Tag Archives: Chinese cuisine

House of Gourmet: A Chinatown Staple

Have you had the experience of walking aimlessly in town looking for a place to eat? This was what happened to me and my family in Chinatown on Spadina Street in Toronto recently. There were so many Chinese restaurants and we did not come here often enough to have a restaurant to always go to. What saved us was the rule of thumb that never failed: only go to a place to eat if there are a lot of people there. We peeped inside the House of Gourmet and this was what we saw:


“This is safe to go in,” said my husband. Unlike some busy restaurants where we had to wait indefinitely for someone to show us where to sit, we were ushered to our table promptly, and the waiter came with the tea and the menu.

Another rule of thumb I use when I go for a Chinese meal is to pick what I do not normally make at home. For the four of us we ordered steamed eel with garlic and black bean sauce, stir fry neck of pig, roast duck and stir fried vegetables (tong choi) with bean curd.

The complimentary soup of the day, melon soup, was tasty, and so were the dishes we ordered. The eels were served steaming hot and the neck of pig was stir fried to perfection, bringing out the texture of the meat that it was known for. The skin of the roast duck was crispy and the meat tender. The vegetables were freshly in season. We enjoyed the food with plain rice and were utterly content.

When we left the restaurant, we were aware of its traditional setup with the take-out counter, where one could buy barbecue pork, roast pork and roast duck on one side and the open kitchen preparing noodles and dumplings on the other.

I shall feel comfortable to return to the House of Gourmet next time I look for a restaurant in Chinatown or to buy take-out. I may even consider it to be my Chinatown staple.

The House of Gourmet, 484 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

House of Gourmet on Urbanspoon


Chiu Chow Fanfare in Hong Kong

Chiu Chow is a region of the eastern Guangdong province in southern China. It has its unique culture recognized as part of the world heritage. Chiu Chow cuisine uses the most expensive and the most mundane ingredients to create dishes that one can never forget.

I was invited to a banquet at the Chiu Chow Garden, which catered to the more high-end of Chiu Chow cuisine in Hong Kong on my recent visit. We were chatting over some tea and Chiu Chow pickles–tofu, pickled vegetables, peanuts and beans.

Then how I wished I had fasted for at least two days before this dinner when the dishes were brought in front of me one by one.

First of the roast pig. This is not exactly Chiu Chowese, but it speaks for the generosity of my hosts. Only the crackling and the tender layer of meat are served, and they are eaten on a thin piece of bread with hoi sin sauce. As if the pig is not extravagant enough, it is decorated with a tiny dots of edible gold leaves.

The four hors oeuvres are brought in with the carrot carving of a bird for decoration. It can sing! (This is food plating at its ultimate,)  My plate consists of jelly fish with sesame oil, crab ball with plum sauce, goose breast, and stir fry beef. Each bite is a delicacy.

The legendary Chiu Chow shark fin soup is next. (At this point, I do have to apologize to any supporter of endangered species that this may not be a politically correct item on the menu. I would not order this item for myself, but in Hong Kong, it would also be outright impudence to decline what your hosts offer you.) This is an expensive soup.  It is thicker and darker than the Cantonese shark fin soup and has a distinct flavour. One can add coriander and vinegar for extra taste. It is a very rich soup, and kung fu tea is called for to clean the palate before the next dish.

The star coral is a big fish. Its fillet is cooked in two ways: stir fried with broccoli and deep-fried with hot pepper and salt. Both dishes are delicious.

One of my favorite dishes is omelette with baby oysters. It is a traditional Chiu Chow dish because Chiu Chow is by the sea where seafood is plenty. The soft oyster meat is so tasty wrapped in egg. Since most dinner menus include a chicken dish, the steamed free range chicken is served.

Rice and noodles are served towards the end, in case the guests are not full when they finish the main menu. The rice came with roasted nuts, diced yam and chicken. All these are mixed into the rice before the rice is served into individual bowls.

The fried noodles Chiu Chow style is also my favorite. The noodles are soaked in a broth before they are fried in a very hot pan on both sides. The end product is a crunchy outside and a soft inside. My slice is served with sugar and dark vinegar. So tasty!.

