Foodie Childhood Memories – Crackers, Vanilla Creams, and Deb’s Favourite Chinese and Asian Candies and Snacks!

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I know going to the supermarket may not be up everyone’s alley (“do we have to go near the smelly fish tank?”; “why are people fighting over the corn over there?”; “why is this line-up moving so freakin’ slow?!”), but I bet you the one thing that gets everyone off their bums and into the store are the snacks!  A lot of us may be all grown up now, leading hectic lives with schedules all over the place.  But that doesn’t mean we forget the simplest pleasures in life.  For me, one of the most nostalgic, happy food pleasures is walking down the candy and snack aisles at the Chinese grocery store, or looking up at the dizzying array of sweets and crunchy munchies before me in the candy stores in Chinatown or in Pacific Mall, Market Village, and First Markham Place in Markham. 

I don’t go the Chinese grocery store as often as I used to.  For one thing, as I grew older, many of my weekends were spent staying at home doing homework as opposed to accompanying my parents during outings.  And for another, a lot of my childhood was centered around doing things with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle, so after my aunt and uncle moved to Australia and after my family and I moved further away from my grandparents, the time spent with them inevitably shrank.  And so did my time going to Chinese supermarkets.

A few weeks ago, I sat around pondering about a new series to introduce on the blog.  Something fun and something to ignite the childhood memories and experiences with food we all adored so much.  During a trip to Pacific Mall and Market Village, I thought, “why not do a Chinese and Asian candy and snack series?”  The idea got me all in a tizzy.  I hadn’t done anything like it on the blog yet, I knew a lot of people would enjoy it, and hell, it would give me and excuse to buy and eat all the snacks I used to love (and still love) so much!  We’re talking about the infamous Pocky, Hello Panda chocolate-filled biscuits, Yan-Yan, Hello Kitty candies, gummies, jellies, chocolates, crackers, and all that good stuff.

One of my earliest memories of eating Chinese snacks was from kindergarten.  My mum gave me these Bin-Bin rice crackers to take with me to school (I don’t have a photo of them right now, but Google them and you’ll see which ones I’m referring to) along with my Vita-Soy drink box, and Teddy Grahams – how’s that for east meets west?  I remember my dad picking up some fruit gummy snacks for me when I was 5 (the ones shown in the first photo) during his trips to pick up Chinese “copy books” for me at the convenience store (little books that helped me practise my handwriting), and I’ll always remember the yummy dry seaweed packs I’d eat during recess at school and the chocolate and strawberry Yan-Yans that were so fun to dunk and eat. 

I love the feeling I get looking at all these snacks I used to enjoy so much.  And that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy them now.  Sure, I’ll snatch up a little box of Pocky every once in awhile, or I’ll stop to quickly look at a few things while I’m passing by an aisle or store.  A few months ago I even tried the new mango Yan-Yan just for kicks!  But those isolated incidents are just that – isolated.  It isn’t until you fully immerse yourself in it again that you remember what a happy part of your life it used to be.  So I hunted down some of my favourites to share with you guys – and of course, stuff my face in!  I have plenty more where this came from, so we’ll start with two of my favourite snacks, one of which is savoury and the other, sweet.  Behold, the shrimp crackers and vanilla cream Collon biscuits!

Oh man.  These shrimp crackers are even better than most types of potato chips.  I know it’s a bit of a misnomer considering they don’t look like the typical rectangular, square, or circular cracker, but they’re a savoury snack that crunches just the same!  They look like little corkscrew fries and they melt in your mouth like butter.  Is the shrimp flavour really that pronounced?  Not really, but it’s subtle, it’s in there and damn, are these shrimp crackers ever good. 

And my vanilla cream Collon biscuits!  I don’t know if the manufacturers have just stopped shipping out as many, but these were a little harder to find which made me sad because I love them so much.  The vanilla ones are just slightly easier to get your hands on than other flavours like chocolate and the vanilla with chocolate varieties.  But they are amazing.  These are tiny vanilla cream filled wafers that are thimble-sized and look like little cyclindrical logs.  The outer layer is crunchy vanilla wafer while the inside is super smooth and creamy vanilla.  The filling tastes like frosting and if you think eating bar nuts or popcorn is bad once you get started, you need to eat these.  You will hug them.  And love them.  And want more.  I’ve been saving my box for a cozy, rainy, lounging-on-the-couch-watching-tv kind of day.  And whaddya know, this whole weekend is supposed to be rainy!  It looks like I have a yummy companion for the next few days – no promises that the box won’t be finished before Monday.          

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Amazing Chinese Breakfasts, Rice, and Ramen Noodles – Pulling Into Our Next Stop at Station Asia!

