Chinese cuisine in Toronto is, to put it mildly, diverse. This is hardly surprising when you consider the country's sheer size, not to mention the large number of ethnic groups that call the Middle Kingdom home. This culinary mosaic has been further enhanced by the significant number of overseas Chinese that call places as far-flung as India and Malaysia home.
Here in Toronto, we have been blessed with the fact that "going out for Chinese" doesn't necessarily translate to "getting fried chicken balls" (though there's nothing wrong with that). We are indeed fortunate that the stunning array of both transnational and international Chinese cuisine has, for the most part, found its way to our great city.
Here are my picks for the top regional Chinese restaurants in and around Toronto.
MAINLAND CHINESE - HONG KONG - TAIWAN
Cantonese cuisine emphasizes natural flavours from fresh ingredients, usually with minimal seasoning. Arguably the most well-known type of Chinese cuisine, excellent Cantonese places are found all over the city. There are many excellent examples of this, but one of my personal recommendations is Kings Noodle in Chinatown, well-known for the awesome BBQ pork rice and the equally awesome BBQ duck in noodle soup.
Everyone and their plumber knows that Szechuan Chinese cuisine is synonymous with spicy dishes. But what many may not know is that Szechuan spiciness has a characteristic tongue-numbing aftertaste, deliciously prevalent in the excellent sui zhu yu (spicy boiled fish) dish at New Greatime Corp. Ridiculous restaurant name; excellent food. Also try the la zi ji (spicy chicken) for another hot explosion of flavour in your mouth.
The superhero-like named Chiu Chow Boy is, in my books, the best place to get the delicious yet subtle flavours of this much underrated Chinese cuisine. The smooth and tender braised tofu with duck is a dish to get here, and the chin jew chicken (stop laughing, you at the back) is juicy and flavourful with a nice herb-like aftertaste.
Often also called Chinese Islamic cuisine because of the relative prevalence of the religion in the Xinjian part of China, this cuisine (understandably) eschews pork and serve other types of meat instead. Deliciously spiced with cumin, lamb skewers are one of its most popular dishes. One of the best in the city can be found in the eponymously named Xin Jiang Restaurant located in the humble Metro Square Mall.
While this cuisine itself has many sub-regional varieties, as a general rule wheat-based staples dominate the kitchens of north China, and the best-known dishes from this region are the traditional Chinese dumplings, which contain a multitude of excellent fillings. The chive and pork variety at Mother's Dumplings is an excellent start for those interested in this cuisine.
The best-known example of Shanghainese cuisine is probably the xiao long bao (soup-filled dumplings) that you need to eat carefully on a spoon, lest the hot (yet delicious) broth leak all over your clothing. While many restaurants serve this, I've found that the best ones are served north of the city at Ding Tai Fung and Xiao Long Bao. Both places (who share the same owner) also have an array of other delicious Shanghainese-style dim sum goodies, making them excellent one-stop-shops for sampling this cuisine.
One of the original "fusion" cuisines, this mixture of Eastern and Western cuisine thrives in the Hong-Kong heavy population of Richmond Hill and Markham and is best-known for its rich and creamy HK milk tea. My favourite place is Phoenix Restaurant, which has a ridiculously large selection, ranging from the excellent HK-style French toast to the pineapple bun with ham. If you need one in downtown Toronto, try Hong Kong Bistro Café.
The most well-known Taiwanese "food" is actually the humble bubble tea, now ubiquituous in every corner of Toronto. Apart from this popular beverage, it's also well known for the aromatic Taiwanese basil chicken (san bei ji), beef noodle soup, and Taiwanese popcorn chicken, all of which are deliciously served up by Papa Chang's up in Markham.
Chinese food in the Malay peninsula tend to be extremely rich and flavourful, and it's impossible to talk about excellent Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese food in Toronto without mentioning Gourmet Malaysia. From the deliciously flavourful yellow Malaysian fried noodles to the rich Singaporean laksa, it is guaranteed that you will with a happily full stomach.
Often erroneously called Hakka Chinese food (the Hakka are only one of the many ethnic groups originating from China, who happened to emigrate in large numbers to many overseas destinations, including Indian cities like Kolkatta and Mumbai), you will find starchy, saucy foods that are both spicy and satisfying here. Tangerine has multiple locations in the GTA and is my go-to restaurant when the craving for spicy Manchurian beef and pakoras hit. Try their chicken lollipop appetizer as well.
Don't laugh, but there IS a place for sweet and sour pork on this list, because I've always maintained that Canadian Chinese food is a legit cuisine in and of itself. Old-school favourite Sea-Hi Famous Chinese tops my list despite the food quality being sometimes hit-or-miss, partially driven by nostalgia (it was used for movie settings!) and partially due to their excellent chicken balls. You read that right.
Many people don't realize it, but quite a few of the dishes you find at Korean restaurants are actually considered by many native Koreans to be Chinese in origin. Originally developed by ethnic Chinese who live in Incheon, the most well-known of this is the delicious kampunggi (sweet and spicy fried chicken) and the slightly less-known jajangmyeon, a slightly sweet and savoury noodle dish flavoured with black bean paste. Both are available in Shanghai Korean Chinese Restaurant, located in the heart of Koreatown North.
Please note that the list is not meant to be an exhaustive compilation, but rather a small sampling of the delicious diversity that the city and its surrounding areas have to offer. And while most of them are located north of the downtown core, they are, in my opinion, worth the trek.
Photo by Gadjo Sevilla
by Darren "DKLo" Susilo via blogTO