Desserts are absolutely indulgent!

My platter includes:(from top left clockwise): thousand-layered cake, date cake, yam ball in puff pastry, yam stick dusted with sugar and egg crunch. Kung Fu tea is served again with the fruits.  This is a meal that I shall talk about, blog about and continue to savor the memories of for a long time.

Chiu Chow Garden, Hutchinson House, Central, Hong Kong.

Chan’s Garden Restaurant: Suburban Chinese Cuisine in Sydney

It is universally acknowledged that wherever one goes, there is bound to be a Chinese restaurant, be it a chop suey takeaway or a seafood diner. Chinese restaurants outside of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China are undergoing a revolutionary movement to modernize. They make the best of local ingredients while preserving the traditional cooking methods such as steaming, deep frying and braising. Chan’s Garden Restaurant in suburban Burwood, less than half an hour from Sydney, Australia does just that.

On entering the restaurant, I was not surprised to be in a rather non-descriptive dining hall. Seasonal specialties were posted on the wall. Two big aquaria spoke for the freshness of the day’s catch. The ambiance is typical of Chinese restaurants in small towns, just plain.

I was invited for a “light Chinese meal’, which in fact was an oxymoron. First to appear was the “wet fried” (i.e., with gravy) flat noodles with beef and scrambled egg–soft noodles, tender beef and a gravy that was not thick. The chef had good control.

This was followed by fried rice with diced salted fish and chicken, and a fried vermicelli with shredded pork. The rice is not sticky and taste was well-balanced. The fried vermicelli remained crunchy even after the sauce with shredded pork, mushroom and bean sprouts was poured over it.

We ordered black bean chicken and stir fry gai lan with ginger and wine. The chicken tasted a bit over powering to me, probably I was  tasting it with the more subtle flavors of the vegetables.

I could not wait for the eel to arrive. It was an over 1 kilogram live eel that we picked at the beginning of the meal and it was prepared two ways–steaming and deep frying with garlic salt. These dishes were the highlights of the meal.

The special dessert was a rare offering of black jelly, which would normally be found in Chinese herbal stores. It is made from boiling the shell of turtles to extract the gelatin parts and then the liquid is chilled like jello. It is served with a clear syrup and is believed to be good for one’s complexion. Like the tropical fruit durian, you either like black jelly or not, because it has a medicinal after taste.

It was a pleasant meal. Overall, the atmosphere was casual, though not lackadaisical.  I think that the owner and staff were aware that their regular customers would come back regardless, because they knew the food was good. The food was indeed delicious, and never felt heavy to the palate given the amount we had eaten. However,  in this relaxed atmosphere, the presentation was sometimes sloppy. Besides, they did not seem to pay much attention to the order of the food to arrive, and yet I could not complain, because light Chinese meals were supposed to have all the dishes on the table at once, so that everybody could dig in together. Unless you are inviting guests and expecting excellent service, this restaurant is still worth going to for a hearty family meal.

Chan’s Garden Restaurant, 78-82 Burwood Road,m Burwood, NSW 2134, Australia.

Chans Garden on Urbanspoon

The Marigold Restaurant in Sydney: Dim Sum, Entrees and More

The Marigold Restaurant in Chinatown, Sydney Australia specializes not only in seafood. I like to go there for dim sum (food served in small baskets or small dishes) and yum cha ( drinking tea). Essentially, dim sum and yum cha are two inter-related brunch activities conceptually and gastronomically, because when I go yum cha, I always order dim sum. In a big Chinese restaurant, there is a dim sum chef who specializes only in the dim sum menu.

The restaurant preserves the tradition of displaying the dim sum on a trolley which is pushed around the dining hall.


Diners pick what they like. Dim sum includes different bite size food, such as steamed dumplings, steamed buns, custard tarts, as well as the more exotic chicken feet and trite. A few orders plus a pot of tea, the flavour of which you can choose from a wide selection and which is constantly refilled will keep you there for for hours.


Dim sum aside, I also like the other meat and vegetable dishes when I dine at the Marigold. It is always safe to order the soya sauce chick, roast duck and sweet and sour pork. The meat comes in tender and juicy.

