The Ooey Gooey Goodness of Marshmallows & Rocky Road – Cupcakes in Scarborough at So Into Cupcakes!

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Here’s a quickie, multiple choice quiz for all of you (not to worry; it’s fun and it’s not hard!).  Take a wild guess and answer the following question: how did I find out about one of Scarborough’s newest, hottest cupcake bakeries, So Into Cupcakes by Markham Rd. and Ellesmere?  A) through a friend, B) from a bus, C) from a magazine, or D) from a local cupcake fairy.  I’ll tell you right now that I wish it could have been D.  How awesome it would be to have cupcake fairies telling me where all the newest and yummiest cake and frosting creations are!  But alas, no cute fairies.  Nope, I discovered So Into Cupcakes from the window of a bus!

I don’t even know where to start with this one!  Cupcakes!  IN SCARBOROUGH!  OH MY LORDY!  I know I wrote about Sugarbuds Bakery & Cafe on Kingston Rd. last Christmas and was over the moon about having a place in Scarborough to get cupcakes.  But this is different.  So different.  We’re not talking about cupcakes within the parameters of an all-rounder bakery.  We’re talking cupcakes and ONLY cupcakes!  Cupcakes under a glass display case.  Sitting pretty like precious artifacts in a museum.  Housed in a cupcake exclusive shop.  Foodies and cupcake lovers – WE HAVE AN HONEST-TO-GOODNESS CUPCAKERY IN SCARBOROUGH!!!  This makes me so happy!  And I don’t even live in Scarborough anymore!  It’s happening everyone – cupcakes are slowly but surely making their way into suburbia and I, for one, am bouncing off the walls with jubilance over it.

I found out about So Into Cupcakes, located at 2060 Ellesmere Rd. at the corner of Dolly Varden Blvd. just west of Markham Rd., by a sheer stroke of luck.  Long story short, I was riding the bus on Ellesmere one afternoon when I dazedily looked out the window, saw the giant shop signage and cupcake imagery from its regal position in the plaza, and almost ran off the bus while it was still moving.  My mind started sputtering and my heart start thudding, “So…Into…Cupcakes…oh my…what the…cupcakes!  New cupcake shop!  When?!  CUPCAAAAKES!”  You get the picture.  When I reached my destination, I walked off the bus in daze, with this as my only thought: “I need to get home and look this place up!”  And I did.  And found out that So Into Cupcakes, as a shop, had only been around for about half a year.  Before setting up shop in Scarborough in a growing plaza with plenty of foodie treasures, So Into Cupcakes was actually an independent home business.  All I can say is that I’m so happy the business grew enough to occupy a lovely little cupcake boutique shop and I know for a fact I’m not the only one!

Backstory: my boyfriend and one of his coworkers were having a fun discussion about the things they’d want to see in Scarborough – services, retail, anything and everything.  My boyfriend cried, “cupcake shops!” to which his coworker replied, “I don’t think there’s a market in Scarborough for cupcakes”.  My response?  “Wanna bet?”  As crazy as it sounds, apparently I was not the only one who found out about So Into Cupcakes from a bus.  While I was stuffing my face with two cupcakes in the shop (one regular-sized, one mini) and taking photos, customers trickled in and one of them mentioned how they had seen the signage from the bus and decided to drop in.  Public transportation sight-seeing works!

And on top of that, So Into Cupcakes sold 30 cupcakes during the brief time I was there.  I know I take my time taking photos and savouring my food (according to my mother, I chew 21 times before I swallow. Go figure.), but still!  30 cupcakes purchased by multiple customers without even the slightest bit of coaxing during the lull period in the afternoon is mighty impressive!  No market by tooshie!  I could go on and discuss the broader context of the socioeconomic status of residents and its relation to luxury goods, but I’ll save that for another day.

Right now we’re going to delve into the world of cupcake flavours, prices, and online connections.  Let me just say that if any of you are interested in checking them out, ditch the main website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, if you have either account.  Their website is lovely with beautiful photos, but I’m telling you, if you want to get the full monty, you have to keep up with their Facebook page because you get such a better feel for what they have to offer.  Their cupcakes ($2.50 for regular-sized, $1.50 for minis) come in 12 different regular flavours that rotate on a daily basis: vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel, strawberry, lemon, cookies n’ cream, coconut, s’mores, rocky road, red velvet, mocha, and peanut butter.  What makes their selection extra exciting is their constant introduction of monthly flavours which they announce on their Facebook page and Twitter.  We’re talking Boston Cream, maple, spicy chocolate, chocolate cheesecake, pink lemonade, key lime, root beer, blueberry, mint chocolate, and SO MUCH MORE.

