Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lazy Stir-Fry Dinners – September 13, 2009

Although I’m always complaining about not having time to make dinner, it really isn’t that difficult to pull together a decent dinner if the kitchen is stocked. This stir-fry dinner took less than 45 minutes to make, and it was delicious! I made a black pepper beef stir-fry, a ginger chicken stir-fry, and a simple seaweed soup. It ended up being way too much food, but Jimmy was more than happy to bring the leftovers to school the next day.

The fantastic thing about stir-fries is that the pattern is always the same: hot pan, hot oil, fragrant ingredients, hard vegetables, meat, soft vegetables, season, cornstarch, adjust seasoning, plate, and garnish. At times, you’ll have to change a step or two, depending on the dish, but you can always rely on the pattern to turn out a good dish—even if it’s not quite what you were aiming for!

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The Ingredients

Start by making a pot of rice. Depending on how you cook your rice (on the stove, with a rice cooker), it may take more or less than half an hour to cook. If you manage your time wisely, everything will finish cooking at the same time (other than the stir-fries).

Chopped ingredients

Next, chop up your vegetables. Going clockwise from the top: minced garlic, sliced onions for the chicken dish, slivered ginger, sliced red peppers, sliced green onions, chopped green onions, and more sliced onions for the beef dish. I used these ingredients to make two dishes: black pepper beef and ginger chicken.

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The key is lots of garlic!

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Seaweed (Laver) Soup

I cheat with my soups because I never plan on having soup until just before I start cooking. I use powdered chicken broth (the Asian kind with TONS of MSG) as the base of my soups. I know it’s bad, but it’s a quick way to get dinner on the table without having to simmer a pot of bones for hours.

Seaweed soup with egg and green onions

Start boiling four cups of water in a pot. Add half a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of chicken broth powder. For an optional boost of flavour, add a few squirts of fish sauce. It will round out the flavour.

Once the water boils, cut a piece of laver that is a little larger than your hand. Using scissors, cut all of this into little pieces into the soup.

Turn down to a simmer, and crack an egg into the soup. Stir the soup a few times to make sure that the egg doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped green onions, and ladle into a large bowl.

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Black Pepper Beef Stir-Fry

Black pepper beef

When beef goes on sale, I buy a large roast, slice it up thinly for stir-fries, cube the fatty and chewy bits for stew, and freeze them flat in individual portions. That way, when I need beef, I just thaw out what I need in a little bit of warm water. Because I pack them flat, they defrost a lot quicker, and I find that it saves more space in the freezer.

Anyway, I thawed one serving of sliced beef for this stir-fry.

Start with a hot pan and a teaspoon of oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the minced garlic and half of the onions. Fry until fragrant and add the red peppers, taking care not to burn the garlic.

Once the onions begin to soften and release their liquid, crank the heat up and toss in the thawed beef.

Season the dish by adding a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, a generous spoonful of black pepper, a squirt of dark soy sauce (just for colour), and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Stir-fry until evenly coated. Toss in the rest of the onions.

In a small dish, combine a teaspoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water. Mix well until there are no lumps, and add it to the pan. Stir the ingredients quickly, to prevent lumps from forming. The sauce should be a little slimy, but definitely not pasty.

Black pepper beef, closeup

Taste the sauce, and adjust seasoning (oyster sauce, pepper). Once it tastes good, plate it and top with sliced green onions.

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Ginger Chicken

To ensure that I always have chicken pieces for stir-fries, I do the same thing as the beef—buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs on sale, slice up into bite-sized pieces, pack flat in individual portions, and freeze. Super convenient.

For this dish, I used two servings of chicken, which turned out to be too much. I’ve got to remember to make smaller dishes, so that we’re not left with containers full of leftovers.

Ginger chicken

Heat up a pan with a teaspoon of oil. Fry the garlic and ginger until it becomes fragrant. Then toss in the onions.

When the onions begin to soften, add the thawed chicken pieces. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and add a tablespoon of oyster sauce. This time, I also used a teaspoon of regular soy sauce, which darkened the dish too much. It didn’t change the flavour much, just the colour.

Stir-fry until the onions are translucent. Add a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in two tablespoons of cold water. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Transfer it to a plate, and serve hot with steamed rice.

