Dishcrawl: Montreal’s Chinatown Secret Menu Edition hosted by Jason Lee

Michel Cluizel's Sardines au Chocolat Lait ~ ♥♥

I’m distracted right now.  All I can think about is chocolate.  Chocolate, feuilletine, caramel, crèmes, glaçages, chocolate (more chocolate), génoise, syrups, brittles, mousses, sabayon, pralines and biscuit and millefeuilles and butter and cream.  It’s all dancing around my head, maybe a sign of the upcoming christmas season (which becomes increasingly about what I’m eating rather than what I’m gifting more and more every year – and I would argue that celestial dining with your most beloved of loved ones is the greatest gift.  Evah).

tiny puffs to amuse the bouche

Buuuuuut.  Even with that kind of introduction, I’m going to be talking about a mostly sugar-free adventure.  A Dishcrawl even.  This is the plum-backwards way we do things over here at Bubble Tea.  When other people have covered an event already so thoroughly, all I can do is be honest.  And boy, I would really love a resplendent single origin 70% dark right now.. ^^;;;;

Buuuuuuut.  I can tie this in.  Watch this!  See, it was a dark and temperate November 1rst Dishcrawl night, hosted by the ebullient gastronome Jason Lee of Shut Up and Eat, and things were surprisingly void of dessert.  Well, we did start with an ethereal and nutty-crisp bang by placing that little puff of confection – DRAGON’S BEARD! – on our tongues and letting it dissolve into softly sweet toasted acorn of gritty tongue-wakening chewiness.  You might even imagine that this was my favourite part of the night, and perhaps if I had never experienced it before, this candy might have been.

Buuuuuuuuuuut.  No.  That was reserved for the peking duck pancakes we enjoyed over at Mon Nan.  (It is at this point that I’m realizing that this post will in no way be thorough, informative, objective or complete.  Boring!  This is kinda just to complete my Dishcrawl coverage collection and give a brief recap of the yumz ingested).  It was at these round tables that I learned the correct way to spread hoisin on the thin house-made pancake of flour (apply first, before the insane crisp duck pieces).  Mon Nan is evidently the only place in Montreal that still makes Peking duck the proper way, and they’ve only whetted my appetite for more.  Other things to mention:  The meal starts (Number One!) with a thin duck broth floating with soft tofu, shared around the table washed down with amber tea – savoury, sweet and delicate.  Then, the pancakes, wrapping ’round slivers of green onion, threads of daikon and carrot, BIG CHUNKS OF DUCK (oho!) and hot sauce if desired.  Inhale, Construct, Repeat.  Finally (Number Three!) out comes a quick stir fry of fat sprouts and duck meat, refreshingly crunchy and a textural contrast the rest of the meal.  Lovely!

adorable gesticulating owner of Kam Fung

And so, on we go.  Next stop was a one-dish wonder at Maison Kam Fung, which is otherwise known for it’s killer Dim Sum brunch on Sundays, and had a pretty lively dining room on that Tuesday night when our party of 50 (ish?) descended on them en masse.  We started simply with one of the best spring rolls I’ve had in memory – darkly crisp skin, generously porky but not obscene inside.  However, I don’t tend to eat spring rolls, so there’s some grain of salt you should take with my opinion.  What I DO tend to eat a lot of is mysterious Chinese food, so the next dish I can confidently say falls under my jurisdiction of “silly Canadian non-Chinese xiaochi addict”.

Again, other people will introduce this with more depth than I.  Wor Siu Gai is a dish with depth, or at least Montreal specific history.  What was originally an ancient dish made with bird’s nest – an ingredient best enjoyed by the royal, the independently wealthy, and those with a taste for the dried saliva of cave birds – has been reinvented by Maison Kam Fung to become a glorious pink landmasse of ham, shrimp, crab, chinese sausage, wrapped in wonton skin, fried, served on a giant platter and covered with, and I quote, “Chinese gravy,”  yum yum.

cozy in the rice bowl

I’ve had more gastronomically sensational food – this went down like a bowl of perfect white rice and a block of seafood-tasting low-salt Spam – but gosh I don’t know if I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating so many different mystery meats in one mouthful before.  And the history!  I googled Wor Siu Gai and almost every rendition I could find called for chicken and not too much else, so this version really is a specialty of Montreal – try it at your next Maison Kam Fung gorging session!

the mystery, it oozes

Finally, I had my belly ready for the best part of the night.  The promise of dessert was ringing louder and louder with every step we took towards the Hong Kong-style bakery, Patisserie Callia.  I love me a squishy milky cool-to-the-touch sweetened bun.  LOVE IT.  The only hard part is deciding was the filling should be.  Mango custard?  Blueberry cream?  Red bean, sweet egg, lemon curd, sesame paste, or taro?  Eeeeek, I want to know!