For my first foray into the So Into Cupcakes’ goodies, I picked out a strawberry mini and a rocky road regular.  So cute, so yummy, so creamy, so fun!  Remember how I said the strawberry cupcake from Flour Studio tasted just like strawberry Pocky?  I didn’t think I could find one that tasted more like it, but I did!  The strawberry cupcake is strawberry Pocky in cupcake form, bang on!  It’s so creamy and candy sweet.  The strawberry frosting sits on a vanilla cupcake with little sugar sprinkles on top.

And the rocky road?  Oh my gosh.  One of the cutest, funnest cupcakes EVER!  And FINALLY a cupcake that does marshmallow justice!  Their rocky road cupcake is literally ooey, gooey, soft marshmallow “frosting” on top of a chocolate cupcake with chocolate chunks and nuts bits sprinkled on top.  REAL MARSHMALLOW!  I’ve had cupcakes that were supposed to taste like marshmallow but sadly enough, just tasted like vanilla cream, like the kind of filling you’d find in a Hostess cupcake.  Which is fun!  For a Hostess cupcake.  NOT for a cupcake claiming to be marshmallow!  This cupcake is truly one of the funnest things I’ve ever eaten.  The chocolate chunks and nut bits complement the marshmallow topping so well, and while the chocolate cupcake is what you’d expect of any decent chocolate cupcake, I still think it’s mega special simply because it’s moist and fudgy and most importantly, not dry!

I’m so happy this new cupcake bakery is here in Scarborough and I think all the flavours that they’ve been coming out with are so fun and exciting!  And while the bus isn’t the most glamourous or ideal mode of transportation sometimes, it earns brownie points in my book just for allowing me to make this sweet discovery.

*****

So Into Cupcakes is located at 2060 Ellesmere Rd. in Scarborough, at the corner of Ellesmere Rd. and Dolly Varden Blvd. (by Ellesmere and Markham Rd.).  You can follow them on Facebook HERE and on Twitter @sointocupcakes HERE.

The Heart and Soul of Chinese Dim Sum – Shrimp & Pork Dumplings, Rice Rolls, and Family Gatherings

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It was dim sum weekend here at Ate by Ate headquarters and I’m so excited to share the yummies with all of you today!  Aside from some dumpling photos here and there, I’ve never done a full dim sum post on the blog.  The lack of steamers and Chinese brunch on Ate by Ate is inexcusable considering how much I love dim sum and how it’s been ingrained into my familial and cultural upbringing since childhood, so I thought it was about time I shared some of my favourite dim sum dishes and stories here.  

Dim sum is so special to me because it combines so many of my favourite things all into one big ball of happiness: great food, time spent with my grandparents, and a busy and bustling atmosphere.  I know dim sum might not seem like the most exciting or adventurous thing to those who go out for it often, but it’s a real treat for me and I look forward to dim sum get-togethers and meals each and every single time.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve had dim sum a hundred or even a thousand times over during the course of my life – it’s the feeling I have and the memories that are invoked that mean the most to me.

I love the feeling of walking into the Chinese restaurant that I grew up going to and having the manager and dim sum ladies ask me how I am and lament at how much time has passed since I was a little girl.  I love remembering the times when I would play up my big sister role and grab food for my baby brother and how I still mother him to this day by making sure he has enough to eat (he’s a boy with a bottomless pit of a stomach so I really don’t why I worry about this!).  I love seeing my relationship with my grandparents grow and change over time.  And I love those moments when its just me, my family, and food.  When all the cares in the world go away just for the morning.  When it’s just the six of us.  There’s nothing like it.

To me, dim sum is at its absolute best when it’s delivered via dim sum carts.  I know there are great places that do it the pencil and paper way, but hands down, dim sum struts its stuff from the carts when they make their rounds around the restaurant.  For those who have never experienced dim sum or dim sum in this fashion, this is how it works: Patrons are seated at a table and are asked what type of tea they wish to drink.  Two tea pots are then brought to the table, one with tea and one with hot water to dilute the tea as the meal progresses.  Dishes of food are placed on rolling carts.  Restaurant staff (who are traditionally women) push these carts in and around the aisles and perimeter of the restaurant.  At times they will call out the dishes that are being offered on the cart, but most of the time patrons will see for themselves what the dishes are and request them for their table.