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Black Soy Milk

Black soy milk

To complete this Chinese dinner, we drank ice-cold black soy milk. The soy milk is refreshing and cooling. My dinner turned out a little greasy, so this helped tone it down a little.

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As I mentioned above, this dinner took about 45 minutes to pull together. It’s absolutely essential that you have your ingredients ready, and your seasonings ready to go. Otherwise, you’ll overcook the stir-fry while you search for other things. The actual cooking time in a stir-fry is only five minutes, and no more than ten minutes, so you have to be on top of everything.

However, once you master the rhythm of stir-frying (hot pan, hot oil, fragrant ingredients, hard vegetables, meat, soft vegetables, season, cornstarch, adjust seasoning, plate, and garnish), the variations on dishes and combinations of ingredients are endless!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Birthdays: Another Reason to Eat Too Much Food – August 2, 2009

My extended family (20-ish people) gathers almost every weekend to have lunch or dinner (or both). These weekend dinners are hosted by a different family each week, so it gives everyone else a chance to relax a little bit. Normally, these dinners feature whatever food was on sale that week, and we make simple dishes.

When we get together for a family member’s birthday, however, we go all out. This year for my brother’s birthday, we decided on having a striploin steak dinner. These steak dinners usually include two different types of vegetables (sometimes two salads, or a salad and steamed vegetables), mashed potatoes, and gravy.

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We had a special occasion staple: heart of palm salad. If you go back through our “Holiday” tag, you’ll notice this dish crops up frequently.

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Christine and I prefer our onions to be more sautéed than sweated, but the rest of family doesn’t understand the difference. These were limp and soggy, and they were on the side for those who don’t like onions.

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Our younger cousins love mashed potatoes, which is why we always have such a huge pot full of them. We hardly ever have any leftovers.

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I don’t like using these dinner rolls for garlic bread, but they’re pretty cheap at Costco. I find them a little too crunchy and crusty, so I prefer garlic bread made with baguettes.

I didn’t get a picture of an assembled plate because I was too busy stuffing my face. I can guarantee that at least half of us ate too much that night. That night, I ate a small steak, a spoonful of mashed potatoes, a slice of garlic bread, and loads of salad, which worked well with The Diet. I'm glad these larger dinners always have a vegetable option.

I really wish I could get more photos of these weekend get-togethers to remember the moments, but I guess focusing on enjoying the dinner and company is also important. This is the main reason I miss living in Ottawa. I can’t wait until I move back to Ottawa in May!

Toronto Trip #4 of 4: Dim Sum at Rol San – September 6, 2009

This is the fourth and final trip to Toronto in the second half of summer.

Check out the links below for the other trips.

Trip 1: Markham food court, banh mi, cherries at Humber, Mr. Sun’s Taiwanese beef noodles
Trip 2: Tim Horton’s breakfast, Mirage’s Taiwanese beef noodles, ramen and onigiri at Kenzo, bubble tea
Trip 3: Takoyaki at Chinatown Festival, Chinese dinner at House of Gourmet, Chinese noodle breakfast at Congee Dynasty

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Christine brought Jimmy and me to the famed Rol San for the very first time. I didn’t quite know what to expect, since it was one of those dim sum places where you order off a sheet and not off a cart.

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We started with tea and ice water. The waitress brought by some of their hot sauce as well. This hot sauce was mixed with a little vinegar, so it had a nice tang. It wasn’t very spicy, but it was flavourful. I’m beginning to like vinegar in everything I eat.

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The chicken feet, or phoenix claws if “chicken feet” grosses you out. Two years ago, I had an experience that made me swear off chicken feet. I finally caved into the wonderful aromas and proclamations of deliciousness from Christine and Jimmy, and I ate chicken feet for the first time in two years!

Oh, it was heavenly. At first, I thought it may have tasted delicious because I haven’t eaten them in a while, but Christine reassures me that they’re the best chicken feet she’s ever eaten. The sauce wasn’t too sweet, and the flavours seeped their way right into the chicken’s cartilage and skin. I took great pleasure in destroying the feet into a pile of little bones.

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This giant dumpling in soup was okay. Christine and Jimmy really liked it. I found the wrapper too soggy, the filling too boring, and the soup too sweet. My dining companions were happy to finish it off themselves.