Wait.  No wait.  *bites into mystery bun*.   Noooooo, I didn’t want to knooooooooooow!!!  :D

Seriously, poutine bun?  Wow, I’m suddenly welling up with all these mixed feelings ranging from inner giggling to mild sugar-deprived rage to disaffected cultural malaise.  Mostly just the yen for a real donut though.  At least, the accompaniment to “dessert” was panacea for the jilted sweet tooth – hot milky tea made with a blend of many different strong teas – highly aromatic, bittersweet, complex and roasted-tasting.  I think they were all black teas, I don’t quite remember  (as in, black and not green).  Each sip was slightly different, playing chimes at different places in the mouth, and in different harmonies with subsequent sips – definitely the most interesting cup of it’s kind that I’ve had, and I’ve had lot of Chinese milk tea.  Bubble Tea for Dinner is no mistake as a blog name.  I’d return to Callia in a second for another cup, bypassing even my beloved Patisserie Harmonie for a chance to dip my head in it’s swirling and very mature-smelling steam.

And that’s about it!  Whew, another Dishcrawl penned and ready to share with the world.  Thanks again to Jason Lee for being SO energetic and helpful and informative and friendly whenever I had annoying questions about the herb-using habits of the Vietnamese or how to properly wrap a peking-pan-duck-cake.

~~~~~ here’s where to witness the brilliance of topic-tying-in action ~~~ ……. \/

Alas, I don’t know if I can make it to the Chocolate Dishcrawl this Sunday, but I would love to, obviously.  If I can move my schedule around, I will see.  I also might just spend my ticket money on chocolate bars.  We’ll see.  (  It’s even – in some stroke of life-appropriate brilliance – hosted by chocolatier Olivier Piffaudat, who specializes in low and no-sugar confections, which would delight BF Cloudy to no end.  He’s on a sugar-cleanse!  Brave soul.  )

EDIT:  I am going!!!!  Yeehee.  Also, there are 2 tickets left.  Go go go!

Dishcrawl Coverage on Citeeze

Dragon Beard Candy on Urbanspoon

Mon Nan Village on Urbanspoon

Kam Fung on Urbanspoon

Patisserie Callia on Urbanspoon

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Amigo – hole-in-the-wall Szechuan-fusion feasting!

When I get stricken with a craving for Chinese food, it’s like being possessed by a most single-minded hunger that would walk hours or days for the merest whiff of glistening wok hei-bearing dishes, special ways with all kinds of onions, soft perfumed & pillowy rice and – if you’re very lucky and in the mood for northern Chinese – brow-melting face-numbing spiciness due to that special ingredient, the Szechuan peppercorn.  (AKA the best drug invented since coffee, bien sur.  )

As always, I have to consider the kitchen’s ability to provide fire, and Amigo’s flame was a low burner at best.  We asked for spicy and got only a moderate level of heat, hardly any Szechuan peppercorns, and a little bowl of chiles in oil – not quite the firestorm experience I’ve had in the past!  BUT – and this is important – this was some of the BEST Chinese food I’ve had since being in China and we were getting face burns anyway. …. from shovelling the hot morsels into our mouths too fast.  ^^;;;;

We started with some wonderful Xiu Mai (pork dumplings, about 4$), rich, sweet and clean-tasting, on a bed of some very lucky cabbage that soaked up all that great flavour.  We got wonton soup, too, which was basically the same dumpling in a slightly different shape floating in a soul-bolstering clear broth – so that was a silly order – but delicious nonetheless and a perfect start to the meal.

Our server was also incredibly helpful and patient with our questions about the menu, and was supercool during our dithering about dinner choices.  Rad guy!  Anyway, we eventually decided on the sizzling seafood platter (about 13$), a salt and pepper pork chops all-dressed dish (about 11$), and sliced beef with rice noodles (about 10$) – and what a perfect combination that turned out to be!

The food came incredibly quickly, hardly a few minutes passed before the insane aromas of chewy beef, sprouts and bouncy noodles came from the left (perfectly cooked, fat slices of onions throughout the dish a testament to an expert chef), and crisp-fried tender peppery pork with buttery rice, fried egg and bright bok choy came from the right (like KFC of the gods).  Oh who cares about burnt mouths, we are going IN!!  *munchmunchmunch*  Ohg od.  so good.

