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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All You Can Eat Sushi in Markham – Introducing Yellowtail and Its Amazing Dragon Rolls!

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For all the sushi I love and eat in the city, it’ll probably come as a surprise to most that I’ve actually never done an all you can eat dinner in Toronto!  I did an all you can eat sushi lunch once with an old friend, at Echo Sushi on Yonge St. south of Eglinton, over a year and a half ago, but no dinner with family or friends.  Nope, my track record shows that I’ve saved my all you can eat sushi fests for places a little closer to home. 

One of my favourite foodie things about Markham is the selection of all you can eat sushi places!  Over the years, my family and I have tried a number of different places all over Markham, some which have been top-of-the-line stellar and others that have just been mediocre.  Throughout this sushi feasting process, we’ve lost a favourite (Sushi Tomato at Metro Square by Warden and Steeles) and gained a new one (Asia Feast off Hwy. 7 and Langstaff), all the way scoping out new and unchartered sushi territories.

Not too long ago, we received a flyer in our mail with a menu advertising a brand spankin’ new AYCE place called Yellowtail within the plaza at the corner of 16th and Woodbine Ave.  Remember my post on the delicious Greek food at Loui’s Kouzina?  Same plaza!  This plaza and I go waaaaay back.  When I moved to Markham from Scarborough about 13 years ago, I attended Buttonville Public School for my 8th grade year and this plaza was just one major street away and gosh have things ever changed in this plaza over the years.  Gone is the Loeb and No Frills supermarket, and in comes stores like One’s Better Living, the soon-to-be T&T supermarket, and of course AYCE Yellowtail.  One thing has remained constant though: the food scene here is pretty darn good!  Loui’s Kouzina, All Star Wings & Ribs, a Chinese and HK restaurant I actually tried out last week (the name escapes me right now, sorry, I suck), and the awesome Yellowtail.

Asia Feast still holds #1 spot in my heart for AYCE sushi in Markham, but Yellowtail is REALLY amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who loves to AYCE.  I don’t know how everyone feels about restaurant seating, but I’m a fan of booths and Yellowtail has a LOT of them, which makes for nice roomy seating.  The prices are very standard and average for AYCE ($21.99 for weekend dinner and $19.99 for weekday dinner) and the service is excellent here.  The girls who were taking down our orders and delivering our food to our table were super sweet and really nice.  And now, for the food.  Wow.  Really, WOW.  We ordered a bunch of different things including salmon sashimi, white butter fish, red snapper, chicken teriyaki and squid skewers, scallops, tofu, and white tuna sushi pizza.

Everything was incredibly fresh, of great quality, and I enjoyed all of it.  If I had to pick out the standouts though, they were the roll sets and the selection of ice cream for dessert.  The rolls are fan-freakin’-tastic, OHMYGOD.  I’m biased towards anything with cream cheese and spicy sauce, so of course I loved the Philadelphia rolls (salmon with cream cheese) and the spicy crunch rolls (tempura crunchies with dollops of spicy sauce), but the honest-to-god knockouts?  The 8-roll sets and the dragons.  I swear, if you all take my recommendation and go to Yellowtail, ORDER THE DRAGONS!  I have NEVER in all my years of eating sushi seen dragon roll sets as big as these.  They are amazing, delicious, beautiful, and they will render you speechless. 

We ordered the mango 8-roll set (which was served in the dragon style, rolls upright) and the rolls were draped in avocado slices, sprinkled with orange masago, and dripping with mango puree sauce with more chunks of avocado and mango inside the rolls.  If you want a tropical party in your mouth, do yourself a favour and eat this.  It will make you so happy.  In addition to the mango roll set, we had the green dragon roll and THIS made all of our mouths gap open when our waitress brought it to our table.  Giant rolls covered in thick avocado slices with tempura shrimp, shredded cucumber, tempura crunchies, and sushi mayo, with plenty of shredded cucumber garnish on the side.  Yellowtail, hands down, does the best sushi dragons imaginable and they blow the sushi places in the city out of the water.

Oh, and the ice cream selection for dessert!  6 choices!  Sure, they have the usual vanilla, green tea, and mango, but do you know what else they have that nobody else has?  Cookies n’ cream and cappuccino!  And they do have red bean ice cream as well.  We ordered bowls and bowls of the stuff and had ourselves a jolly good time 😀  I am so happy that Yellowtail worked out for us and now that I know that their sushi dragons are the best ever, I’ll slowly eat my way through them.  Close to home, close to the tummy!

*****

Yellowtail is located at 9255 Woodbine Ave. Unit #B14.  It is located beside One’s Better Living within the plaza at the intersection of Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.

