Despite growing up in the suburbs where the only Asian people I knew were related to me, I’m still mighty fast with a pair of chopsticks, especially when I frequent Chinatown in Toronto. In my family, if you’re not fast, you don’t eat. It’s not a threat, it’s a fact. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve even gone so far as to throw my chopsticks down all together to snag choice pieces of lobster with my bare hands.
There wasn’t a lot of choice of Chinese restaurants in the suburbs so we’d trek all the way to Markham to feast on everything from congee to turnip cakes to fried noodles. The front windows would feature whole BBQ-d pig and duck while inside was filled with plastic-covered tables and tanks housing unsuspecting fish and crustaceans. I couldn’t tell you which was my favourite spot but I’m sure it was called some variation of “Golden Dragon House” or “Lucky Garden.”
I may not know how to say much beyond “hello” in Chinese but my tastebuds became fluent in the language of Chinese cuisine – xiao long bao, congee, yum cha, cheung fun, etc…
Having moved from the suburbs to the bustling downtown area and within a 5-minute walk of Chinatown in Toronto, I am now in the ideal location to hone my chopstick skills on the daily.
Read on to discover all the noodles, dumplings and baos (OH MY!) that can devoured in Chinatown in Toronto!
XIAO LONG BAO @ JUICY DUMPLING
Growing up, my Dad (a.k.a. Mr Yum Yum) taught my brothers and me the proper way to eat these broth-filled Shanghainese pork dumplings.
Carefully lift the precious cargo into a spoon, bite a little hole in the side and slurp the soup out. Your palate will be awash with umami! Don’t forget to add a splash of vinegar to cut through the richness.
For a quick fix of xiao long bao, I go to Juicy Dumpling in Dragon City, the heart of Chinatown in Toronto. A line is guaranteed but it moves pretty quickly. Who wouldn’t line up for 6 dumplings for $2.99?! While you wait, gather your dumpling accoutrements – sriracha, vinegar, napkins, etc…
My Picks: Get the classic steamed pork dumplings or I like to mix it up with the crab AND pork xiao long bao.
Alternative: In the expert opinion of Mr Yum Yum, Shanghai Shikumen Fine Cuisine across the street serves up the BEST xiao long bao. I haven’t tried (yet) but they’re also very reasonably priced at $6 for 6.
DUMPLINGS @ MOTHER DUMPLINGS
The most memorable time I went to Mother Dumpling, I watched a friend gobble down 24 dumplings in one sitting. Not only is he slim enough that he shops in the Gap Kids section but he also requested dessert immediately after. So infuriating.
Mother Dumpling is a much loved Chinatown spot for (duh) dumplings. You can get them boiled, steamed or pan-fried packed with stuffings like pork, chicken and shrimp, in quantities of 10 for a paltry $5! If nothing sounds better than eating a bowl of them in your pjs at home, grab a bag of frozen dumplings for the road.
My Picks: My preference is steamed or boiled pork and chive dumplings which is classic but I’m not going to lie….I also liked the vegetarian dumplings with noodles.
pineapple buns @ HONG KONG ISLAND BAKERY
I. Like. Big BUNS and I cannot lie! But seriously – big, small, savoury, sweet – I don’t discriminate when it comes to buns.
I love wandering the perimeter of Hong Kong Island Bakery (or really any bakery in Chinatown in Toronto), the air heavy with the scent of butter and sugar. I take my time perusing the freshly baked offerings with a cafeteria-style tray and plastic tongs in hand.
If you’ve never tried Chinese buns, the dough is sweet and oh-so fluffy and comes stuffed with dozens of fillings. Bonus: nothing ever seems to cost more than a $2! You’ll be lucky to find a bakery with English labels but even if you end up playing Chinese buns roulette, you’ll have a tasty, on-the-go snack.
My Picks: Despite the misleading name, pineapple buns don’t actually contain the tropical fruit. The top is covered in a sweet paste of sugar, flour, eggs and fat before turning yellow and crackly in the oven that ends up looking like a pineapple rind (hence the name). I also love char siu buns (barbecue pork), salted egg yolk buns (these are actually a rich, sweet paste) and the flat pastries with mayo, chive and diced meat. OH, and curry buns! Pretty much ALL the buns.
