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.

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Partying Alongside Peppers, Corn, and Beans – A Spotlight on the Best Shrimp Burritos at Burrito Boyz!

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I’ve come to the realization that I just love seafood tacos and burritos (and veggie ones!) more than I love ones that have poultry or red meat in them.  I daydream about having seared ahi tuna tacos, flaky white fish on corn tortillas with seafood sauce (or tartar sauce) and guacamole, fish with tons of beans and corn and peppers, and finally, the shrimp burritos and quesadillas from Burrito Boyz!  Although I have a mega soft spot for the mind-blowingly delicious pulled pork taquitos from Tequila Sunrise just down the street on Adelaide St. West, I can’t get over how delightful the seafood burritos and quesadillas are at BB, especially the shrimp ones.

If you love seafood and if you enjoy noshing on big burritos of amazing quality, you need to eat and savour the shrimp here.  I love shrimp and it’s the honest to goodness truth when I say that I haver never had shrimp that tasted this wonderful, not even in dim sum!  Shrimp in dim sum is heavenly, but the shrimp burritos at Burrito Boyz?  Out of this world and over the moon.  The burritos (shrimp ones are $7.08 for a small and $7.96 for a large) are stuffed with jumbo shrimps that are soft, juicy, and plump and, given how all the prices at Burrito Boyz are under $10, you really appreciate the quantity and quality of food.  A large burrito could easily feed me for two meals and during my very first Burrito Boyz meal two and a half years ago, even my small veggie burrito rewarded me with leftovers to eat on the bus ride home at the end of the day!

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It was my lucky day – Burrito Boyz wise – the day I had this fabulous shrimp burrito because if you’re familiar with the popular eatery or if you remember the first post I made about them back in July, you’d know that crowds line up out the door for the great food here.  There must have been a guardian angel looking out for me because for the first time in two and a half years, I passed by the famous T.O. burrito hole-in-the-wall, glanced through the front window, and saw several empty seats beckoning at me like blinking radars.

I could not believe my eyes.  There were spots to sit?!  There wasn’t a line curving around the ordering and waiting area and up the stairs, out the front door?!  People weren’t shouting orders at the top of their lungs so they could be heard over the chatter of the hungry?!  I didn’t have to stand outside right at 11am and run inside to snag a spot?!  Well, colour me shocked and ecstatic!  Opportunities like this didn’t come easy (or at all, really) so I pounced and had myself one of the most delicious lunches ever.

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You have free reign when it comes to toppings – if you don’t like it, don’t pick it!  Along with refried beans and rice, and sour cream on the side (I love dunking stuff in or spooning it on myself), I chose black beans, corn, lettuce, green peppers, green onions, guacamole, and burrito sauce to party-harty alongside the juicy, scrumptious shrimps.  The combination of toppings was fantastic and I can say with absolute certainty that THIS is my favourite burrito from here!  It took a few tries to hit the nail on the head, but the process leading up to uncovering my ultimate favourite was incredibly yummy and enjoyable.  If every process was like this, we’d be smooth sailing.

*****

Burrito Boyz is located at 218 Adelaide St. West, west of Simcoe St. and east of Duncan St.  They have a number of locations in Toronto and the GTA, including Bramption, Mississauga, Streetsville, and Waterloo.  Their 2nd Toronto location resides in the neighbourhood of Little Italy at 575 College St. West, just west of Manning Ave. in between Bathurst St. and Ossington Ave.  For more info on their menu and other locations, click here.

I’ve Never Met a Potato I Didn’t Love – Blue Potatoes From the Farmers’ Market for a Blue Potato Salad!

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BLUE potatoes?!  Indeed!  I feel like this blue potato salad and I were meant to be.  A little backstory: I love food magazines and any magazine that has an emphasis on food.  I’ve been reading Homemakers’ magazine since I was 8 (and even subscribed to it when I was in high school), I’ve bought Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart Living on an on-and-off basis for the past few years, and I was in conniptions when Food Network magazine debuted on the magazine shelves a number of years ago.  Food magazines have always given me so much inspiration, not only for cooking, but also for my scrapbooking. 

Last Christmas, my best friend got me a subscription to Food & Wine and every month a delicious issue pops into my mailbox and into my eager hands.  A week or two ago, I began leafing through my August issue and came upon these amazing recipes inspired by Jere and Emilee Gettle and their heirloom seed empire.  I looked at the recipe for their two-tone potato salad (blue potatoes with Yukon golds) and thought, “this looks so damn pretty and delicious”.