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Har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings). These are a staple of any proper dim sum, but they often lack any real shrimp flavour. I was shocked when I bit into these and they had large chunks of sweet shrimp. The skin wasn’t overly gummy either. It was executed perfectly.

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Clockwise from the top: shrimp in rice roll, bean curd skin roll with vegetarian filling, turnip cake, chicken feet, pork spring roll.

The shrimp in rice roll was good, but it should have come with more of the sweet soy sauce. There was also a lot more rice roll than I expected, so it filled me up rather quickly.

The vegetarian roll in bean curd sheet was gross. Oily and bland, it was a total dud. The textures, bumpy and crunchy, were off-putting. Normally, this is a decent dish, but we left it practically untouched this time.

The turnip cake was also disappointing. This is one of Jimmy’s favourite dishes, but even he found that it was too floury and bland. It wasn’t fried enough, and they used too much flour. The little meaty bits weren’t that good either—it’s as if they were there for texture alone and not flavour.

Chicken feet were awesome (see above).

The spring rolls were oily, but the flavour was fantastic. The porkiness hit me right away, and I wanted to eat more, but couldn’t. It was just a little much since it was one of the last dishes to arrive. I would order it again, if someone could guarantee that they wouldn’t be greasy.

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The youtiao in rice roll was fail. The youtiao tasted old, which surprised us considering Rol San’s location in the heart of Chinatown, and they were soggy. It tasted as if they used Ottawa’s youtiao to make it, and Ottawa’s youtiao suck.

The sticky rice in lotus leaf is a personal favourite, and it was good at Rol San. I can’t remember much else, except that I ate two of them myself.

Chicken feet were awesome (see above).

Turnip cake was disappointing (see above).

Vegetarian roll in bean curd wrapper was gross (see above).

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The Verdict

Considering the amount of disappointing dishes we ordered, I would still visit Rol San on a regular basis. The good dishes were amazing, though the crappy dishes were blech. I would stick to what I like (sticky rice and almost any dish with shrimp) because they do those dishes quite well. The price was decent, too, totalling $45 for three people.

All that grease gave us stomach-aches, and we relied heavily on Tums to get us through the afternoon. I wouldn’t eat here all the time, but if I were looking for a reliable place for dim sum in Chinatown, this would be it.

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Rol San on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome to Ottawa, T&T!

Just as a little note, the long-awaited T&T Supermarket opened in Ottawa today. I am very much in love with the Costco-esque feel of T&T, and we've been visiting it on each trip to Toronto this summer.

T&T Supermarket
Photo by Jen44 on Flickr

Here's an article from CBC News, reporting on the store's first day.

Chicken Noodle Soup from Scratch, Baby! – September 21, 2009

Because I grew up with my mum making everything from scratch, instant food had a magical appeal. I had Kraft dinner for the very first time when I was about 12 years old, and I fell in love with it. Canned soups were especially delicious because of the generous amounts of salt.

Chicken noodle soup with crackers

HOWEVER, my mum’s chicken noodle soup could never be outdone by instant food. I’ve tweaked her recipe to make it look more like the picture-perfect soups you see on television, but the same familiar flavours are still there. I like to eat this with a salad, to bring it closer to The Diet, but because I normally use a lot of vegetables in the soup, I would consider it part of The Diet anyway.

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Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves four

1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
½ red pepper, diced
1 tbsp butter
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp dried parsley flakes (for the look)
2-3 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
2 tsp (maybe more) salt
4-5 cups water

3 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups egg noodles

In a large pot, sauté the vegetables in butter, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until onions are clear and carrots are soft.

Toss in parsley flakes and chicken. Saute until skin begins to brown.

Sprinkle the salt and add water to cover. Simmer on low for at least 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Skim off the scum on the soup’s surface, but don’t skim off all the fat. The fat is where the concentrated flavour lies.

Taste the soup and add more salt, if necessary. If it’s salty enough, but it still tastes thin, simmer the soup longer. The longer you simmer, the better the soup tastes.

When the soup tastes right, remove the chicken and chop the meat into large chunks. Discard bones and skin, and return chopped chicken to the pot.

Start another pot of boiling water after the soup tastes right. Sprinkle salt and egg noodles into the pot. Cook noodles according to the package’s instructions (usually 10-12 minutes).

Drain noodles, and set aside.