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It really wasn’t that long ago since my first visit to Station Asia at Market Village, but looking back, it feels like a lifetime ago.  I had just started grad school, I had a short haircut that would get shorter over the months ahead, and a whole new chapter of my life had started with new friends, new people in my life, and a new outlook on what I wanted out of life.  I remember coming here for the first time during my second month of grad school in October 2008 with my best friend and I remember the chill in the air, how beautiful the fall season was, and how DELICIOUS my lunch was!  

What I really like about Station Asia is how they touch on and incorporate so many different kinds of Asian and Chinese cuisine.  It’s a Chinese style diner with a lot of ethnic diversity and variety, and sometimes these differences in cuisine are so subtle you’d only know it if you had the knowledge about the different countries and regions and if you ate enough of the differerent cuisines to know.  I know I can’t speak for all Canadian-born Asians, but growing up, I went through the trials and tribulations of being born into and raised in a Western and Asian culture simaltaneously.  Sometimes one overshadowed the other and other times one or the other felt completely foreign.  I grew up eating the EXACT same food you’d find in Station Asia, especially when I lived with my grandparents when I was first born.  My great-grandmother would make me “baby congees”, Chinese bakery buns and cakes were staples in our home, dim sum was lovingly ingrained in my tastebuds and in my heart, and I would make homemade wontons and dumplings with my grandma in her kitchen.

Food isn’t just food; it’s a part of our upbringing, our ethnic identity, and so many other facets of life.  It sounds weird, but when I eat at Station Asia, it comforts me and makes me feel like I’m outside of the box at the same time.  In other words, I can eat here and be completely familiar with much of what I eat and see, but I am also reminded of how much there is for me to know and keep learning.  I want to know more about the subtle differences in regional cuisine and I want to know more about the food I grew up on but was too young at the time to appreciate.

Station Asia is great if you want a bit of everything.  If you feel like the HK style diner dishes, they have baked rice dishes, baked fish fillets with sauce, black pepper chicken steak with rice, and a host of cold drinks including ices, slushes, and bubble teas.  They touch on Korean style bibimbap, Chinese Portuguese curry, the incredibly popular Chinese and Singaporean Hainan chicken and rice (hoi nam guy fan), spicy Malaysian style noodles, and plenty of tradtional Cantonese food including congee (or as I like to call it, rice porridge), vermicelli, stir-fried noodles, and steamed rice with lots of fish, mushrooms, preserved vegetables, chicken, beef, oysters, pork, dried scallops, black bean, and many others.  They serve breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner, and they have different menus during different mealtimes over the course of the day.

The lunch and dinner meals will run you an average of $5-$11 and they offer many of their menu items as a part of a combo which includes a soup (ba wong fa soup!), an appetizer (which could be pickled vegetables, sliced chicken, salad, or a number of other things), and a hot or cold HK style drink of your choice with an additional charge for the fancier slushes or ices.  Breakfast at Station Asia is their strong suit.  Not only do I love the menu, but I love the prices even more!  Their breakfast, if you can believe it, is around $3.50-$5!  They have a whole menu full of breakfast items for $3.80, $4.50, and $4.99 and they are fantastic because the portions are BIG for a lot of them.  Think noodles and rice and sandwiches! 

Ordering food here is also a bit different from other places because everything is written down on an order form on a piece of paper where you specify the menu item number, the quantity you want (for example, if two or three people want the same dish or drink), and specific notes such as your choice between rice, ramen, noodles, that kind of thing.  There’s a section for food and a section for drink, so all you really have to do is just note the item number because the dish and drink you want.  Easy peasy!

I’ve been to Station Asia a handful of times and my favourites have to be their baked rice dishes, their rice with seafood and sauce, their breakfasts, and their ramen noodles!  I absolutely LOVED the first dish I ever had here which was a hot stone pot of rice and seafood (prawns, scallops) with snap peas and Thousand Island dressing.  It was delicious and I would order it again in a heartbeat.  Which reminds me that I should really take note the next time I’m there and make sure they still have this item! 

 

I am also a huge fan of their ramen noodles and their different kinds.  Yes, they have different flavours of ramen noodles!  I’ve had their regular, the spinach, and the tomato and hands down, my favourite is the tomato one.  The regular is delicious too and although I enjoyed the spinach, the spinach flavour was a little lost on me and I much preferred the tomato one for its flavour.  But I have to say, ordering the spinach ramen is really fun because you get to eat green noodles, ha!  I’ve had their ramen noodle breakfast with their breaded crispy fried fish fillet and their shrimp and scrambled egg sauce.  If I was to translate that it would be “wat daan ha yun mein”.  I know, I know, my spelling is probably completely off but it’s the best I can do!

