Having grown up in a family that refused to stay put, I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to put down roots. I found them in an instant when I walked into Toronto’s feisty, colourful and inimitable Kensington Market one sunny day in the late 1970s and knew immediately that this was home. Its ethnic mix, Jewish history and cheaply cheerful warmth proved irresistible and I lived happily in the heart of this wonderful place for more than 25 years, nearly all of them in the same house on Augusta Ave. facing a lively park.
Once you’re considered part of the Kensington family, there’s no looking back. A foodie through and through, I was in the right ‘nabe to pursue my passion.
Munching a fresh-from-the-oven Portuguese bun with butter at breakfast; sipping a frothy cappuccino nestled at window seat at tiny Casa Acoreana mid-morning and dim sum at least once a week at Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant all became rituals.
I love dim sum at Bright Pearl partly for the food – my favourites are shrimp and beef dumplings, little pork or beef ribs laced in black bean sauce, bok choy in oyster sauce and the wondrous deep-fried squid tentacles – but mainly for the way it’s delivered to the table on trolleys by Asian women who’ve come to know me and with whom I communicate by pointing at whatever steaming offerings I want.
But there’s another reason I love Bright Pearl, located at 346-348 Spadina near St. Andrew. Every Chinese New Year, owner Stephen Chan and maven-of-all-things Chinese Valerie Mah host a superb banquet to raise money for TEOF, a non-profit group that provides nutritious snacks to schoolchildren.
Those banquets are noisy and somewhat chaotic with raffles and auctions throught the meal. But the food is always great.
So what a pleasure it was to attend the 10th anniversary at this upstairs eatery this summer featuring a high-end, no-holds-barred, multi-course Chinese menu the likes of which I’ve never eaten.
It kicked off with a barbecued pork and jellyfish platter that was sensational. Also amazing was crispy chicken stuffed with sticky rice that was served whole and sliced at the table. A dish of lobster with ginger and scallions was out of this world. Likewise for chicken soup laced with ginseng and pieces of conch.
I love it when this restaurant celebrates. Gathered at a round table, my co-diners and I always have lots of fun. And so what if the conversation is mostly about the delicious food. If I feel like dining here while reading the paper in the middle of the afternoon, dim sum delivered to my table perfectly fits the bill.
Here’s a favourite dish I like to order in Chinese noodle/BBQ houses.
Steeped Steamed Chicken
3 cups Chinese cooking wine
About 10 cups water
6 green onions, cut in pieces
10 garlic cloves, crushed
¾ cup sliced fresh ginger root
2 tbsp kosher or sea salt
About 4-lb/2 kg chicken
Place all ingredients except chicken in large stockpot (at least 8-litre size). Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes.
Lower chicken gently into broth, breast side down, and completely submerge. Over high heat, return broth to boil. Lower heat so broth barely simmers with occasional bubbles popping up at intervals for 15 minutes. Remove stockpot from stove; let chicken sit in broth for 3 hours.
Using tongs, gently transfer chicken to large bowl being careful not to break skin. Cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, strain broth. Freeze or store in fridge to use as a base for Asian or other soups.
To serve chicken, cut in pieces with kitchen shears. Garnish with Ginger Scallion Sauce or serve it on the side.
Makes about 4 servings.
Ginger Scallion Sauce
This is more of a condiment than a sauce (scallions are green onions) and is fabulously pungent. Store leftovers in airtight container in fridge. Any vegetable oil except olive oil will do. I use my small food processor for this.
1 cup chopped fresh ginger root
1½ tbsp kosher or coarse sea salt
1½ cups chopped green onions (about 12)
1 cup peanut or other vegetable oil
With mortar and pestle or in food processor, grind or process ginger root and salt to a slightly chunky consistency. Add green onions; reduce to chunky paste. Transfer to heatproof bowl.
Heat oil in saucepan until very hot and beginning to smoke. Pour over ginger/onion mixture. Stir to combine. Cool.
Makes about 1½ cups.