Chicken noodle soup, closeup

Once the soup tastes right, and the noodles are cooked, spoon the noodles into each bowl. Ladle the soup into the bowl, and serve piping hot.


A Truly Excessive Thanksgiving – October 11, 2009

Thanksgiving dinner this year was pure gluttony. We live in a small house, and somehow, we managed to cram 25+ people into our kitchen and living room. To feed this crowd, we made massive amounts of everything. We had one large turkey, three hams glazed with honey mustard, over ten pounds of mashed potatoes, a giant basin of salad, a large pot of gravy, piles and PILES of garlic bread, and two (or maybe three) pans of stuffing.

It was amazing.

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The turkey was a touch dry (even the dark meat), but since I drown my turkey in gravy, it didn’t matter in the end. This is one of three platters of meat from the turkey.

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I toned my mashed potatoes down a little bit because there were so many other side dishes. I spent a good half hour that morning peeling, washing, and slicing potatoes. By the end of the ten pound bag, I was speckled with starch.

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The salad was a simple spring mix, and people could choose which salad dressing to use. We had MANY.

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This is only a third of the spread. We brought platters of everything into the living room where the kids were eating, and there was also extra food in the back, for refills.

I got greedy and loaded up my plate with way too much food (again), and unfortunately, I was full only halfway through it. Almost everyone ended up the same way that night.

Lots of relatives, lots of kids, lots of food, and lots of fun—we had a lot to be thankful for! Happy (very VERY late) Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

*Updated* Toronto Trip #3 of 4: Takoyaki and Lots of Chinese Food – August 22 & 23, 2009


I added the addresses and hyperlinks.

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This is the third trip in the series. Again, The Diet was pretty far from my mind.

You can check out the other posts here:

Trip #1
Trip #2
Trip #4

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Chinatown Festival

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As we were driving to Toronto, Christine received a text message from a friend who excitedly told her about takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings) at the Chinatown Festival that afternoon. We told our dad that there was a food festival in Chinatown, so he was game.

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Finding the takoyaki stall wasn’t difficult because it had the longest lineup. The huge signs with the cute octopus mascot were also helpful.

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An order of six takoyaki balls cost $5.00, which I felt was pricey. I’m constantly reading about the deliciousness of takoyaki, so I didn’t mind paying. Plus, this was the first time we four siblings would eat takoyaki, making them worth the price.

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Step 1: Oil the takoyaki pan.

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Step 2: Pour the batter.

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Step 3: Sprinkle shredded beni shouga (pickled ginger). It's the red stuff above.

Step 4: Drop in chunks of cooked octopus.

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Step 5: Sprinkle tempura crisps for texture. These ones looked suspiciously like Rice Krispies or Special K. When I ate them, I couldn’t tell what they were.

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Step 6: Start turning them over as they begin to cook.

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Step 7: When they are golden all over, remove them from the takoyaki pan and into a serving tray.

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Step 8: Brush on okonomiyaki sauce liberally.

Step 9: Sprinkle powdered seaweed seasoning (the green stuff in the shaker).

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Step 10: Squirt Japanese kewpie mayonnaise all over, and devour them while they’re still hot!

I have to admit, the takoyaki were disappointing. The batter wasn’t crispy; rather, it was soft and squishy. That was a shocker. I was also surprised to discover that they were almost hollow. When I texted my reaction to Jimmy, he quickly replied that we ate fake takoyaki. They were crappy takoyaki that was produced to appeal to the general mass. Lame.

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While I was waiting in line, we passed by the Creative Zing stall that was selling t-shirts and accessories with some really cute designs. I admit, I bought this shirt completely on impulse. I wanted to buy more, but I restrained myself. Now, I’m thinking I want another one to keep this one company.

That afternoon, takoyaki was a bust, but my t-shirt was a definite positive!

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House of Gourmet Blah Blah

We met up with family and walked over to the House of Gourmet BBQ Blah Blah (we really love this place) for dinner.

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We started with the house soup. It was just a whole bunch of scraps boiled down for their essence. Man, don’t ever underestimate the flavour locked in those scraps. Beyond its looks, this soup was exceptional. It was gentle but flavourful, and I can’t even begin to list the many ingredients tossed into this soup for flavour. Everyone at the table loved it.