I had no idea blue potatoes existed until I saw this recipe (even though they apparently sell them in some local supermarkets according to my mother.  Shows how much I’m aware of my surroundings!) and wondered if I’d be able to find them at a reasonable price.  Fast forward to my weekly farmers’ market trip this past week (blog post forthcoming).  I was browsing a table full of baby potatoes and BAM! blue baby potatoes stared right back at me.  What good fortune!  Giant pints of blue potatoes for only $3!!  With supermarket prices ringing in at $3 per POUND, I got myself a friggin’ steal.  It’s like the foodie gods were looking out for me 😀

So my mum and I, inspired by my Food & Wine magazine, recreated our own version of blue potato salad.  These potatoes are so beautiful and so cute and I would buy them again in a heartbeat.  We gave them a wash, let them dry, then boiled them for close to 20 minutes.  The potatoes were drained and after most of the steam had went away, I started cutting them into small wedges and I was so delighted with the colour!  The blue potatoes looked a bit like those blue corn chips on the outside with their blue-brown dusty exteriors but when I cut into them, I saw this gorgeous purple colour on the inside and I thought, “huh, it reminds me of taro without actually being taro!”  They’re so pretty and yes, very yummy.

We made a nice big bowl of blue potato salad with sugar snap peas, cucumber, some leftover breaded chicken, and some chilled shrimp with mayo dressing, black pepper, chopped green onions, and dried chives.  SO GOOD OH MY GOD.  The blue potatoes have this great earthy flavour to them that only intensifies as the potatoes cool after being cooked.  I absolutely adore leaving the skins on for potatoes.  It gives dishes a nice splash of colour and I really like the taste of potato skins.  I put my potato salad on a bed of alfalfa sprouts, added some fresh avocado on top, and went to town.  One of the best summer dinners ever.

Home Cooking and Warm Comfort Food to Wind Down a Busy Week – Pork and Tofu & Seafood with Chinese Broccoli

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It’s been a tiring but really fun week.  My legs and feet are sore from all the walking I did and I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home scrapbooking, baking, and playing around with lip gloss!  I have lots of new layouts that I’m working on and plenty of Veggielicious related material to post, so the next few days and the following week are going to be super fun on the blog, especially with Easter just around the corner! 

Today’s foodie menu is mum’s home cooking and comfort food: lean ground pork and silken tofu, and seafood atop freshly steamed Chinese broccoli vegetables.  The pork and tofu dish is one of my absolute favourites.  It has the consistency of a meat stew and I spoon the stuff over my rice and it’s so warm and yummy.  I love the pork and tofu with green onions and chili flakes and even though it’s delicious on its own, sometimes I’ll eat it with either a bit of Worcestershire sauce or sweet chili sauce. 

And ever since I was a tot, my family and I have always had Chinese vegetables regularly for dinner, rotating between bok choy, Chinese broccoli (guy lan), yow choy (choy sum), and others.  My mum recently cooked up a shrimp, scallop, and Chinese broccoli dish for dinner and it’s dishes like these that are really reminiscent of home cooking at my house.  I looove shrimp with just about everything: curry, dumplings, seafood chowder, and plenty of dim sum! 

Happy Friday night, everyone!  I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend 😀    

Fit For a King and Queen…Or Maybe Just a Brother and Sister – Rolls, Rolls, and More Rolls at The Sushi Shop

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Oh sushi, how I’ve missed you.  Well, blogging about you anyway because I actually ate some last week!  These pictures were taken on a very special day during the first week of March.  If you’ve been reading and following my blog, I know you’re probably thinking that sushi is very commonplace in my foodie world and EVERY sushi adventure is awesome for me.  And that’s true, but this meal was different because I enjoyed it with my mum and my brother during my brother’s spring break. 

Let it be known that my younger brother and I, as close as we are, are very different in personality.  He’s four and a half years my junior, he’s one of my best friends in life, and we couldn’t be more different.  I am the chatty, bubbly, independent artsy fartsy one who loves going out.  He is the shy, quiet homebody who loves the comfort of home.  He looooves it when we go out as a family, but unlike me, he would never venture out on his own for the sake of it.  I, on the other hand, will arbitrarily pick a subway station off the map, get off, and walk around without knowing what the heck is around the area.  So when I told him that I wanted to take him out for a day on the town during his spring break, he was mega excited. 