And then, one minute after that (one or two layers of skin later), the seafood platter arrived, sizzling like a crazy giant bumblebee, a veritable mountain of sweet scallops, perfectly cooked squids, insanely moist shrimp and even real flecks of real crab, in a clear and spicy sauce.  It was at that moment that my brain simply clicked into joy mode, and we ate and ate and ate.  It was so freaking good.

I think it was also at that moment that we remembered it was thanksgiving, and suddenly it all made sense, you know?  So with no guilt for the gourmands, we stuffed ourselves silly, and left with happy souls and just enough room left for dessert.  Not the 2$ fried ice cream at Amigo, for as delicious as that sounded we had other plans, and headed to Patisserie Harmonie for a strawberry milky tea to enjoy in the deepening dusk of Chinatown… feeling the last of the warm autumn airs on our elbows and rubbing our bellies and still singing the praises of the meal.

(next time, for sure… we’ll be asking about the all-Mandarin menu ;)

Amigo on Urbanspoon
 

I <3 Patisserie Harmonie, it is cute and full of mango goo

Also, you can buy bubble tea there.

I think those are coffee buns

Why have I not boughten (that’s a real word!) bubble tea there yet????  Mysteries of the world never cease to amaze me, darn I really well should.  That will be a special mission, and Cloudy has never even tasted bubbly chew-orbs of tapioca weird/awesome suspended in milky sweet and creamy cold drink!  I really must remedy that, too, and soon….

taro puff cake…. I know!

Okay, onto the post.  I adore Patisserie Harmonie!  It first appeared as if by magic, a golden halo-d sun rising glorious from the depths of the otherwise boring-tastic Guy-Concordia metro, a Hong Kong style bakery offering impossibly cheap Puffybuns (another new word) in both sweet and savoury forms.  I’ve also been to the Chinatown location which is smallery, brighter, has more modest selection but is in the best neighbourhood in Montreal.  Choose your panacea wisely. ;)

I haven’t even begun to sample their savoury things, mostly because I get so distracted by the panoply of desserts while I’m there, gleaming all perfect and full of things I love to eat, like red beans, matcha, custard, and nuts.  That being said, the perfectly crisp and square prisms of garlic bread are calling my name at the moment – another reason to return!  And to try the pork buns.  But of course.

Last time we sampled some green tea cake.  Sometimes, I’m not a fan of Chinese sponge, since it can be a little rubbery.  But, Harmonie’s green tea cake is really great!  It’s a mild sweet buttery thing, just a hint of bitter tea, (more vanilla present really), perfectly spongey and a treat with coffee.

Another knocker-out-of-the-park (praised by my old roommate as well) is the mango bun.  It’s a towering square-ish donut-y thing filled with the most lovely of mango custards.  MMMMMMM is the sound you make while eating this and swearing you will bike all the way home from Rene Levesque.  MmmMMMMMMMM.   (The red bean bun was a bit sweet for me, but only a bit, and still very fresh and flavourful.  Red bean stuff is always sweet, anyway)

Ummmmmm oh weird, I guess that’s all that I’ve tried there!  Ha, well, apparently that was enough to win me over to the side of exclamation points and superfluous gushing.  That, and, I’ve tried a few Hong Kong style pastries here and there, both in Montreal and elsewhere, and these are the real deal.  Solidly made, good clean flavour, and very, very fresh.  They even have those egg tarts that are so good after Dim Sum.

OH right!  I tried the sesame mochi too, which was another winner and hit with intense sesame-essence from oh, maybe 3 different angles.  And I’m not even usually a mochi fan.

<3 <3 Harmonie.  Wish there was one closer to my house.

Just One Bite — Dragon’s Beard Candy

IMG_2553

Being attracted by the artistry of food-making as it’s done before the eyes – I initially discovered Montreal’s Dragon Beard Candy shoppe quite by accident.  I was just walking by when I suddenly got an enormous sensation of authenticity and street-food soul, and swerved to my left to discover this gem of a candy makers right here in Montreal.  Barely the size of a large elevator, this place always seems to have a steady stream of curious sweets-buyers, wanting to try the ethereal product. Continue reading

