Why Hakka does NOT exclusively mean Indian-Chinese

There’s something that I’ve wanted to put forth for a long time, and for some stupid reason have never had the opportunity to. Sometimes, when I have so many things to say about a particular subject,  my stupid brain locks up and goes into a 404 PAGE NOT FOUND mode, which may be entertaining for a comedy show, but is really lousy for someone who’s supposed to be the model of erudition (at least when it comes to food)

The point that has bugged me for a very long time is simply this: in Toronto, the term “Hakka” is used ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY when referring to a type of cuisine cooked by Chinese people who came from India. This is incorrect, and I will explain why below.

"So sit yo 'ass down!" (note: this may or may not look like me) -- from englishharmony.com

“So sit yo ‘ass down!” (note: this may or may not look like me) — from englishharmony.com

I’m not going to waste your time giving a long explanation about the history of how a large group of Chinese settlers ended up in India (Wikipedia does it so much better here). But what I want to tackle is the usage of the term “Hakka” when referring to the type of food that they cook. You see, the Chinese population in India ended up adapting their cuisine to local tastes, using local spices and herbs (the most notable one being garam masala), with the result being a beautiful fusion cuisine of the complex flavours of Chinese cooking and the punch and flavour of Indian cuisine. And who were the Chinese settlers in India? Hakka people. That is to say, a subgroup of the ethnic Han Chinese.

Well then, I hear you say (I sometimes hear voices, humour me), what’s so incorrect about calling the Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine as Hakka cuisine? The answer lies in that ACTUAL authentic Hakka cuisine is a million miles away from the interesting dishes you see in an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Real, traditional food of the Hakka people (which is therefore called “Hakka cuisine”, I know eh, what a concept) look much more like, surprise surprise, traditional Chinese food. Case in point, the salt baked chicken.

 

Damn! Where's the cornstarch and gravy? -- from wikipedia.org

WHAT! Where’s the cornstarch and gravy? — from wikipedia.org

Moreover, the Hakka people migrate all over the world, and not just India. The majority of Chinese people in Central America and the Caribbean, for example, are Hakkas (major example: Chinese Jamaicans). A crapload of Hakkas also immigrated to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, the place where I was born and once lived. So to say that Indian-Chinese food is “Hakka” food is to unintentionally but completely discount two things: A) actual, authentic Hakka cuisine (that most people have never heard of) and B) OTHER Hakka fusion cuisines that Hakka people all around the world have created (such as Jamaican-Chinese fusion food – you never hear them called “Hakka”). It doesn’t help that the Indian-Chinese restaurants call themselves Hakka as well. While it’s not TECHNICALLY incorrect (the people who open these restaurants are, after all, Hakka people), it’s not exactly accurate either.

As some of you know, I’m not a traditionalist or purist when it comes to food. Hell, I’ve professed my love for Manchu goddamn Wok publicly, and insist that the oft-mocked American/Canadian-Chinese food is a legitimate type of cuisine in and of itself. So believe me when I say that I’m not trying to be pedantic just for the sake of being a pain in the ass. I’m just a bit tired of people asking me what’s my favourite cuisine, and having answered “perhaps Indian-Chinese food”, be faced with the reply “oooh, you mean Hakka food?”. Actually, no I do not.

So why does it bug me? Well, because I’m Hakka Chinese. And I have had many different kinds of Chinese cuisine cooked by wonderful Hakka cooks. Indian-Chinese dishes are just one wonderful part of the Hakka cuisine spectrum, but it is far and away only a small slice of it.

At the end of the day, I guess you can call it whatever you want, but let me ask you a question. To grab a random example, if you were a Quebecois Canadian, and your whole family emigrated to Japan, and your entire family opened a chain of restaurants that primarily serve sushi-poutine with wasabi, would you still call that Quebecois cuisine? Of course not. It’s become a beautiful Quebecois-Japanese fusion cuisine. A new cuisine in it’s own right. And THAT is what the so-called “Hakka cuisine” is in Toronto. It is, and always will be, Indian-Chinese food for me. And I will always love it.

Now gimme SOME MOAR Chicken Manchurian and pakoras!

 

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Why courtesy should ALWAYS matter: A commentary on the service quality in Chinese restaurants in the GTA

Confession time: I need to vent.