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I can’t remember this dish, but it looks like braised mushrooms, pork belly, and fried tofu served over blanched baby bok choy.

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The soy sauce chicken was incredible. They marinate the whole chicken in a marvellously subtle soy sauce, and it turns out both sweet and savoury, in perfect harmony. The skin is definitely the best part because it has absorbed all of the flavour from the marinade. Soaking it also gives the skin a wonderful bouncy texture. Actually, not quite bouncy… more like slightly resisting as you bite into it. It’s just got a great feel when you bite. It’s best if you nibble on it with your front teeth to savour the texture. It’s less than QQ noodle texture (al dente), but slightly more than soft tofu. It’s heaven.

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Christine ordered her noodles, as per usual. This time, it was made with choy sum, which is more tender than gai lan. The smokiness in the rice noodles is second-to-none, and they were perfect that night. I would cry if I couldn’t eat these noodles from this restaurant anymore. It would just be sad… so sad.

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We also had stir-fried lobster with ginger. It was good. That’s all I remember.

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This dish was the star of the show. It had baby corn (yes!), perfectly cooked squid (yes!), large shrimp (yes!), sugar snap peas (yes!), scallops (hell yeah!), and deep fried soft tofu (orgasmic!). I may be exaggerating a little bit, but the tofu was incredible. Crispy shell that gently broke way to the slippery, gelatinous blorp of tofu. Ah, it was heaven. Out of all of the ingredients in this dish, my entire family agreed that the tofu was a sleeper hit!

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Here is the full spread for nine people. At 12 o’clock on the table, there was also sweet and sour pork chops. They were meh. At 6 o’clock on the table, we had beef and gai lan. Also meh. We couldn’t finish all of the food and had to pack a lot of it to take out. Most of us were waddling back to the car.

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Noodle Breakfast at Congee Dynasty

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Since we stayed over at a relative’s home in Mississauga, we didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Chinatown for breakfast. Instead, we went to Congee Dynasty—a place that my family frequents pretty often. Well, everyone but me, since this was my first visit.

We had almost 20 people at breakfast, so we split up into adults’ and kids’ tables, respectively. I was stuck with at the kids table; however, we definitely got the better food.

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First up was youtiao wrapped in steamed rice rolls, served with three sauces (sweet soy sauce, hoisin, and sweet sesame). I fell in love with this, having only had them a few times before. All of the textures and different sauces made me feel like I was eating many different dishes. We had two orders of this dish, and everyone hastily gobbled them up.

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This fried spicy turnip cake dish was also a big hit at the table. It was my first time eating this, so I thought it was lumps of rice noodle or something. It was crispy, soft, mushy, bouncy, oh my goodness, so many different textures and mouthfeel! I would definitely order this again.

Then we had a trio of noodle dishes.

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Fried chow mein with beef and black bean sauce.

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Dry rice noodles with beef and bean sprouts.

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Christine’s noodles.

In general, the noodles were good. I only got a little bit of the chow mein before my cousin devoured it. The flavours were familiar. If you’ve ever had chow mein before, imagine it with a little black bean sauce, and that’s exactly what it tastes like.

I really liked the dry rice noodles because it contained chili oil, which was something unusual. The spiciness was a slow burn, so if you’re not careful, you’ll start choking. Which I did. Multiple times. And I STILL loved the dish. I’d get it again fo sho.

Christine’s noodles are still better at the House of Gourmet, but that was to be expected.

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The damage. Well, we did pack some of it to go, but it was mostly Christine’s noodles. It just couldn’t compare with the noodles we ate the night before, so we focused on the other dishes.

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I don’t think I’ve ever eaten this luxuriously. I had tummy aches from being too greedy and scarfing down food. I also threw The Diet out the window, which I happily returned to on the following Monday.

To summarize: takoyaki was bad, t-shirt was cute, fried tofu rocks, Christine’s noodles are only good from the House of Gourmet blah blah, fried turnip cakes are a big YES!, and chili oil should probably be added to everything I eat.

The trip was freaking awesome!

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I’m too tired to post all of the hyperlinks and addresses, so I’ll return to this post and update it later.

~ * ~

Toronto Chinatown Festival
Dundas and Spadina
August 22-23, 2009

House of Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Congee Dynasty Cuisine on Urbanspoon


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