Bring On the Chinese Street Food and Diners – Curry Fish Ball Spaghetti!

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Break out the Chinese street meat because it’s curry fish ball time!  Curry fish balls and I have a long history and we’ve made some wonderful foodie memories together over the years.  In a nutshell, curry fish balls are a popular snack in Chinese street food culture and they are often served on a stick in sets of five or any other number the vendor happens to be selling them at.  They are covered in spicy curry sauce that is absolutely delicious, and depending on the consistency of the sauce, you’ll usually get a little container to hold them while you eat them off the skewer so the sauce doesn’t drip all over the place.  And by that, I mean all over your hands and clothes! 

In addition to fish balls, there are beef, pork, crab, and lobster balls and they’re all available to buy in Chinese supermarkets.  I’ve enjoyed them in their traditional Chinese street meat form on a skewer (and we all know how gaga many of us are over food served on a stick!), I’ve ordered these on a whim in Chinese malls as my afternoon snack (and loved every minute of it), and have even witnessed some high school friends selling homemade ones at school for a business project!

Even though I’ve never experienced Chinese street food culture in Hong Kong or China firsthand, I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of the foods in the comfort of my own home since I was a little girl.  I would eat them whenever my family and I would do Chinese hotpot, and my mum would go grocery shopping at some of the Chinese supermarkets and pick up fresh fish paste and fish balls.  She would either make them into crispy fish cakes or put them in soup broth to hang out with my soup noodles.  One of my favourite Chinese comfort foods growing up was a warm bowl of ramen noodles in soup with green onions, and dumplings, wontons, or fish, beef, or pork balls with a little red vinegar drizzled over top.  This meals still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy till this day.    

Even though I’m no stranger to the Chinese fish paste and fish ball market, I don’t eat curry fish balls very often and I almost always take advantage of the opportunity to have them when I can.  Enter my beloved Chinese and HK style diners, specifically the one my family and I have grown to be quite fond of over the past couple of months: Ho Garden Chinese Restaurant located in the plaza at Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  From the outside, Ho Garden looks completely unassuming.  I can say for a fact that unless you went right up to the front window and saw the large poster advertising some of their HK style dishes, you wouldn’t know what was inside.  Often times, diners will have big front windows so that those from the outside can easily see how busy it is inside with customers eating, dishes of food on the tables, tall glasses of drinks, the whole bit.    Ho Garden is a little different because their front window is much higher up which doesn’t allow you to see customers inside enjoying their food, and for another, the restaurant signage up in thr front isn’t flashy and could easily be missed.

Hainanese Chicken Rice (Ho Nam Gai Fan)

Baked Seafood Spaghetti

Ho Garden is often very busy though and one of the draws is its location.  Being a part of the large plaza with a number of dining options, at a busy intersection (it’s literally seconds away from the highway exit), and surrounded by a huuuge residential neighbourhood, has attracted a local neighbourhood which just continues to grow.  You would think that the other dining establishments would pose some stiff competition but the beauty of it is that the plaza’s offerings are so different and multi-faceted that they really don’t step on each other’s toes.  You have a Greek restaurant, an AYCE sushi restaurant, a wings and ribs sports bar, an ice cream shop, a pizza shop, a Chinese congee, rice, and noodle restaurant, and a coffee shop, literally all inhabiting the same space.  Which works perfectly for me because this foodie paradise isn’t too far from home! 

Another one of the enticing draws is the price range of food.  Now, Chinese and HK style diners aren’t all that expensive to begin with (ordering a dinner meal and a drink that comes up to less than or around $10 is awesomesauce in my book), but Ho Garden does one better by offering plenty of meals for $4-$6 and combo meal sets that come with a main, a drink, and a soup for around $7-$8.  Granted, of course there are more expensive menu items, but those cater to the large family crowd with dishes such as multiple course dinners, whole steamed fish, and several others.

I saw curry fish ball rice/spaghetti on the menu and for the first time in goodness knows how long, I didn’t need to pull my hair out over deciding what I wanted to order.  Done and done.  Finally I wasn’t the last one to decide what she wanted to eat!  I love spaghetti to pieces and this meal didn’t disappoint at all.  It was so delicious and satisfying and I am so happy I had it.

The curry sauce was savoury and spicy (not tears-streaming-down-my-face spicy, but definitely “Ooo, my tastebuds just got punched and my cheeks feel a bit warm now” spicy), the fish balls were super soft and moist with great flavour (they can have a tendency to taste rubbery), and the chunks of potato mingling with the fish balls were fantastic.  Many Chinese curry dishes include potatoes (such as my classic favourite Chinese Portuguese chicken dish, and my dad’s classic favourite, curry beef brisket) and I absolutely LOVE it when they use nice starchy potatoes because they hold up really well in sauce.  They were yummy and they absorbed and sopped up the curry sauce real good!