There are two particular styles of dishes that are served.  There are the “small plates” and the meal-size dishes.  Small plates include dumplings (the infamous shrimp ha gow, and pork siu mai, and many others), rice rolls, steamed buns, sticky buns, spring rolls, beef balls, crispy fried taro mounds, and small dishes of things like chicken feet and squid.  Meal size dishes are things like bowls of rice (law mai fan), congee, noodles, and vegetables among others.  After requesting a dish off the cart (of which you can have as many as your table desires), the dim sum lady will make a note on your running paper bill.  Each and every table has one and it is there to keep track of what dishes each table has ordered and how many.  At the end of the meal, the running bill is tallied up to a grand total.

For families and larger groups, dim sum is – excuse my language – a freakin’ awesome deal price-wise.  Each dish size (small, medium, and large) will have a “flat” price that is assigned to all dishes within that size categorization.  For example, small dishes can be assigned to a $2 price point while medium dishes are assigend to, say, $2.50.  Prices will vary depending on day of the week (weekday mornings are slightly cheaper than weekends, which is expected) and the restaurant and part of town.  Many of the small plate dishes come with 3 or 4 of each item so you order for the table accordingly based on how many people there are, how many people anticipating eating that particular dish, and so on.  You can always order again if you decide you want more and you can always ask for a take-out box if you have leftovers.  To put the pricing into perspective, our 6-person table of adults had a total bill of $42, tax included.  And we were all stuffed as we always are after an amazing dim sum meal.

Dim sum is what I like to call, “Chinese style tapas”.  The term “tapas” is sometimes misused when it only refers to the size and portion of food and dishes, when it really incorporates both the concept of small-bites and socializing over food.  And boy is dim sum ever a socializing event!  It is not dim sum unless it is busy, busy, and more busy.  Think line-ups, dishes being delivered and devoured at an alarming speed, and a steady stream of loud chatter ping-ponging from every corner of the restaurant.  While weekday mornings might not always be as busy, noon hour is always a bustling time and weekends are absolute party events.  Most of all, the space in which dim sum is consumed is also the space in which generations merge and collide.  Dim sum is incredibly social in nature and the whole experience is bounded by the belief that food plays a central role in familial and social gatherings.

*****

Photos taken in Scarborough at Very Fair Chinese Restaurant, in Agincourt.  Very Fair Chinese Restaurant is located at 4002 Sheppard Ave. East in the lower level of the complex.

Cupcakes in Scarborough! Cupcakes, Cakes, Seasonal Treats and More at Sugarbuds Bakery & Café

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My personal obsession: nutcrackers!

My cupcake prayers in Scarborough have been answered!  Over the past two years, I’ve been hitting up as many cupcakeries and bake shops with cupcakes as possible (and going back numerous times to some because I love them so dearly!) and I’m still far from knocking ’em all off my list – and those are the ones I’m aware of!  There are plenty of other cupcake fairy lands that I probably don’t even know about and that’s where Sugarbuds Bakery & Café comes in. 

After visiting and finding out about cupcake shops downtown, uptown, in the west end, in North York, and in Markham, I wondered to myself, “are there any cupcake shops in Scarborough?”  Some people might write off the suburbs and not give downtown’s surrounding areas a second thought (or any thought at all), but there is some darn good food in these neighbourhoods.  After living in the suburbs all my life with the exception of my first year and half, I know particular areas so well I could easily walk around blindfolded and find my way out and about without a problem.  There are always hidden pockets though, or in my case, unchartered territorities.  When I’m referring to Scarborough here, I’m talking about “outskirts-almost-bordering-Port Union” Scarborough.  And yes, there are cupcakes.

Christmas cookies!

Introducing Sugarbuds Bakery & Café on Old Kingston Road!  I have Groupon to thank for this one.  Even though I didn’t end up purchasing this particular deal, I was so taken aback and delighted by it that I saved it in my inbox.  It was too good of a finding to pass up!  Finally, I found out about a cupcake place and bake shop in Scarborough!  I couldn’t wait to go.  I was so excited I actually called them to make sure they would have cupcakes available in the shop.  I didn’t want to take any chances.  For all I knew, cupcakes might have been sold on a “by order only” basis.  I was in luck though: cupcakes were available every day in different flavours and ready to be devoured by me.

After jotting down directions from a map, I made my way over with my beloved boyfriend and prepared myself for some holiday sweet sights and treats.  Were we ever treated to a show!  This bakery and café is fabulous!  Not only is it accessible by bus (always a plus in my book), but there are tables and chairs for you to sit down and enjoy your treats, and there are tons of dessert options and savoury options!  You could realistically sit down for some lunch and dessert here as they serve meat pies, soups, savoury pastries, coffee drinks, and more.

The bakery is split up into two parts and you’ll find the seating, savoury food, and giant class display cases with many of their desserts in the larger portion of the shop in the back, while the front end takes care of some of the retail goodies that the shop sells, such as gift baskets, as well as another assortment of baked goods including decorated cookies.