DIM SUM @ ROL SAN
The Spanish have tapas. The Portuguese have petiscos. In Chinatown, you have dim sum. Sometimes referred to as “yum cha” which is a Cantonese phrase translating to “to drink tea,” it is a meal that consists of small dishes – both savoury and sweet – and served with tea.
Traditional dim sum services involves a deafening din of clinking tea cups and servers calling out dishes that they’re pushing on carts.
However, I like dim sum the way I like breakfast – all day, every day.
Luckily for me, Rol San on Spadina serves up All Day Dim Sum in Chinatown in Toronto.
My Picks: I’ve always been obsessed with rice noodle rolls (Cheung Fun) that come plain or stuffed with shrimp, beef, or fried bread drenched in a sweet soy sauce. Another fan favourite is Har Gow, a shrimp-filled dumpling and Shumai, a pork dumpling. The vegetarian dumpling stuffed with mushroom and bamboo at Rol San was also very flavourful. I personally always get the chicken feet but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Alternative: I also frequent Rosewood for my dim sum cravings. It’s a large space in Chinatown in Toronto, is clean, has friendly service and it also has all day dim sum.
chinese feast @ TASTE OF CHINA
After leaving a concert early, my Asian twin and I beelined for Taste of China for our second dinner of the night in Chinatown in Toronto. Typical #AmIRight?
Gluttonous ballers that we are, we started off with monstrously huge oysters with chives and garlic before moving on to Peking duck.
The first dish made with the duck was crispy slices of fatty duck skin fanned out on a platter and served with thin mandarin pancakes to roll up the meat with hoisin sauce and slivers of cucumber and scallion. The rest of the duck was shredded and cooked with snow peas. Meant for upwards of 2 or more people, I get disproportionately mad if people don’t want to order it with me.
My Pick: You can find Peking duck at many Chinese restaurants but the stand out dish at Taste of China is the crab fried rice. Served on lotus leaf in an enormous bamboo steamer, the rice is so damn flavourful and comes with a monstrous crab that you savagely crack open for the juicy meat.
Fun Fact: Celebrity chef Susur Lee is known to frequent Taste of China after working late at his restaurants.
BEEF TENDON NOODLES @ HOUSE OF GOURMET
This bustling spot on the north east corner or Spadina and Dundas is my no-muss-no-fuss spot for when I’m hit with a craving beef tendon noodles. The service is fast and efficient and they’re open pretty late so it’s great for late night, Asian-inspired munchies. Plus, growing up with a very
loud lively family, the raucous chatter and frenetic energy of the eatery comforts me.
My Pick: Like most Chinese restaurants, House of Gourmet has an extensive menu, from fried noodles to baked rice to BBQ meats. My go-to is a steaming bowl of rice noodles in a flavourful broth topped with chewy hunks of stewed beef tendon. Before I dig it, I generously drizzle it with spicy chilli oil. Yum!
DAN DAN NOODLES @ CHINESE TRADITIONAL BUNS
In my extensive eating experience, sometimes the sketchiest, hole-in-the-wall places turn out to be hidden culinary gems. The unsavoury exterior just scares away the less-than-hardcore foodies and keeps the spot a well-kept secret.
Walk down a short flight of filthy steps, past plastic ribbons hanging from the doorway and enter Chinese Traditional Buns. I’ve ordered everything from chive pancakes to soup-filled buns to platters upon platters or dumplings.
My Pick: Despite the name, my favourite thing on the menu is the hand-pulled dan dan noodles. As the noodles aren’t machine-cut, the width is inconsistent and have a delightful chewiness. It’s topped with minced pork, wood ear mushroom, some kind of root and drowned in chilli oil with extra chunks chilli chunks added.
Are you salivating? Before you beeline to Chinatown in Toronto to destroy dumplings galore, make sure that you don’t have post-meal plans. You won’t be fit for anything more strenuous than letting the lights dim sum for a nap. Get it? 🤣
If you’re looking for more Toronto-based foodie advice, check this post out for my favourite brunch spots in The 6ix.
Keep your stalking game strong and follow me @teriaki if you aren’t already!
Big thanks to Vicki Denstaedt and Adrielle Chiesa for helping me take photos and eat all the foods!