Even though Phoenix will always hold the number 1 spot in my foodie heart, the food at Ho Garden is great and I have yet to be disappointed with anything that I’ve eaten here.  The portions and prices are terrific, there’s a good selection of HK style and Cantonese dishes, and it’s a great local place to have a wholesome good meal.

*****

Ho Garden Chinese restaurant is located at 9255 Woodbine Ave. at the corner of Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  They serve and are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time, and dinner.

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The Keys to My Heart: Spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken (Po Gok Gai), and Warm Mugs of Ovaltine at Goldsor

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I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Hong Style restaurant that I didn’t love.  The baked spaghetti and rice dishes, the crushed ice fruit drinks, the awesome tea time snack menus; every café offers something different and I have so much fun trying out new places.  I’ve been noshing at HK style eateries on a regular basis since I was 15 and thanks to family and friends, all over town!  First Markham Place, Metro Square, Finch & Leslie, Peachtree Plaza, the list goes on. 

Even though The Phoenix holds a ton of high school memories, my first memory of HK style food was actually from the age of 9.  It was a such a special day.  My aunt and uncle were taking me for a night on the town for Christmas to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and they had bought me a cute little dress for our outing, they were taking me out to dinner with them before the show, the whole nine yards.  I remember that fun night so clearly.  After the show, they took me for a late night nibble and we went to place called the Ritz Restaurant back in Scarborough, closer to where I lived at the time.  Sadly, the restaurant is no longer around, but I remember getting my first taste (literally!) of HK style food and loving it: baked spaghetti in cream sauce with shredded ham, cheese, and peas.  OH.MY.GOD.  I was hooked.

My dad is on his A-game when it comes to hunting down HK style cafés.  Him and his Chinese newspapers are best friends.  He snatches so many free newspapers at every Chinese place that offers them that my mum has just become exasperated and tells him to constantly stop bringing back “junk”.  Oh, the parentals, how funny they are, haha.  The newspapers turn into goldmines though when they advertise store and restaurant openings, promos, and great places to eat!  And that is how we found out about Goldsor, located in Richmond Hill and nested within the Times Square plaza on Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  A new HK style restaurant to try?  YAY!

Three of my favourite yummies EVER are spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken, and ovaltine!  And lucky for me, HK style is never without any of these three things.  I love pasta like peanut butter loves jelly and spaghetti makes me all wiggly with happiness.  Like I’ve said on numerous occasions, I always love trying new things and picking out more unique items off a menu that sets the place apart from others.  However, sometimes you just want to eat what you love most and that’s what I did when we went back in Novemer: I ordered spaghetti with Portuguese chicken and a warm mug of ovaltine.  Colour me a happy camper!

You must be wondering, “how the heck does Portuguese anything end up in Chinese eateries and cuisine?”  It’s okay, I wondered that myself.  Especially considering I’ve been having this type of chicken dish since I was little, thanks to mum’s cooking.  “Po Gok Gai” has been one of my long-time favourite comfort foods and I love that HK style places have taken it up and put their own unique spins on the dish.  In a nutshell, Portuguese influence infiltrated Chinese culture and cuisine in Macau as a European colony and many dishes are a fusion of the two cultures.* 

Now, in Chinese Portuguese style chicken dishes, two components are key: curry and coconut.  This is what makes it so amazingly DELICIOUS like you wouldn’t believe.  The sweetness of the coconut is subtle but it hits you in the sauce, mixed in with your rice, spaghetti, or whatever you’re eating it with.  Goldsor’s version has the normal vegetable components: chunks of potato, green bell pepper, and carrots.  It deviants in one special way though.  The chicken is crispy with a light breaded coating and together with the delicious sauce and soft potatoes and vegetables, it is so freakin’ satisfying.  It is such a savoury dish and it is the perfect combination of crispy and soft, and the sweetness of the coconut and savouriness of the chicken and curry rounds everything out.  If there was one way to cook a chicken for life, this would be mine.  Yummy, yummy, and more yummy 😀

I had a great experience at Goldsor my first time there and I’m so looing forward to going back!  The quality of the food was fantastic (my dad ordered a breaded fish dish that looked at though it came out of a gourmet kitchen) and the prices are very reasonable and in keeping with HK style cafés where meals are, on average, around $6-$11.  It’s got that hustle and bustle that I love with the clang clang of dishes and glasses and orders being brought to tables, and I am so glad I get to tuck away another great meal in my mental scrapbook.  HK style, spaghetti, and Portuguese chicken are keys to my heart ❤

*****

Goldsor Restaurant is located at  550 Highway 7 East, at the intersection of Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  It’s not located inside the Times Square mall, but rather within the complex of stores and restaurants behind Times Square in the central parking lot.  Goldsor faces south toward the back entrance of Times Square.