Sugarbuds specializes in customized cakes for special occasions (think wedding cakes, giant birthday cakes, cakes for showers, themed parties, and more) and has the celebrity seal of approval on their website from hosting and catering special events!  In addition, they make beautiful gingerbread houses, and sell everything from eclairs to pumpkin pie squares to cupcakes to sugar cookies to RAINBOW CAKE!  Yes, that’s right, you can get rainbow cake here!  Remember the famous rainbow cake from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky?  Sugarbuds has an amazing version that you just have to get your hands and sweet teeth on!  I need to get my sweet teeth in it.  This fabulousity that I speak of comes straight from my boyfriend who told me he regretted not getting FIVE slices because the one he ate was all sorts of awesome.  I know, FIVE!  I think he threw that number out there just to make a point, but I’ll take his word for it because I really don’t want to see him eat five slices!  As much as we hate to, we need to set limits.

Their seasonal selection of goodies was absolutely adorable.  They had beautifully iced and decorated gingerbread house cookies, Christmas and winter sugar cookies, Scottish shortbread, and mini PLUM PUDDINGS!  I was in conniptions over them!  They were so dainty and cute and come on, plum puddings!  I don’t know any other bakery that sells them!  You can imagine what a difficult time I had trying to decide what I wanted to try.  

A cupcake ($2.99) was a no brainer (they had 4 available: vanilla bean cream cheese, chocolate fudge, red velvet, and bananas foster, along with some Christmas cupcakes), but I wanted to take away something else.  I hemmed and hawwed so long I let another lady go in front of me to order first.  I finally settled on a bananas foster cupcake, a pumpkin pie square with the dollop of whipped cream, and a pink, red, white, and green iced and decorated gingerbread house cookie.

The desserts here are fantastic.  My boyfriend, who is one of the pickiest eaters I know, loved his desserts to death (his rainbow cake slice and his gingerbread house cookie) and I gorged on my bananas foster cupcake like there was no tomorrow.  It was the strangest thing because the cake itself wasn’t dense (the way you’d envision fruit cake to be), but the flavour was deliciously dense.  I loved the texture and flavour of the cake.  It was like a power punch of banana with an almost fudgy sort of texture.  The cake wasn’t crumby or pillowy.  If I had to compare it to something, I’d say the cake was like a banana brownie!  It was delicous and different and OH SO GOOD.  The frosting was pure, straight up vanilla (and quite like vanilla ice cream in flavour, much like an actual bananas foster dessert) and the cupcake was adorned with caramel butterscotch curls.

I’m so happy I found out about Sugarbuds.  Now that I know they exist, I can make future visits and enjoy other seasonal delectables (Valentine’s, anyone?) in the future.  I know not everyone sees the value in web enterprises such as Groupon or even agrees with the premise of it, but for me, it really has helped me find out about businesses I never would have known about and for that I’m grateful.  Here’s to cupcakes in Scarborough!

*****

Sugarbuds Bakery & Café is located at 360 Old Kingston Road, right at the corner of Old Kingston and Morrish Rd. by the eastern boundary of Scarborough in Highland Creek.  The 38 TTC bus will take you right there as it travels east from Scarborough Town Centre to Rouge Hill GO station.  If you’re driving, the easiest way to get there, in my opinion, is to drive south on Morningside, swing east when you get to Ellesmere, and go south on Morrish Rd. until you get to Old Kingston Rd.

Back to My Foodie Roots – Instant Noodles & HK Style Breakfast at Made in China Hot Pot in Scarborough

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It’s about time I finally featured food from Scarborough on the blog!  I’ve been trying my best to represent as many areas of Toronto (and Markham) as I can and I’m well aware how quiet it’s been on the Scarborough front.  Trust me when I say that the lack of yummies from Scarborough hasn’t been intentional though; there’s a number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to post about the great food here. 

First, I’ve lived in Markham for 13 years now and during those 13 years, school and work stayed within York Region boundaries during high school and undergrad university.  If I wasn’t at school I was at work and when I wasn’t at work I was at home.  Scarborough activities were mostly relegated to appointments, errands, and visiting family.  Second, if I wanted to head into Scarborough (i.e. the 416), I would have to pay double transit fares, so I had to be very careful with how much money I spent to get around.  Even though parts of Scarborough are very urban and city-like, much of the area is suburbanized which means you can’t exactly walk around place to place on foot.  Without a metropass, I would have been spending all my money (which wasn’t very much to begin with) on tokens alone.