I took him and my mum to my favourite sushi place, The Sushi Shop, and we had ourselves a maki roll par-tay!  I recommended some of my favourites (the salmon with green onion as well as the smoked salmon, avocado, and cream cheese Vancouver rolls that I love so dearly!) and ordered some I hadn’t yet pigged out on (the spicy tuna, tempura, and avocado 911 rolls, and the Ebik maki with shrimp, tempura, avocado, and cucumber rolled in red masago).  I loved it, they loved it, and we “mmmed” our way through a whole platter of amazing sushi rolls.

This was a fun day, just for us.  My dad isn’t into sushi rolls, so it worked out quite nicely.  No guilt for going without him on our part!  It’s something that we don’t get to do as often as we’d like.  Our lives are hectic and we’re constantly pulled into different directions.  My dad is work, my brother and I are both at school and have mountains of work to attend to, I’m not always home for dinner, and my mum runs the household and has a gazillion things on her never-ending to-do list.  I know how hard-working my brother is and I know how he doesn’t get to do a lot of “fun” things during the school year, so it was important to me to make sure he had one super fun day during his week off.  Call it sisterly love.  We love sushi and my mum and brother love going downtown with me, so it was win-win for everyone.

Even though my brother is 21, he is still very much a baby brother to me.  He came home with the biggest smile on his face and with so much excitement and happiness from our day out.  We got some fresh air, we walked around till our feet were going to fall off, and I introduced parts of the city to my mum and brother they were completely unaware of.  I was so happy that they had enjoyed the day.  And my mum pulled me aside at the end of the night and said, “You made your brother so happy.  He said today was one of the best days ever.  I’m so proud of you”.  I smiled and nodded, blinking back a few tears.  Just doing what any good sister would do.  Fill the tummy and fill the heart ❤

*****

The Sushi Shop is located at the intersection of Yonge and Carlton St. (3 Carlton St.), with 2 other take-out locations serving the downtown core, one being in the GO train station concourse and the other near Maple Leaf Square at 25 York St (closed Saturday and Sunday).  According to Google map, there is also a location on Bloor St. E at 175 Bloor St.E (Saturday and Sunday closed as well).    

Having a “Food Baby” at Spring Rolls

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There is actually a rather funny story behind the title of this post and thinking back to how the phrase “food baby” originated still makes me laugh *chuckles*.  Besides finding my sweetheart, Richard, if grad school has been good for anything, it’s been making friends, meeting new people, and trying new food up the wazoo!  Slurping and eating lentil soup and falafel balls in the cold on a picket line, enjoying Indian food, and losing my pad thai virginity for the first time at the grad conference I organized last year.  And yes, if you’re wondering, it was quite orgasmic.  

For our keynote and conference after-party back in March, our team ordered a ton of delicious food from Spring Rolls, including mango salad, chicken fried rice, vegetable fried rice, vegetarian noodles, and the ever popular vegetarian pad thai.  I had never eaten pad thai before and was absolutely delighted to finally try it and Spring Rolls pad thai did not disappoint in the least.  It was so good my friend ate 3 plates of it and said he was going to have a food baby because of it.  HAHAHA! 😀

Spring Rolls is a lovely restaurant located in Toronto, Mississauga ,and now, Waterloo, that serves a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai flavours.  The very first time I went was back in September of 2009, so not too long ago, really.  Since then, I’ve been back a number of times just because I love the atmosphere of each distinct location (I’ve been to 4 of the 10 locations thus far) and the food is delicious.  The price range for a typical main dish is around $9-$15 give or take, and there are plenty of vegetarian options throughout the menu with a specific section in the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes only.  I have yet to try their dim sum brunch menu, but rest assured, I will get around to it.  Especially after seeing their mango sticky rice in the restaurant storefront window.  I’m so there!      

Tango Mango Chicken & Tiger Shrimps with Rice

Now, I’m no ignorant sucker.  Born and raised Chinese-Canadian I have had my fair share of Chinese food and authentic Chinese take-out and I am well-aware that there are plenty of dishes that I can enjoy for half the price (and sometimes for even a third of the price), such as Cantonese Chow Mein (gong-dong chow mein) and my classic favourite, Black Bean Beef Ho Fun (pft, I can’t even begin to figure out how to type the Chinese out in English for this one!  It’s a bit too complicated to try and spell out, sorry peeps!). 