I visit an awful lot of Chinese restaurants. And by these I actually don’t mean the Manchu Wok kind (though as you can see here, there’s nothing wrong with that). I mean the ones owned and operated by Chinese people, serving authentic Chinese food, aimed at the Chinese audience. Living in Markham, Chinese restaurants are about as numerous as 14-year old girls in a One Direction concert.

On the other hand, I also visit a fair bit of Western restaurants. Some of these places are ones that I frequent and love. You will have to beat me up severely before I’ll let you have my remaining Montana’s pork ribs, for example.

And there’s really ONE big thing that separates the first group from the second. No, it’s not the fact that you can’t get Hainanese Chicken Rice at Swiss Chalet.

It’s the service. The average authentic Chinese restaurant here has no concept of what this is. Which is really sad considering Chinese restaurants in Indonesia seem to be just fine with the concept of politeness.

Even my dad, who’s probably the most Chinese person on the planet (yes, even more so than the entire population of China combined), even sighed once and said “This (the service) is why I don’t like going to Chinese restaurants”. It’s like if the Pope said that he doesn’t really like Sunday mass.

Walk into most traditional Chinese restaurants in Toronto (but ESPECIALLY north of Steeles Avenue- which I guess no longer makes it Toronto), and chances are you’ll be greeted by a Chinese person who only speaks halting English, if any, and if you look anything REMOTELY Asian then they will automatically assume you can speak Chinese – usually insisting that you MUST speak Cantonese, and pretty much treat you with indifference, if not outright contempt at the very fact that they need to serve you. The nerve of you, really.

Note that there are quite a few notable exceptions. A lot of the newer Chinese establishments (the Phoenix Restaurant chain being a notable example) have displayed much better service than the ones I mentioned above. By the word “traditional” I mean old-fashioned and well-established Cantonese restaurants that have been in operation for at least 15 years (guilty parties: Sam Woo, Ming’s, Golden Court, just to name a few).  I only picked the number 15 because that’s how long I’ve been in Canada for, and trust me when I say that going into almost any Chinese restaurant circa 1998 was akin to preparing yourself for a contest of hate.

Anyway. In these very well-established restaurants, you’re usually expected to speak Cantonese (never mind that the national language of China is Mandarin) and God help you if you want to ask your server anything or are unclear about the day’s specials. If you look non-Asian, you’re actually in a better position, because at least they won’t expect you to speak their language. But look anything like me, and you BETTER be conversant in Cantonese. Otherwise be prepared for a long and awkward night.

As an example, I very recently got into a huge argument at Ming’s Noodle, a very popular noodle joint on Kennedy just south of Steeles, where the server’s curt attitude and unwillingness to clarify our instructions lead to us getting the wrong order. When we told her about it, she was only too happy to argue and lecture us for not clarifying in the first place. All of this happened while the owner was watching us contentedly behind the cash register, not moving a muscle and not giving a damn. While this incident is, I admit, a rather extreme example, it is very symptomatic of the irrelevance with which the notion of service is regarded in these establishments.

You said RICE! Not FRIES! -just add an Asian waitress and it's pretty accurate.

You said RICE! Not FRIES! -just add an Asian waitress and it’s pretty accurate.

More worrying is the fact that not all of the newer restaurants are immune to this problem too. While a great deal of these modern joints have passable, and sometimes even friendly, service, there are still new cases like the large and new Dayali Restaurant (on Warden north of Steeles) featuring management that clearly views the patrons as nothing more than an inconvenience.

And you know what the worst part is? All of these places stay in operation and make money.

Then I started to notice something. People I know started telling me that I shouldn’t expect good service at a Chinese establishment. As far as Chinese restaurants are concerned, the category of “service” should apparently be labelled “Not Applicable”. So being treated like a sub-human should be expected, apparently.

There may be truth to this. Most Chinese restaurants that are operated by Chinese but are aimed at a more Western audience do NOT suffer from poor service. But more than 50% of Chinese restaurants that are both owned by AND aimed at Chinese people will have  surly waitresses that have a Ph.D in not giving a damn. So it’s almost EXPECTED that Chinese people here are going to be OK with crappy service.

I bluntly refuse to follow this suggestion. I admit that I lower my expectations for service at a Chinese restaurant, in the interest of my own sanity. But I can never buy the notion that treating people with contempt is ever acceptable.