I always look forward to coming here (Pacific Mall, Market Village, Splendid China Tower, I love them all), especially for the breakfast and the tea time menus, and it’s a comfort to me knowing there’s always something new to try and old favourites to come back to.

*****

Station Asia has two locations.  One is located inside Market Village closest to the north entrace (4394 Steeles Ave. East by Kennedy Rd.) and the other is located inside Splendid China Tower, closest to the north entrance (4675 Steeles Ave. East just east of Pacific Mall and Market Village on the north side of Steeles Ave.).  They serve breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner.   

Valentine’s Series: The Keys to My Heart, Part I – My Favourite Spicy Salmon Rolls!

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I’ve said it a number of times on the blog and I’ll say it again: I’m a sucker for cute, seasonal things and I adore celebratory occasions.  So in lieu of Valentine’s Day next Monday, I’m starting a series today entitled “The Keys to My Heart” that will profile some of my favourite foods and indulgences, and I’ll be running it for the next 4 days until the big day! 😀  And by “big day”, I mean a day of good food and lots of cute and pretty things!  Some people feel that Valentine’s Day is cliché, overrated, and well…stupid.  In the traditional sense, it can definitely seem archaic, but I like to think of Valentine’s Day as a day to simply enjoy the company of people you love, as well as indulging in your favourite treats and activities.  I think I’ll treat myself to a lip gloss shopping trip in the very near future to celebrate.

First up in the Keys To My Heart series: my favourite spicy salmon sushi rolls!!  *prances around the room*  Now you all know how much I love my sushi and how many different kinds I’ve tried.  Out of all the places I’ve been to so far and all the spicy salmon varieties I’ve ordered, the spicy salmon roll bento box at Japanese Express in the upper level food court in Pacific is the BEST!  For $7.95, you get a bento box with 12 rolls, a side salad, and a tea.  The buttery, melt-in-your-mouth salmon is surrounded by a ring of crunchy tempura, and with the dollop (or as I like to think of it, a little pool of spicy heaven) of spicy sauce on each roll, it’s like a crunchy, spicy party in your mouth.  The texture and heat are so good!  And the rice is perfect too – not mushy and not hard. 

I’m known for taking itty bitty bites of things, but for these rolls, you put the whole shebang in your mouth and wiggle and savour, even as you’re puffing from the heat, haha! 😀  I cannot get over how amazing the sauce is in combination with the rolls and I suppose my love for it makes sense considering how much I love sauce on stuff!  I have such a weakness for the different kinds of spicy sauce and mayo sushi places use for their rolls, mmm. 

And if you’re interested in another really good menu item, I definitely recommend the hand rolls!  You get a set of three: one salmon, one California (crab meat, cucumber, and avocado), and one bbq eel.  These are truly quality hand rolls in size, taste, and texture with the crunchy, crispy seaweed and grainy rice.  The slices of salmon sashimi, crab meat, and avocado are so fresh and thick, and the bbq eel is yumminess!  I’ve had bbq eel in rolls before, twice, but for whatever reason, the bbq eel in this pocket of a hand roll tasted so much better!  It has the texture of grilled salmon, soft and not dry in the least.  I’m actually really happy to have found these great sushi items.  You get skeptical of the quality of food in food courts, especially when so much of it is imitation, but these dishes deliver.  Yay!  

I absolutely cannot wait to scrapbook my little heart out real soon, so expect a ton of new layouts in the next 2 weeks!  I’m really excited to do some special Valentine’s-related posts for the blog in the next few days too, so I hope you all enjoy this series!

*****

Pacific Mall is located at 4300 Steeles Ave. East, right at the intersection of Kennedy Rd. and Steeles.  Pacific Heritage Town is on the upper level and houses a food court with traditional Chinese, Shanghai, and Japanese and sushi, as well as a bakery and plenty of bubble tea and Chinese snack vendors.  Japanese Express is located further into the food court right by the stage and podium where the emperor chair is.

Thank you to my sweetie Richard for the Heritage Town photo, and thank you to Cait for inspiring me with the title of this series!

Celebrating Chinese New Year, Part II: Shanghai Pork Dumplings and Green Tea Ice Cream Waffle Cake

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Pacific Mall and Market Village and I go waaaay back.  Even before I moved to Markham when I was 13 and still living in Scarborough, these two Chinese malls hold so many childhood memories for me.  Even though I don’t go as often as I used to, stepping inside feels like HOME.  The kind of feeling you get when you know you can find your way around even if you were blindfolded.  The kind of familiarity that leaves with you a deep sense of nostalgia. 