Braised seasonal vegetables are delicious because they used a good broth. Another ingenious way to enjoy the vegetables is to dip them into the soup that is order with some fried dumplings.




The restaurant is generous with their fruit platter and dessert platter. One of my favourites is baked sago and yam with a hint of coconut milk.



Given this is what I have tasted with my family and friends in Sydney over my two weeks’ visit, you can probably understand why I comment that you have to return to the restaurant again and again to try it all.

The Marigold Restaurant, 683 George Street, Sydney, Australia.

Marigold on Urbanspoon

The Best Seafood at the Marigold Restaurant in Sydney

Any trip to Sydney, Australia would not be complete without a visit–or even multiple visits– to the Marigold Restaurant in Chinatown. It is one of the oldest establishments for Chinese cuisine in Sydney and in many ways, it preserves the traditional style of Chinese restaurants, from decor, ambiance  service to style of cooking. It is the perfect place for a banquet style dinner, a meal to sample one or two specialties, or a “dim sum” lunch.

I find the best seafood in Sydney, both in terms of quality and variety. When these ingredients marry with the cooking at Marigold Restaurant, the result ranks supreme.

Lobster and Noodles

Stir-fired noodles with a clear sauce on top of noodles. The beauty of this dish is not only the lobster, but the noodles that is infused with the taste and aroma of the lobsters.

Stir-fried Coral Filet and Mixed Vegetables

The coral fish is a big fish and the best is to use the catch to create two dishes. My first dish is the stir-fry. The freshness and subtle sweetness of the ingredients are presented, and highlighted by the contrast of the dipping oyster sauce.

Fish, Pork and Bean Curd Hot Pot

The second  is a richer method to enjoy the Coral, which is cooked with roast pork, mushrooms and fried bean curd. The flavour also comes from the scallions and parsley.

Conch Slices

Very thinly sliced fresh conch is dipped in boiling water, removed as soon as it is cooked for the best bite and texture. Conch becomes chewy if it is over done. The best accompaniment is a dark soya sauce with red chili and scallion, shrimp sauce, or oyster sauce.

Steamed Oyster

Simple, elegant and divine. This is how I like my steamed oyster with a touch of light soya sauce, ginger and scallions.

Steamed Shrimps

These are small shrimps reared in a “gated pond”. I like the taste just on its own, without the dipping sauce.

Crabs with Ginger and Scallions

The crabs are in season with its orange “fat” that tingles the taste buds. The crabs are meaty and the red wine vinegar is the perfect accompaniment.

Of course, the crab claw is the meatiest part.

Steamed Parrot Fish

With a smaller fish, steaming is the ideal cooking method and the sauce is best enjoyed with a small amount of steamed rice.

In case you do not like seafood, the Marigold Restaurant will not disappointment with its other delicacies, and definitely worth a visit.

The Marigold Restaurant, 683 George Street, Sydney, Australia.

Marigold on Urbanspoon

The Century: A New Chinese Restaurant in Sydney

The Century, at the Star, is the latest addition to the Golden Century Group of Chinese Restaurant in Sydney, Australia.

The restaurant  presents itself to be an up-scale Chinese restaurant which caters to the western taste in fine wining and dining experience. This restaurant is also a departure from its sister restaurants in its traditional image. On entry, a wall made up of 15 aquaria displaying king crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns, fish, and scallops and clams flanked the hallway.

One then enters the open dining area, when the attention is immediately drawn to the wine display on the wall.

The decor is neutral, almost enlightening, because it is a Chinese restaurant that I am talking about.

We requested a lunch menu to be drawn up for our party of seven, with the instruction to have a mixture of seafood and meat dishes. The cold cut cucumber with garlic sauce was a refreshing starter.

The presentation and the taste of the fried clams with vermicelli made it a hit. The stir fried clams with a brown sauce sat on a bed of vermicilli that had been soaked in broth and then pan-fried to attain a crunchy exterior but soft interior. (This was reminiscent of the pan frying method of the sweet and sour Chiu Chow noodles.) Flavour and texture were well balanced.