The point is, everyone dines out at sit-down places for different reasons, whether it’s to try something you wouldn’t normally cook for yourself at home, or because there’s a place out there that makes a classic that damn good.  And when you’re Chinese like I am, it’s all the more reason to eat outside the box when you go to a place that serves Chinese food, enjoying the creative interpretation of a classic dish or staple that is still able to retain some of that traditionality in it.  And so I did!  I don’t know about you, but I have yet to find a Chinese take-out place that will serve me shrimp and pineapple fried rice in half a hollowed out pineapple with a beautful sheet of egg over top, sprinkled with shredded dried pork:

And the pad thai?  REALLY GOOD.  The kind of yummy that makes you want to stick another chopstick-ful in your mouth even before you’ve finished chewing your last.  And yes, the kind of yummy that makes you feel like you’re going to have a food baby after you’ve inhaled it.  Down below is the House famous pad thai tossed with tomato sauce, tamarind, coriander, parsley, lime juice, and roasted crushed peanuts, and served with chicken, shrimp, and tofu.

I love that I get to share these pictures with you guys because they’re fresh and colourful, and that’s what eating is all about to me.  Especially during the holidays, it should fill you up with warmth and happiness and good memories.  I can’t believe Christmas is in a week and I can’t believe I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 3 weeks now.  It’s gone by in a blur and I hope everyone has enjoyed the blog so far because I’ve had the best time writing and posting in it.  Eat what you like and like what you eat.  And be careful of those food babies.

Thank you to my sweetie Richard for this pretty lily pad shot!

*****

Spring Rolls has 10 locations in Toronto, Mississauga, and their newest in Waterloo.  Click here for a listing of all locations.

Mum’s Home Cooking – The Comfort of Home

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Once upon a time, mum couldn't cook this!

I really wish I had thought of doing this sooner, but later is better than never!  Over the past 2 years or so, I’ve been taking photos of my mom’s home cooking and I only wish I had started this project when I was teenager.  I might be biased but I love my mum’s cooking.  Now that I make it a habit of capturing all her dishes on camera and going click-happy, it makes HER happy.  As a stay-at-home mom, she has slaved away for many years for my brother and me and as much as we butt heads (what mother-daughter duo doesn’t?), I truly appreciate what she does for us in the kitchen, making sure we always have enough to eat coming home from a long day of school or work and always making our favourites when we need it most. 

It’s funny, mum’s been cooking for us for years now and it’s only been in the last several that she has really branched out and been more adventurous with her cooking and it makes me really proud of her to see her enjoy it a bit more.  Let it be known that my mum does NOT enjoy cooking and she’ll be the first to attest to that!  Like she says, she’s come a loooong way; she even didn’t even know how to cook an egg when she married my dad!  No joke! 😀  Growing up with my grandma and my great-grandmother and at one point, BOTH great-grandmothers?  Heck, they about chased her out of the damn kitchen!  Even though my mom does the same to me now (“get out, you’re in my way!  Put that pot down for heaven’s sake!”), my insane love for food and for learning about it has rubbed off on her and now she can’t get enough of The Food Network and gets excited about herbs.  Who woulda thunk it?

Mum loves making eggs (I know, the very thing she didn’t know how to cook when her and my dad became Mr. and Mrs.!) and we loooove scrambled eggs.  What you see her are 2 variations of the same dish.  Scrambled eggs with baby shrimp and in the first photo up top, with Chinese green chives and in this photo here, with green scallions.  Sprinkle in some black pepper and you have yourself a meal. 

Pst!  Here’s a tip we learned from our beloved Ina Garten on “Barefoot Contessa” from The Food Network: adding a splash of light cream to your eggs makes them lighter and fluffier!  For those who prefer a more detailed description, the ratio is as follows: for every 6 eggs (half a dozen), use 3 tablespoons of light cream.  We whip our eggs with a fork (or my mom will use chopsticks), nothing fancy.  And voila!  Fluffy scrambled eggs!

I have a growing anthology of my mum’s cooking and it makes her (and me) quite happy.  As she fondly watches me snap away, yanking kitchen curtains open for better lighting, she asks, “You really like my cooking that much?”  to which I reply, “yes I do, mummy”.