*source: Sunflower Food Galore

Round and Round the Fork it Twirls: The Old Spaghetti Factory

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This may sound ridiculous, but pasta is such a treat to me.  I love pasta like nobody’s business and I make giddy “mmm” noises every few seconds when I eat it.  This is a passion that I unfortunately can’t share with everyone as my dad touches pasta with a ten-foot pole, my brother is apathetic towards it, and my best friend does not like spaghetti *cue incredulous, confused look from me*.  That leaves only my mum and me.  And my honey Richard. 

After years and years of hearing about The Old Spaghetti Factory (located at 54 The Esplanade, south of Front St.E, in between Yonge and Church St.), I finally skipped on over for the first time this past August for my birthday and was I ever brimming with excitement!  And it did not disappoint in the least.  I can’t even begin to tell you what a nutcase I looked like as soon as Richard and I were shown to our table, which by the way was the cozy, private, romantic vintage elevator booth with actual buttons inside!!  Oh my word.  Talk about cute.  Oh right, back to me looking like a nutcase.  This restaurant is BEAUTIFUL.  Up high are stained glass light fixtures, a gorgeous chandelier in the front foyer, and each section of the restaurant has its own “theme” and decor.  There’s a section where you can be seated in an old-fashioned streetcar, an an Amsterdam bicycle club, in a library-like space, and much more.  At the centre of it all is an elevated carousel with beautifully painted horses and I ran around the perimeter of the restaurant snapping pictures like I was part of a brigade of paparazzi.  That, or an over-eager tourist with a forefinger spasm.

If you’re a pasta head like me, the menu is heaven.  Besides the appetizers such as salads and soups, the first portion is dedicated to 9 spaghetti dishes with different sauces and meat, and the rest of the menu is dedicated to lots and lots of pasta!  Penne, lasagna, manicotti, linguine, fettuccine, cannelloni, the list goes on and I could seriously eat here for the rest of my life.  There are 6 vegetarian dishes and you can substitute for whole wheat spaghetti and gluten-free. 

Not only is the pasta so yummy, their drinks are fantastic.  Seriously, how many places do you know of that serve flavoured Italian soda, flavoured lemonade, and drinks like iced cappuccino?  I love lemonade and wish so many other places served it.  And to make things even sweeter, The Old Spaghetti Factory has a daily price fixe menu that you can order from, as well as a separate dessert menu if you wish to forgo the spumoni icecream that is included at the end of your meal.

Wait, end of your meal?  Included?  Yet another wonderful thing that I love about this place is that all main dishes include an appetizer (your choice between a green salad or bowl of minestrone soup; if you want clam chowder, spinach salad, or Caesar salad instead, you can upgrade for an extra $1.29) and icecream for dessert!  They normally serve their special Spumoni icecream (a mix of pistachio, chocolate, and vanilla), but you can order plain chocolate or vanilla icecream as well.  Oh!  As well, a nice warm loaf of crusty bread is served with your meal with regular butter and garlic butter and let me tell you, the garlic butter is delicious.  It’s a yummy, comforting, well-rounded meal and it’s great because a lot of the time want you go out for a meal, you want to try an appetizer or you want to order a dessert but the prices for both are just out of your range sometimes, so this is really fab as you’re looking at an average $20 dinner.

I had myself a jolly good time sipping my bowl of minestrone soup (which by the way is very good as they put lots of vegetables, beans, and little pastas in it; they do not skimp on ingredients), slurping my beer mug of flavoured mango lemonade (ignore my scrapbook page that says peach, I made a boo-boo), stuffing my face with delicious clam spaghetti, with butter clams and white béchamel cream sauce and LOTS of freshly cracked black pepper!  I am a fiend for cracked black pepper and this is the scene that usually plays out when the waiter or waitress comes back with the grinder.  Waiter/waitress: “say when” *starts twisting the grinder*.  Me: *watches for 5 minutes*.  Just kidding!  I’m exaggerating, but really, I do love it when places offer the cracked pepper, and if it suits your fancy, you can also ask for some parmesean cheese or chili flakes too.  To end off the meal, I had the special Spumoni icecream.  It was a fantastic meal and the atmosphere was fun, the food was delicious, and the service was super friendly.  Especially as I ran around like a monkey with my camera.  Staff just looked on amusingly.

Scrapbooking materials used: forest green, goldenrod, red, and pink cardstock (Recollections), Purple Daze patterned paper (Recollections), pasta stickers and carousel embellishment (Jolee’s), adhesive gems.