We had three meat dishes: the “drunken” free range chicken, pork ribs Peking style and honey pepper beef. The steamed rice we ordered was the perfect accompaniment.

Our seasonal vegetable dish was braised baby bok choy.

With the seafood (scallops, calamari and shrimps) and tofu hot pot, the Century had no doubt secured its reputation as the flagship restaurant of its chain in town.

The fruit plate and the dessert platter of egg fritters and cocunut crunch were with compliments of the house. A little something sweet was always the best way to complete a meal.

The Century has an interesting wine list. After all, it boasts among its collection a 1825 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Even if this vintage bottle is beyond my means, I am tempted to return for dinner and try the wine.

The Century at the Star, Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, NSW 2009.

The Century on Urbanspoon

The Color, Aroma and Taste of a Nine-Course Chinese Dinner

“Color, Aroma and Taste” are the three essentials ingredients in Chinese cooking. Fantaxia (this is not a misspelling) Restaurant in North York offers all this in their Private Menu nine-course dinner. The Private Menu means that the dishes you order do not appear in the printed menu of the restaurant. Instead, you make your reservation at least a week in advance, and the restaurant recommends a menu put together for your party, depending on seasonal availability. The menu given to me is written in fancy Chinese calligraphy. It is customary for Chinese restaurants to have a handwritten customized menu, even in ink and brush, in some places. Fantaxia Restaurant is certainly following the tradition. They have also given each dish a poetic though cryptic name, which refletcs either the ingredients or the style of cooking. Part of the fun is to appreciate the name of the dish with the food in front of us. ( I have put in the fancy names in parentheses for your enjoyment.) 1. Winter Melon Soup (Aromatic Elixir from Heaven) Winter Melon is available only in the summer. The broth is steamed inside the winter melon with many delicious ingredients.Our soup contains lotus seeds, shredded dried scallop, fresh scallops, shrimps, mushrooms, crab meat (displayed first as garnish and then submerged into the soup before serving) and slices of melon. The presentation is stunning, and the soup smells and tastes as good as it is named. 2. Stir Fry Scallop and Conch (Lotus Fairy) This is a very colourful dish. The fresh scallop and conch slices are stir fried with enouki mushrooms and button mushrooms, and garnished with tomato and vegetables. 3. Prawns and Fried Garlic (Treasure Box) These are deep fried king prawns served with deep fried garlic. The aroma is enticing. The texture and the taste demonstrate the superb control of the chef in this preparation. If you love garlic (like I do), this is the dish for you. 4. Stir Fry Broccoli and Pork  (Jade Flower and Meat) The broccoli is the jade flower. The pork is the meat at the neck of the pig and this is known for its firm bite–neither chewy nor crispy–which is determined by the temperature and amount of time it is stir fried. Once again, the chef did it with panache. 5. Crab with Spinach and Asparagus Sauce (Treasure in a Lotus Pond) You can sit there just to admire the presentation. This is a paste or thick soup with finely chopped spinach and asparatus, goji seeds, lotus seeds, crab meat, baby scallops and egg white. The hint of sweetness from the goji seeds is a delight. This is a rare and precious dish. 6. Mixed Vegetables (Bamboo Shadow on a Lattice) This is a delicious dish with an imaginative name.The base of the dish consists of baby bok choy, gai lan  and oyster mushrooms, with a clear gravy. The “Bamboo shadow” in the name refers to bamboo shoots, and the lattice is the shreds of black fungi, which is thinner than angel hair and the Chinese call it “hair veggie”. 7. Deep Fried Stuffed Chicken (Pearl Chicken) The chicken has been deboned and stuffed with cooked glutinous rice and diced Chiense sausages before is is deep-fried. To appreciate the name, a cross-section can give you the answer. 8. Fried Rice The rice is fried with scallion and egg white and shredded dried scallop. A simple dish but appropriately seasoned. The rice is light and it is good to clean the palate in preparation for dessert. 9. Milk Custard Light and smooth and tasty. This is the house specialty and the dessert experience  sums up an evening of memorable Chinese cuisine.

  Fantaxia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fantaxia Restaurant is situated at Unit 5, 3555 Don Mills Road, Toronto, ON.