I used to buy Sailor Moon trading cards here as a kid.  In high school, I would buy packs and packs of cute Asian stationery to write letters to my friends.  My mum and I used to get custom made crystal bracelets from this wonderfully nice lady in Pacific, who would go out of her way to make me custom pieces because she said I was sweet.  My parents would order Chinese vegetarain trays for dinner.  My doctor used to be in Market Village and my brother’s orthodontist is still there, popular and successful as ever.  And if you want a real way-back-playback, I still have memories of the Chinese movie theater that used to be where the giant One’s Better Living now stands!  That’s what you call old school. 

Over the years, things have simalatanously changed and stayed the same.  Stores have come and gone, but that feeling of home still exists for me, welcoming me every time I go.  And one of my favourite parts of Pacific Mall is the Pacific Heritage Town on the 2nd floor, which is where I ate my good eats yesterday on Chinese New Year!

Not only do I love the food, I love the atmosphere.  I love stepping into this area of the mall and being welcomed with a waft of warm egg puff waffles, looking at cute Chinese coin purses, and enjoying the snacks that I love so much.  I asked myself yesterday, “it’s Chinese New Year today, what do I really want to eat?  What would I enjoy more than anything?”  I briefly considered getting a Japanese sushi bento box full of my most favourite spicy salmon maki rolls from Japanese Express (trust me, these rolls deserve a post of their own so sit tight for one in the near future!) but instead, I chose my absolute favourite Shanghai dim sum that gets me happy-squishy just at the mere thought of it: my beloved siu long bow, aka. Shanghai pork dumplings!! *cue extreme salivating* 

These little dumplings are my favourite Chinese comfort food and I can’t ever seem to get enough of them.  They are such a treat to me and they are so deliciously yummy with their warm, juicy soft pork and steamed dumpling envelope.  Among many other Chinese “siu sic” snacks and Shanghai dishes and dim sum from Shark’s Fin City (like the yummy green onion pancakes which are a favourite of both my mum and grandma!) , they come in sets of 4 priced at $3.50 and are freshly made right when you order.  You normally may have to wait about 10 minutes or so, but they are sooo worth it.  Other than TianJin Fine Food at the food court in First Markham Place, I don’t enjoy these mouth-watering dumplings anywhere else.  And do I ever enjoy them.  I douse them in red vinegar and wiggle and make “mmm” noises after every bite.  Oh my god I love them so much ❤

And for dessert?  Green tea ice cream waffle cake!! 😀  Purchased from the nearby candy shop and egg puff waffle vendor, there are over 10 flavours of ice cream to choose from (vanilla, cookie, pineapple, mango, among others) and I intend to eat my way through many of them.  They are wrapped in a warm, crispy egg waffle and sliced into wedges.  A dessert that is both warm and cold, and soft and crispy, it is absolutely delightful!

It was so much fun and it was just a wonderful feeling being there yesterday.  I may not shop there as much as I used to, but I look forward to each and every trip and leave with fond memories every time.  And I am so looking forward to tomorrow: celebrating with my grandparents!  I’m going to be getting up at the crack of dawn to bake them surprise cupcakes, and my parents and I will be running around like crazy chickens picking up food along the way to my grandparents in preparation of tomorrow night’s awesome new year feast.  I’ll see you all tomorrow for part III, happy celebrating!

*****

Pacific Mall and Market Village are located at 4300 Steeles Ave. East, right at the intersection of Kennedy Rd. and Steeles.  Pacific Heritage Town is on the upper level and houses a food court with traditional Chinese, Shanghai, and Japanese and sushi, as well as a bakery and plenty of bubble tea and Chinese snack vendors.  Food is also available on the upper level on the other side of the mall in an alternate food court.

Happy Chinese New Year! Part I: Celebrating the Day at Market Village & Pacific Mall

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Happy Chinese New Year everyone!! 😀  I spent the day at Market Village and Pacific Mall (two very popular Chinese retail destinations that have been a part of my childhood and adulthood for years, located just north of the Steeles Scarborough/Markham border on Kennedy Rd. and Steeles Ave.) and had a blast spending actual new year’s day enjoying the special festivities, booths, and FOOD!  I surrounded myself with booths and booths of colourful Chinese candies, containers full of sesame balls and lotus paste pastries, dumplings, and green tea waffle cake!  It’s not often I get to do this; in the past I was always in school on new year’s day if it fell on a weekday and there were only a few times to my recollection that I celebrated on the day of if it fell on a weekend and that’s when my family felt prepared enough to brave the crowds, ha!  This is part one of my three-part Chinese New Year celebration, so enjoy the photos and happy new year – sun leen fai lok! ❤

*****

Pacific Mall and Market Village are located at 4300 Steeles Ave. East, right at the intersection of Kennedy Rd. and Steeles.  They are open 365 days of the year and with the exception of eateries that serve breakfast, they typically open their stores closer to 11am and 12 noon (Market Village and Pacific Mall respectively), so keep that mind if you plan on shopping and eating there.