By Rian Atherton (California Lutheran University ’18)
In order to talk about Chinatown, you have to first delve into the History and the customs of the people living there. Now you don’t have to be an expert on Chinatown but you should at least familiarize yourself with some of these basics. One of the most important things you need to realize if you are visiting Chinatown is that everything here is a bit different. Like all immigrant areas, the people here have brought some of their customs and traditions from overseas. First and foremost of these is that the elderly take priority sometimes you may be in a shop and you may be first and an old Chinese man or woman will walk in and a slew of rapid-fire Cantonese will fire out faster than a bullet train. Don’t be offended but you are no longer the priority, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the fact that they probably have known each other for decades and the Chinese have a deference for the elderly that western countries lack. That being said, it is worth the wait because the food in Chinatown is absolutely divine.
Secondly, YOU WILL NOT GET WATER seriously in Chinatown think of tea as the typical beverage. In all likelihood, you will get free pots of tea and you will have to ask for water, don’t wait around to ask or you will be awkwardly sitting there for 20 minutes wondering how you will quench your thirst. On that note, you shouldn’t be shy to speak up many Chinese restaurants are loud boisterous places and you will probably have to shout to make yourself heard especially if you are going to dim sum. Finally show respect this place isn’t just a good food spot but homes with history and culture, every inch steeped in stories that neither you nor I can ever fully learn. In this guide, I will be telling you about all my favorite places in Chinatown, and while none of these places are hidden maybe this guide will help you find just the right food you are craving.
1. Bao Bao Dim Sum
Bao Bao Dim Sum holds a special place in my heart as the very first place that I have ever visited in Chinatown. It is not the best bun place I have ever been to but it is far from the worst and the succulent buns here won’t leave you disappointed. The bakery is split between two bun shops that specialise in different styles of cooking. On the right past, the savory smells of sweet bread and BBQ’d meat you have the steamed bun shop. The steamed bun section has been my favorite breakfast spot for getting a fast hot meat bun to go. Their prices are extremely cheap and you could easily buy yourself enough buns to last you the day for 10 Bucks. After savoring one of their meat buns you will be hard pressed to find another bun quite as satisfying in Chinatown. On the other side of the bun shop is the delectable and succulent baked bun shop. I admit I might be a bit biased on this one as every sweet in this shop is a call back to my childhood. The buns here are filled with cream, coconut, chocolate, and every other sweet filling you could imagine. If you don’t walk out of there fast you might find that you are in line with a plate piled higher than you in buns. My favorite buns in this place are the tasu bao (BBQ pork bun), and the coconut cream bun. They are hands down the highlight of my day and for any of you eager to give this place a try I couldn’t recommend them higher.
2. Nouilles de Lan Zhou
The first time I saw Noodles of Lan Zhou I was a little bit skeptical as I had never had anything like them back in California. I have to say though it did not disappoint, everything except for the atmosphere is superb. The menu contains a decent amount of variety, but that doesn’t really matter as when you go to Noodles of Lan Zhou you go for the Noodles. They are stretched and folded in a display case that is easily visible from where you are eating and if you have never watched Asian noodles being made I recommend you go just for that experience. The broth has a savory yet sweet taste to it that works perfectly with the soft noodles and the tender slices of beef that simmer in the soup. As every time I go here I order the soup I can’t recommend much else but if their food is even a 10th as tasty it would be worth purchasing. The food here is reasonably priced and you can get a medium sized bowl for under 10 dollars. The only downside is that the seating is very limited as the restaurant is just a side hallway leading to a market.
3. Qing Hua Dumplings
This restaurant is a classic, anyone who wants dumplings will tell you to go to Qing Hua as they have a reputation of being some of the best dumplings in Chinatown. A bit of a warning before we delve into the juicy goodness of these dumplings. These are soup dumplings which means that inside they have a good amount of broth, you eat these dumplings by putting them in your spoon or chopstick and then biting a small hole inside to suck the soup out. You could also just eat it whole like a crazy person but you will probably have a burned mouth at the end of the meal. Now Qing Hua is usually pretty busy as it attracts a lot of people looking for some good soup dumplings, and I have yet to meet someone who is dissatisfied with the dumplings at Qing Hua. Personally, I try to go as much as my budget can handle which unfortunately is not a lot as a plate of dumplings ranges around 8-13 dollars.