Look at your daily life. How would you feel if everyone greeted you in a manner which basically tells you to go fuck yourself and that your very existence is a burden on their lives? I’m guessing it would suck HARD. Then why should we expect any less from our servers? Especially since (no matter how trivial the amount may be) they’re getting PAID to talk to us. That middle-aged lady on the corner of the street may give me a contemptuous look as if I was going to vomit in her handbag, but at least I’m not PAYING her for that privilege. But in a restaurant environment, I actually am.

So that’s my beef. And that’s my long-winded rationale that I will never, ever tolerate rudeness in my service. I’m not even asking for the sort of “let’s be BFFs” service you routinely get at Montana’s, The Keg, or any other similar establishment. Some adequate level of English proficiency (just know the goddamn numbers on the menu, that’s all I ask) and a rudimentary grasp of the concept of courtesy is all I’m expecting.

And if we all, especially those of us who frequent Chinese restaurants, start demanding good service and less passively resgining ourselves that crappy services are acceptable, maybe slowly things will change (they kind of already are, to be honest, as 50% is already pretty good compared to 1998). If a restaurant gives you shitty service, don’t go there again, no matter how good the food is. It’s as simple as that.

Either that, or I’m just going to open a small Chinese restaurant where I yell at you, slam the wrong order on your table, spill your water everywhere, and kick you when you leave. I will expect to retire rich before 40 because clearly people don’t mind it if the food is halfway decent.

PS: I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment! Maybe I’m delusional and maybe I’m the only one who notices these things, or the only one nuts enough to care.

Panera with my family. Or: A refreshing change from the usual suspects.

I’ve got a confession to make. I don’t like sandwiches. It’s not like I hate ’em, but I think that the concept of having some sliced meats, vegetables, and a bit of sauce just plastered there on a bun (or two) is very blah. Nothing’s really ‘cooked’, y’know? Now I know that there are sandwiches that are a bit more ‘complex’ out there, like a pulled pork sandwich or perhaps a Philly cheesesteak, but for the most part when you talk about sandwiches, you get an awful lot of variants of BLT or turkey club. Or worse.

This is worse.

This is worse.

Why am I telling you this? Well this indifference to plain ol’ sandwiches causes me to not really be a big fan of breads and pastries. I like ’em just fine, but I won’t be going out of my way to look for them. So rest assured, Tim Hortons fans, there will be one less person in line on most days because I won’t be there to clog it up.

I do love that Tim Hortons chicken noodle soup though, especially when I’m not feeling too hot. But I digress yet again.

Due to my ho-hum attitude to sandwiches, you can imagine that I wasn’t overly enthralled about visiting Panera Bread with my family. I mean the NAME of the restaurant has the word ‘bread’ in it, so I knew what I was getting in to. I just agreed that we should pay a visit to it because I know my mom loves this stuff, and it would be a nice change that we, as a family, would go visit an upscale sandwich joint. Big difference compared to our regular jaunts to Chinese/Japanese/other Asianese restaurants.

When I walked in, I was pretty impressed at how clean, sleek, and inviting the place is. This is no Mr. Sub or Tim Hortons, rather this was if Quizno’s mated with Starbucks. Everything seems shiny, new, and family-friendly. Sure, it may not be ‘grungy-vintage’ or whatever it is that hipsters are into these days, and sure it emanates a very suburban feel. But as I said in my Daisuki Sushi post, I’m totally cool with being a 100% suburban guy. And this place totally spells out ‘suburban’. With a capital S.

All that's missing is a white picket fence and a dog named Fido.

All that’s missing is a white picket fence and your 2.5 kids.

Again, I’ve said that I wasn’t so big on sandwiches. But I AM big on bacon. And cheese. So imagine my absolute batsh*t insane joy when I saw, on the menu item, that Panera has grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. Bacon INSTANTLY makes everything better, and bacon with cheese is just….just….I mean LOOK AT IT!

There really are no words. *weeps in joy*

Look. At. It.

The whole sandwich is loaded with taste (and, sadly, tons of sodium no doubt). It has a slight sweetness from the bacon, with tons of savoury and cheesy flavours literally melting in your mouth. The bread was perfectly done, not too crispy and not underdone. To top it off, you also get some of Panera’s own kettle-cooked chips to go with it. Now, WW and my family had some of the other, more common sandwiches (there was a turkey club there somewhere) which were also not bad and very fresh-tasting, but like I said before, if you’re a sandwich and you want to impress me, you better stand out (and none of this cold sandwich nonsense, thank you very much). No no. You damn well should try my grilled cheese sandwich instead. It’s even called Big Kid Grilled Cheese or something like that.