Opa! Layers of Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini, & Toasted Savoury Béchamel – Greek Moussaka at Loui’s Kouzina

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I’m so excited to finally write and post about Greek food on the blog!  I love Greek food and it’s a shame that these are the only photos I have to share with you all right now as I’ve been eating delicious Greek meals for years.  Greek food and I go waaaay back.  It holds a very special place in my heart, as well as my mom’s.  After immigrating to Canada, my mom grew up in Toronto’s east end and went to school right near the Danforth.  You all know what that means: Greek town!  Many of my mom’s best and closest friends were Greek and her friends’ parents would invite my mom over to their houses for dinner all the time.  This love was passed along to me when I was born – in the east end – and I’m reminded of all those times growing up where Greek food was one of the only things my whole family could agree on eating when we wanted to have a nice meal out. 

Having recently eaten this delicious meal at Loui’s Kouzina in Markham, I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia and it brought back a flood of memories.  It wasn’t until this meal that I realized just how much I missed having it in my life and having it so thoroughly integrated in my zone of comfort.  I may love sushi like nobody’s business.  I may love trying new things and making foodie discoveries.  But sometimes there’s nothing that can compare to the feeling of comfort you get from the food that has created roots in your memory and in your heart.

I have my best friend to thank for this meal 😀  After raving about Loui’s Kouzina on a number of occasions, I knew I had to go when my family asked me where we should go for dinner.  It’s nice when people designate you as meal outing and food decider, isn’t it?  Anyway, my best friend told me how much she loved the food here and given how my tummy was missing Greek food, it was the perfect idea.  

I’m so glad we went.  My brother and I tried out a dish we had never had before in our life and we LOVED it!  We both ordered the Greek moussaka and we scarfed it down because it was so delicious.  Total win!  Like I was gushing about yesterday about my stuffed peppers at The Grad Lounge, I love seeing menu items that are different from the norm.  Everyone knows you can get great Greek souvlaki, but moussaka?  Hello, never had it before.  Which just makes me want it more.  A dinner that was delicious and savoury, and a new dish to add to my growing vocabulary of food.  It doesn’t get much better than that.   

Moussaka is both a  Middle Eastern and Eastern European dish common in the Balkan and Mediterranean regions of Europe including Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey among others.  Although different regions make moussaka dishes in a number of different ways, Greek moussaka is characterized by layers of grilled vegetables, potatoes, minced meat, and a top layer of savoury baked béchamel sauce or egg custard.  The moussaka at Loui’s Kouzina was a soft, melt-in-your-mouth layered masterpiece with ground beef and grilled eggplant and zucchini sandwiched between a base of roast potatoes and a silky savoury toasted béchamel topping.  This was AMAZING.  It was like eating a heavy-duty layered lasagna only without the cheese and with potatoes, eggplant, and zucchini and a very pillowy soft dome on top.

This was such a savoury dish and the custard/pudding-like top was something that I had never encountered before in my life.  It had the texture of very soft silken tofu and it was very easy to cut through.  The dome of béchamel was wonderfully toasted and it was exactly like eating a Chinese egg tart only savoury as opposed to sweet.  And the flavours worked together.  Given how the dish was a layered one, it could have easily missed its mark with the ingredients just kind of laying there with no cohesiveness to it.  But everything worked amazingly.  The grilled vegetables weren’t mushy, the ground beef wasn’t over seasoned, and everything melded together.  It’s definitely a dish I can envision myself coming back for again and again.  YUM! 

Oh!  And the Greek salad.  Thumbs up.  I mean, sure, it was nothing that I hadn’t seen before.  Greek salad is very standard: iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion, olives, feta cheese, and a bit of dressing.  The salad was great though.  The lettuce was so crunchy and fresh and it wasn’t overladen with dressing or soggy from the juice of the tomatoes.

Loui’s Kouzina is a wonderful, casual Greek restaurant that serves up a number of gyros, pork, and chicken souvlaki dishes, appetizers, savory phyllo pastries, salads, pastas, pita sandwiches, and Greek spanakopita pies among other things.  I saw (and tasted!) what my best friend saw and the quality of food is just fabulous.  Prices for dinner mains sit around the $10-$15 range and for those who may not want a full dinner or who want something a little less expensive, there are a number of menu items closer to the front of the menu that you can put together and mix and match for a less expensive meal.  For example, you can order individual souvlaki skewers along with other sides for a few dollars apiece.  Loui’s Kouzina is a great Greek eatery that I would recommend to anyone and truly a gem in Markham.  I thank my best friend for the rec, and my tummy and heart thank me for the love and comfort.  And the memories.

*****

Loui’s Kouzina is located in Markham at 9255 Woodine Ave. at the intersection of Woodbine and 16th Ave.  The restaurant is situated within the strip mall complex closer to the west side of the complex and parking lot (if I remember correctly, it’s right beside the Pizza Pizza).