4. Epicerie A Lam Kee
I really don’t know what possessed me to come here the outside is dingy and everything about the exterior of the building is run down and faded. Maybe it was curiosity that made me want to go inside which to be perfectly honest was about as run down as its exterior. However, I am infinitely glad that I chose that day to look inside a questionable shop as the amount of meat on display was awe-inspiring. The people who know of this shop don’t remember its name but just its location. This is the kind of place that only locals frequent and I have to say its a diamond in the rough. Despite its dreary interior and exterior, the food here is unimaginably good if there is one thing I will truly miss about Montreal it is the food I got from this butcher shop. The prices are cheap and the food will last you forever though I wouldn’t expect anyone to make it down the street without eating every last morsel that they just purchased.
5. Ruby Rouge
When someone goes to Chinatown there are certain things that people expect, gift shops, Chinese restaurants, maybe even slightly illegal items that they couldn’t normally get. To me, however, the most iconic Chinese thing you can look for in Chinatown is dim sum. To those of you not in the know dim sum is the equivalent of Chinese brunch, except instead of all you can eat buffets or expensive benedicts large carts are wheeled around with plates of food for you to take. Ruby Rouge is a dim sum restaurant with the usual selection of items that you can find at any dim sum place. The reason it’s on this list is not really because of anything spectacular they do but simply because it is the closest dim sum place to the center of Chinatown. That being said Ruby Rouge is an excellent place to go for dim sum and if you haven’t tried it before you could definitely do worse.
6. Crepe Chinoise
Crepe Chinoise or Chinese Crepes is pretty straightforward they are called Chinese Crepes, therefore, they serve Chinese style crepes. What this doesn’t tell you, however, is that Chinese crepes are delicious savory crepes with green onion and fried dough wrapped in a crepe and topped with hot sauce. This also doesn’t tell you that this place serves some amazing dessert. When you go here you can either get their candied fruit or their egg puff sundaes both of which are absolutely heavenly. As far as candied fruit go I would have to give Crepe Chinoise a good 8/10 as they get the perfect proportion of candy to fruit ratio that makes it tart yet not overly sweet. Their egg puff sundaes though are amazing and my personal favorite is the black sesame with pocky sticks and strawberries.
7. Bonbons à la Barbe de Dragon
I mean what else is there to say what they sell is in the name lets pack it up and go home enough said. I’m just kidding Bonbons a la Barbe de Dragon was the only place in Chinatown I could find that sold Dragon’s Beard candy. For those of you who don’t know Dragon’s Beard candy is a traditional Chinese candy that takes nuts and wraps it in sugar dough giving it a wispy yet solid look. If I were to make a comparison I would say its like cotton candy but infinitely better, and more solid. While everything in this little shops menu is delicious their Dragon’s Beard candy is what they are known for and you really can’t go wrong picking one up.
8. Dessert de Taiwan
One wouldn’t know it when looking at a tiny cafe that only has room for a cash register and one other person that this place has the best flat cakes in Chinatown but it does. Undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises coming from this small shop was that despite the fact that everything was good my favorite thing to eat was the flat cakes. Well, they aren’t really flat cakes, more like waffle hockey pucks filled with egg cream. Point being those are incredible they have a sweet waffle dough that forms a solid easy to hold exterior that crunches as you bite through it to reach the gooey delicious center. There was a point in time that I got these at least once a day and I don’t regret a single second of it.
Probably the best place to go in Chinatown for traditional Chinese food Beijing has both a quality and quantity of food that has made Chinese cuisine famous around the world. If you want to have a delicious filling and affordable meal then Beijing is your stop. Its food is incredible and while admittedly the waitstaff behaves in the typical Chinese fashion of not coming unless hollered at across the room the dining experience is still phenomenal. My favorite dish is the hot and sour soup something that I have enjoyed since childhood and am very critical of. At Beijing made the soup along with everything else perfectly. The noodles were seasoned and thick, the meat tender, and the soup full of extra meat and vegetables. Just typing this out reminds me of how amazing the food was and makes me want to go back if you can only visit one place in Montreal’s Chinatown make it Beijing.