And I’m DEFINITELY a big kid.

Overall, I would recommend this place. The place is nice, the service is very friendly and welcoming, and everything looks so shiny and polished. It’s located in a new strip mall dubbed “Uptown Market”, which I feel is like a heavily scaled down version of the Shops at Don Mills, up in Markham. The sandwiches can get quite expensive, mind you -mine, if taken full size (double what you saw in the pic) would be close to $10 after taxes. So you have to go here with the picture in your head of going for a proper lunch, not as a light in-between snack. That’s when you realize that ten bucks post-taxes is OK.

Until you realize that you could probably get fried rice at a Hong Kong restaurant for $7. Oh well.

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Panera Bread

Uptown Market
3987 Highway 7
Unit 1
Markham, ON L3P 3A7

Having sushi with my mom. Or: Another non-Japanese Japanese restaurant in Markham

The other day I had the relatively rare (but nice) opportunity to have a quick lunch with my mom. It’s not often that we can hang out, just the two of us, and talk about family, life, and other topics that any self-respecting boy who’s maturing and getting ready to get married should become increasingly familiar with, such as Costco memberships and where to pick up cheap groceries.

Yep, I’m totally turning out to be Mr. Suburban Chinese guy. And strangely, I’m okay with that. I can’t really keep up Gangnam-styling for 8 hours straight. And I’ve suddenly developed an enjoyment for grocery shopping in quiet supermarkets on weekend nights with WW. The transformation is almost complete.

But I digress (gee, ya think?). Today we decided to go for Daisuki Sushi, yet another Japanese owned by non-Japanese people, located in Markham, close to the site of my future home. Interestingly, this restaurant had an extensive Korean menu (i.e. bibimbap), but the wait staff that day were 100% from mainland China. Huh.

To be fair, most of the items in the picture are probably made in mainland China anyway.

To be fair, most of the items in the picture are probably made in mainland China anyway.

Coming in, we actually already have a good idea of what we want. The best part about this place is its ridiculously low priced weekday lunch specials. My mom and I got the same thing: Dynamite Roll (which in Canada means sushi roll stuffed with tempura and avocado), assorted tempura, miso soup, rice and salad in a bento box. For somewhere around $7.95. If you wanted to go a bit simpler, there are even $5.95 options available for you. Again, weekdays only though.

When we were waiting for the food, it quickly became obvious what the biggest problem with this place was: the wait time itself. The server didn’t mention to us that getting the fried stuff will take much longer than the other orders, so we actually sat for 15-20 minutes watching other people who ordered after us get served while we were just drinking our soup. Luckily, a conversation about Costco is always riveting.

Don’t get me wrong, the servers didn’t give us attitude or were rude. It’s just that it’s about, oh, 150% clear to me that the guy’s mind was somewhere else, perhaps thinking about his hot girlfriend or the allure of coming home after his shift to play Call of Duty. As such, he served us with the blankest expression this side of Keanu Reeves, and seemed to not grasp the concept that lunch specials are supposed to be quick because, you know, people are working.

WHOA. People have WORK to go back to?

WHOA. People have WORK to go back to?

The food itself was good. It was a nice, hefty portion, and for all our complaining about the wait time, at least the tempura batter was really fresh and crispy, with no soggyness or strange aftertaste that usually presents itself if the oil is a bit off. So the food was good, with the only criticism being that the rice being used for the sushi was a bit too dense and sticky for my liking. Again, at these prices, I’m really not complaining much. In fact, the tempura dipping sauce became a personal favourite of mine. Since tempura, by definition, is bland, I’ve always preferred a sharper and sweeter sauce to dip my lovely battered shrimp into, which is precisely what I got here.

That batter was FRESH yo. It may have taken forever, but still. That batter was FRESH yo.

That batter was FRESH yo. It may have taken forever, but still. That batter was FRESH yo.

The ambience of the place was pretty good. The restaurant was near-spotless (no, really, there were almost no decor of any kind on the walls, just some pastel green paint) and very clean. The bathroom felt like a powder room in a relatively new home, i.e. it didn’t feel grungy or industrial and was quite nice. Everything in the restaurant screams out  “good, but not great”.

And in a way, that’s probably the place’s main problem.

