#]

That cat looks a bit more like a fox than a cat. Almost like the fox on The Fox and the Hound, but for the face.

The next time I'm at a Chinese restaurant, I'm having dumplings. Not the rubber buffet dumplings, real dumplings. I've never had any before and that should be some sort of crime.

Posted by: Christina at September 1, 2007 8:06 PM [#]

Katie: I'm glad you told me about Ding Dong! :D I went straight for the chestnut and taro, oooh yeaah. Tasty stuff. Only the chicken bun Kat got was empty like that (straange); she got a steamed bun that was all...meated inside. Mm, I love steamed buns.

Oh, I had Mother's Dumplings on my list of possible places to go. I knew the cross street so I just...looked around...and then WOO, dumplings! Kind of confusing that it's next to another dumpling shop though, eh? Rival dumpling-rie?

The walnutmeats sounded like plain walnuts. No candy! :(

lilartist: Ah, sorry that I had assumed you just started reading my blog. It seemed like it since you only wrote one comment, on my day in ...OAKVILLE! of all places...not a fooding center really. -__- (Well, not without a car.)

Alex: I think MIAM or something like that sounds about right. I didn't eat with many French people though, or take note of their "mmm, tasty" sounds. :)

Yay, you went to Mother's Dumplings! I'm not a big fan of shrimp, but shrimp/egg/chive sounds pretty cool. And paaancaaakes. I wish I could've brought frozen ones home.

They didn't give us a sauce to go with our dumplings, just condiments on the side of the table so you could mix your own stuff. I mixed vinegar with soy sauce.

Christina: Maybe that's why the cat looked so wrong...cos it doesn't look like a cat. :[

YOU NEED REAL DUMPLINGS, OMG. I just went to a buffet tonight and the dumplings...neh, they just don't look right. (I like snow peas and green beans the most at buffets for some reason.) I hope you find some good ones!

Posted by: roboppy at September 1, 2007 11:40 PM [#]

Oh palm seeds! They're so good in chinese/chinese-malaysian/chinese-singaporean ( I can't remember where they first appeared!) desserts! And yes they're delicious just like Katie said- like the tapioca pearls you find in bubble tea! They've got an asian name too - 'Atapchi'.

Asian bakery.. ah how I miss homee...

Posted by: kelshling at September 2, 2007 3:57 AM [#]

I find it fun that chinatowns all over the world are so similar. And about the luncheon meat you found in the supermarket... it's not bad. I've had a steady supply of those cans stacked in our pantry since I was in kindergarten. :D

Posted by: Daisy at September 2, 2007 5:59 AM [#]

words cannot express how much I'm loving these toronto posts.

and who doesn't love syrup infused with poison?

B
http://handtomouthkitchen.wordpress.com

Posted by: B at September 2, 2007 11:14 AM [#]

Palm seeds are excellent... and much better than snake venom energy drinks!

Posted by: Katie at September 2, 2007 8:10 PM [#]

I can't believe you were in my city! You shoulda called (if only we knew each other in real life!), but I can't believe I am reading your blog getting schooled about where to eat in my own city! I am totally heading to Mother's Dumpling! I love dumplings! Thanks!

Posted by: dynagrrl at September 2, 2007 9:58 PM [#]

We use those sugary palm seeds in desserts here in the Philippines, chewy texture, not sure if it's the seed or some offspring of the palm (palm babies? angels of palm babies?).

I love dumplings too, the ones you photo'd reminded me of the variety in Beijing. I used to go for the ones with fennel or pork and pickled radish. Why go for basic pork dumplings when you could make them do so much more?

Posted by: Mila at September 3, 2007 2:29 AM [#]

Very entertaining posts.

Eaton Centre isn't actually underground though -- one of its levels are, sort of, but then there are three other levels above ground. (native Torontonian here)

Posted by: Athena at September 3, 2007 8:36 AM [#]

kelshing: Now I'm wondering why I've never had palm seeds in any desserts! Waah. I might like it..

Daisy: I visited another Chinatown yesterdday (in Philadelphia)...much cleaner than NYC but still had the funky smells every now and then. YEY!

B: Poison syrup must be damned to hell.

Katie: I hope to try em someday!

dynagrrl: Eep, I didn't know I was in your city! Maybe I will be back there while Kat is still in school. :) I hope you like Mother's Dumplings!

Mila: Mm, like eating babies...

Pork and pickled radish sounds yum. But anything with pork is rather awesome, yeah?

Athena: HAHA oh god...yeah, having entered the mall from above ground, it's most def not all underground. Thanks for pointing that out; I've now made the mall "partially underground." :P

Posted by: roboppy at September 3, 2007 1:35 PM [#]

those walnut meats are indeeeeed candied. and delicious!!

Posted by: Aaron at September 4, 2007 9:44 AM [#]

robyn,

u know it's no longer 'chiang kai shek memorial hall.' it's now the 'national taiwan democracy hall.' that's taiwanese tax payers' money put to good use. blarg.

Posted by: Mei at September 4, 2007 11:00 AM [#]

Sara's Adventures in Italy sent me your Toronto posts. I am in Toronto for the next two months working on a film. I cannot wait to check out some of the places you mentioned.

Nice photos too.

Posted by: nyc/caribbean ragazza at September 4, 2007 1:24 PM [#]

ahh yes, ding dong pastries! my fav is the "milk jam bun" which is commonly known as the custard bun. how can one resist the soft chewy sweet delight of the bread, stuffed with smooth and delicious custard?

i am also loving the toronto posts!

Posted by: andrea at September 4, 2007 7:08 PM [#]

Aaron: They ARE candied?! Dammit, I guess I should've bought them. Hopefully we will cross paths again.

Mei: Oh yeah, the wikipedia entry said something about that...wah! That's so...generic sounding.

nyc/caribbean ragazza: I'm glad Sara directed you over here! You'll get to eat a lot more than I did in two months. Or you could just eat...LOTS OF DUMPLINGS!!

Andrea: Ooh, I had one of those, but from another bakery! I didn't know what milk jam was...and then there was custard. I guess that qualifies as "milk jam." :)

Posted by: roboppy at September 5, 2007 10:21 AM [#]

hey robyn!!! thanks so much for this post. i was literally taking notes so i can try out all the places, plus I've heard about Eaton but haven't had a chance to hit it up yet. Will have to try Yogen Fruz, Mother's Dumplings (which looks deliciously handmade) and egg tarts from Ding Dong Pastries. he he.

Once I tried to take pics inside a Chinese bakery in NY and got yelled at.. so gotta be sly with those places. hahah

Posted by: joanh at September 8, 2007 1:42 PM [#]

Hi there! I'm in Toronto for a few weeks and stumbled on your blog through serious eats while looking for some insider tips. Needless to say I wrote down every single address you mention... We started with Mother's Dumplings yesterday night and it was truly a delicious experience!

A little update on Mother's Dumplings: they have recently moved to a new location on 421 Spadina Avenue. Another dumpling place has taken over the old location on Huron St, apparently playing on the unwary customers looking for Mother's by using the same sign design and colors... Dumpling lovers beware!

Posted by: timtom at August 7, 2010 9:33 AM [#]

timtom: Thanks for the info! I'll update this post with the new address. Glad my post could help you out!

Posted by: roboppy at August 8, 2010 12:11 PM [#]

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