Finally, even though my grandparents still reside in Scarborough (along with a number of old friends and classmates), have you ever attempted to take photos during a large family meal?  It’s virtually impossible.  There was no way to take and post photos without getting either half-eaten, messy dishes or hands and arms all over the place.  Not the most attractive for a food blog, yes?

Things are a little different now though.  I’m older, I have my own camera (the idea of taking photos of my food at the age of 10 never even occurred to me!), and years of working has given me a tiny bit of extra breathing room  to explore, money-wise.  I may not be aware of every nook and cranny in Scarborough, but I know a lot of the area and the food like the back of my hand.  If we’re talking about areas outside of both Chinatowns in Toronto, Scarborough is where it’s at if you want great dim sum and Chinese food.  Sure, Markham is great for this too, but Scarborough has a bit more of the old-school feel to it and considering how the majority of my childhood was spent here, it always feels like home.

I have fond foodie memories of the Finch and Midland neighbourhood especially.  Growing up, I’d eat Chinese food and noodles in this area with my mum and dad, I remember going to Korean BBQ with my aunt and uncle, and I even remember dribbling taco sauce on my favourite dress when I was 5 in the old Taco Bell.  Even though things change over time, in many ways, things have stayed completely the same.  If you’re familiar with Scarborough you know which area I’m referring to when I say, “rows of hanging triangular rainbow flags”.  I don’t have a photo for you all right now, but the iconic rainbow flags hanging over this plaza is the hallmark of this foodie district along with all the Chinese food.  

I can’t remember the last time I ate around here.  It’s been years.  So it was such a treat coming back here with my family for some breakfast.  We found this fantastic place called Made in China Hot Pot with awesome HK style diner food and breakfast!  Obviously since this was my first time here, I can’t tell you anything about the hot pot, but I can tell you about the breakfast.

I looove HK style breakfast.  Popular favourites includes congee with either different meats, seafood, preserved egg, or things like pork bones, noodles with eggs and mixed veggies, macaroni in soup with sliced beef, eggs with toast, ham, sausage, or luncheon meat, egg and meat sandwiches, baked bread and pineapple buns, cheung fun dim sim, and a number of others. 

My favourite dishes are instant noodles with egg and luncheon meat, macaroni soup noodle bowls, and HK style toast with the crusts cut off and spread with butter made with sweetened condensed milk.  Made in China Hot Pot has a great breakfast menu with a ton of options and the prices are ridiculously awesome for the portions you get!  Prices range from $2.55 to $5.95 and all menu items come with your choice of HK style tea or coffee (lie cha, ling cha, yuen yeung, etc.).

My mum ordered the oatmeal with two eggs and toast, my brother ordered the omelette with ham, mushroom, and cheese with toast, my dad was in conniptions over his salted pork bone congee and fried vermicelli noodles with bean sprouts, and I ordered my favourite HK breakfast comfort food: instant noodles in soup with luncheon meat (mmm chan yok) and egg.  The portions and presentation of food are both fantastic.  My dad literally got this ginormous bowl of congee and a full square plate of noodles, my mum got a nice meal-sized bowl of oatmeal with her eggs and toast, and my brother’s omelette with thick and stuffed to the edges.  Since the meals came in “two-parters” with the exception of mine, we were honestly expecting side dish sized portions for each “part” of the meal given the fab prices and we were blown away and so happy and satisfied with our food.

Even though my meal is very run-of-the-mill in terms of content (instant noodles are instant noodles no matter how you spin it, and so is luncheon meat unless somebody decides they want to be cute and starts to use cookie cutters), I loved my dish.  Instant noodles in soup is one of my most favourite comfort foods, the luncheon meat was delicious with its savoury, smoky, slightly salty flavour, and it wasn’t overly seasoned (they didn’t drizzle soy sauce over it which was a very good thing!), and I adored how cute my egg looked!  It was a gorgeous sunny-side up egg (some dishes will come with an overeasy one) and the fab part was that the yolk didn’t explode everywhere.  I love me some overeasy eggs where I can dip my toast or bread in the yolks, but in noodle soup, I like it more cooked so it doesn’t get lost in the soup.

Made in China Hot Pot is beautiful on the inside and so big and spacious.  I’m so happy we found this place and we’re already looking forward to our next visit!  They have HK style spaghetti and rice dishes, a slew of different dumpling sets, and of course its namesake, hot pot.  When it comes to food, Scarborough hasn’t lost its touch.

*****

Made in China Hot Pot is located at 3280 Midland Ave. in the Scarboro Village Mall plaza near the intersection of Finch and Midland Ave.  The plaza is north of Finch and south of Silver Star Blvd.  They serve all-day breakfast, lunch, dinner, and their specialty, Chinese hot pot.