Good price aside, there’s very little to set it apart from the other 5,197 sushi restaurants in York Region. While the food was good, it wasn’t spectacular, and the wait times and constant dream-like state of the wait staff (I had to remind them that there is 10% off for a separate takeout order we had, and he said “Oh OK” o_0) definitely contributed to me feeling quite ‘meh’ about this place. It’s worth a visit if you pass by around this neck of the woods, but probably not if you go out and seek it. They also have an AYCE menu, with very reasonable prices ($11.99 for lunch), so that may be something worth trying out too.

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Daisuki Sushi

9275 Hwy 48
Markham, ON L6E 0E9

German goodies in Hamilton. Or: There ain’t no party like a schnitzel party

I have a soft spot for Hamilton (stop sniggering at the back!), I really do. I spent the grand total of about a full 12 months living there pursuing my masters, but that time was spread out among two-and-a-half years, making me feel like I was a part of the city

Well, OK it stands out when you look at it from a distance….but I swear up close it’s near invisible!

for longer. Among the many places I like to visit when I was there (dammit man, I TOLD you to stop laughing!), a particularly interesting one is the Black Forest Inn. It’s a small, dimly lit German restaurant in the heart of downtown Hamilton, which you will almost certainly never spot unless you know what you’re looking for. It almost has no windows facing the main street on the main floor, and the signage isn’t lighted or prominent, but rather painted on the wall of the building itself. In a way (which I’m sure was at least partially their intent), it was really reminiscent of old European buildings that face the countless town squares in the heart of Bavarian Germany.

As I have spent quite a few evenings there drowning out my sorrows on those lonely cold nights in Hamilton, I decided to go back there for a little nostalgic visit with WW (who was also a McMaster graduate, though we never met each other during our one overlapping year). Walking in, I couldn’t help but be reminded once again how wonderfully unique the whole place is. Instead of glass doors like in many restaurants, this one had doors reminiscent of European old houses. Stepping inside, there is an almost total lack of natural light, with only small lamps lining the walls of the establishment. It was like another time and another place, and CERTAINLY not like the outside world of downtown Hamilton. I love it.

The Black Forest Inn’s specialties are its schnitzels. Not just your stereotypical breaded pork cutlet, the schnitzels here are cooked various different ways, with different (and delicious!) sauce options and a multitude of side dish accompaniments. I ordered the Schnitzel Husar (as I love me some bacon!) and WW ordered the Schnitzel a la Holstein (she was tempted by the fried egg and smoked salmon).

One thing you have to know is that the food here does take a while to come. I’m guessing is because everything is made to order (either that or the cooks in the back are playing the Deutschlandlied with the accordions in between frying up the good). However I have always taken this time to peruse the various German community newspapers that they have on the counter. It’s always a refreshing change to read the community paper of an ethnicity OTHER than Chinese, Indian, or Filipino (ones that I always get bombarded with in the GTA). Plus I always pause and admire the cute German traditional outfits that all the servers there wear. It’s the nice little touches that go a long way.

When the food came, it looked magnificent. I have a bit of a sauce problem (in that I love it too much) so this place was absolute heaven for me in that regard. My schnitzel was lean and quite bland, but is very nicely balanced by the strong, flavourful, and plentiful sauce with hints of paprika and black pepper. My side order of spaetzle (a German egg noodle pasta of sorts) and vegetables complemented the dish beautifully, and the whole thing was so large and fulfilling that tears well up in my eye. The salty bacon tied the dish all together, and the hot pepper rings were a nice touch.

It’s…*sob*…just so….*sob*…beautiful!

WW’s food was no less magnificent. While I found that her sauce was a bit milder (and thus would be appreciated by those who enjoy a less overpowering taste), the fact that her lean schnitzel came with fried egg and a few slices of moist fried bread (!!!) sealed the deal. The salmon was a bit of a gyp though, they were so small that it looks like it was leftovers from another dish shoehorned into this one. Still tasty regardless, and the whole meal was like getting a warm hug from your German Aunt Greta.

Or your German uncle Dieter.

All in all, the meal is not (and should not) be one that you consume with any regularity (your arteries will thank me) but as an occasional treat and a glimpse into old-school Germany you couldn’t do better than this. The service was very pleasant, and all the staff welcomed us with open arms, perhaps slightly bemused at the fact that two random Chinese people were confidently strolling in and ordering stuff like a BAWSE.

A great place to stop by in Hamilton, and one that totally deserves to be more well-known.