Searching for dragons in chinatown

Sometimes I draw a tarot card when I’m wavering on where I need to be at a certain time.  On this coat-sheddingly balmy spring day, when one could actually see the earth, the dusty layers hidden for eons under what used to constitute terra firma (terra snow-a), when sneakers started to smell rubbery again, when girls with thick smooth legs ran their brazen goosepimpleless season-heralding skin up wrought iron staircases above spilling-over terraces packed with overdue coffee dates, when finally, finally, the air quality improved to the level where pink, verdigris, humboldt and vizier became colours again, when the 70s were possible to be fondly eyed askance with nostalgia this generation never properly earned, but somehow embody in ways that probably owe a lot to just the way that certain parts of Montreal look .

Should I go to Jean-Talon?  Should I go to Chinatown?  Knowing I’d be moving closer to the market and not the sino-choice, I took my chance to appreciate the proximity, and drew the Knight of Wands as a symbol of the adventure, and kept a mental lookout for little guys with firey presences, in sculpture form, realform, yummyform and all of the above (mostly appeared in yummyform! O_O)   (unsurprisingly).

First thing I did was drool in the window of the Bahn Mi shop, Cao Thang.  I’d never had one before, but I think I probably even knew more about them than this guy, so it was weird and soon-to-be-remedied that I didn’t know the taste of them personally.

I can vouch for the #1 special here (pork and pork paste, pickled veg, jalapenos – could have been more – and cilantro) it’s a nicely balanced sandwich!  The bread was fresh with that Ol’ ChewCrisp, the pork was strong enough to feel like a robust filling even though I initially thought there wasn’t much of it (which is expected for such an affordable thinger-sandwich! O_O), and yey for pickled veg.  Yeah for $3.50 you better believe I’m going back to try the other kinds.

Skip this stuff though.  Kinda okay?  Best I can say.  It smells heavily of sesame but doesn’t have much taste and leaves grease marks on my finger when I touch it.  Pretty though.  Very, very ruby pretty.

So far?  I guess that’s the Knight of Wands choice.  Admittedly in chronology the sammich-lunching happened on my way out, but my Nose-On-The-Window-WANTING moment happened on my way in, and then I got distracted from linear sequencing while I was writing, so it’s here first and explaining all of this nicely takes up the rest of the space next to this picture of red rice that I would otherwise have to fill with rhetoric on a dish I know nothing about and tasted no more than a biteful of.  The woman at the shop gave me a fork with this though.  Ooh, damn, didn’t even notice the chopstick-miss until I got home, oooooooh.  (s’okay though, I come prepared.)

The other Knight of Wands/dragony moment happened after picking up some (RED!) curry for my roommate, I passed by a place that looked SO legit, SO attracting, that I felt like I was back in the night markets of Taiwan for a moment, watching skilled hands make the same perfect foodstuff day in and day out for years and THAT’S why it’s legendary and people come back.  I mean, I don’t know how this Dragon’s Beard candy rates among others, but I can fully say that this is one of those special-er things that Montreal’s chinatown has to offer.

I got a piece for 75 cents.  It melted and chewed and turned to nutty brittle, the hairs of the dragon, for the life me, reminiscent of grasses made of sugar.  More sturdy than cotton candy for sure.  Light as a feather.  Given to me in a little napkin and I felt like I was holding a woodland creature, a bit.

Is that it?  Probably mostly.  Well, not entirely.  I also got a lamp that makes me want it to be august already so I can sweat to it’s flickering light, writing fevered dream-letters to myself declaring burning love and saucier things, AND some fish earrings and some boring old raisins, and some pumpkin pocky, boy howdy.  Geez, nobody told me pocky was delicious.  You guys are such holdouts.  Yum.  *eats pocky*  snap snap. :P

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Cao Thang on Urbanspoon

Dragon Beard Candy on Urbanspoon