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Black Forest Inn (Schwarzwaldhaus)

255 King Street East
Hamilton, ON L8K 1G9

Get bent! Or: A posh night at an expletive.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to dine at celebrity chef Susur Lee’s newest (?) addition to his ever-expanding empire: Bent. Uncertain feelings about the rather tasteless name aside (at least where Brits are concerned), I was actually quite looking forward to trying out a famed cook’s restaurant, and for the most part, I have to say that the place didn’t disappoint.

As it was part of a birthday dinner, and also due to us being a party of 8, the ultra-helpful servers (who always took the time to explain each dish to us as it came, while we pretended to hear them and nod meaningfully, as if the fantastical explanations actually meant something to us) recommended a chef’s selection of various tapas dishes for us. The great thing about this is that we don’t need to get overly confused as to what to order. The bad thing is that we don’t really end up knowing the names of each individual dish that was served to us, so you’re going to have to bear with my clumsy approximations and descriptions for the rest of the review. Sorry about that.

To simplify things, let’s just say that there were 6-7 dishes served to us, and I’m going to highlight some of the ones that were particularly memorable. The first dish that came

Taco Bell? Bitchplease.

was a very fancy taco dish. It had a combination of raw fish and some vegetables inside, and was extremely delicious (this is going to be a pattern throughout the meal). The freshness of the ingredients really came through, and you can really taste the layers of flavours that come through and blend really well together. It was rich, but also very refreshing at the same time (not necessarily things that usually come together!). It was a cold dish, which was also interesting as I’ve never had cold crispy tacos before. It was dish full of juxtaposition, and the night was off to a great start, as far as I’m concerned.

The next dish that came was a kind of kale and tofu salad. Now before you go away at the sheer boredom of how that sounds, let me tell you once again that this dish was magnificent. It is served tower-like with an assortment of other vegetables and dipped

A cute tower of AWESOME.

in a sweet soy sauce. The flavours on this little fella was even stronger than the previous dish, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that by this point my tastebuds were so alive that it was freakin’ Saturday Night Fever in there. There was a perfect mix of the softness of the tofu, chewiness of the kale, and crispiness of the I-frankly-don’t-know-what. Another cold dish, but another memorable one, which also impressed me because frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of food that wasn’t hot (sushi being the lone exception).

Many excellent dishes then came and went. We totally had trouble keeping up and had to get creative in arranging the plates on our table as the dishes kept on coming and coming. In between all this hectic eating and Tetris-fitting the dishes, I got the chance to look at the interior of the restaurant. It wasn’t overly fancy, but it was nice, modern, with sleek clean lines and, charmingly, cute little pachinko (Japanese pinball) machines lining up the walls.

Now this plate would fit over to your right. No, no, YOUR OTHER RIGHT!

So in the interest of brevity (and also because I don’t want this article to be as long as a history textbook), let’s just say that there was a cacophony of dishes, all of which as memorable as the one before it, with the slight exception of the watermelon and tuna ceviche. I’m simply not a fan of cold AND watery dishes (I still can’t appreciate gazpacho) but WW seemed to like it as she loves watermelon, which I’m pretty sure is a Chinese thing as I’ve never seen a Chinese person who dislikes the fruit.

The final two highlights were the short ribs, which were marinated so thoroughly that every fibre of the meat was steeped in flavour (without any exaggeration), and the delicious shrimp and scallop plate because, well come on. Look at it!

LOOK AT ITTTTTT.

We also got complimentary desserts, which were taster samples of various kinds of panna cota-like servings along with an Asian sesame pastry. While they certainly looked cute, I thought that these were the weakest offerings of the night, as none of them felt right. They all felt evocative of other, tastier desserts, but with an uncertainty as to what they were trying to be.

After the bill came back, it came down to about $60 per person, including tax and tips (we didn’t order drinks at all), which I suppose is very reasonable for food of this quality. It’s still a bit higher than my regular budget (and if my parents knew that I spent this much they’d probably think I’m insan-ohhiMomthanksforreading!) and because of that, I’d probably say that this place is ALMOST perfect. But keeping in mind the market pricing standard of these types of restaurants, I really can’t complain.

The service was extremely friendly and unpretentious, although most of the other patrons of the restaurant do seem of the hipster, too-cool-for-you, snobbish crowd. We, on the other hand, were wonderfully lovely people. And ridiculously good-looking too (but in an poignantly understated way, of course).

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Bent

777 Dundas St West
Markham, ON L3R 8X6
647.352.0092

An evening with a sumo wrestler. Or: A review of Yokozuna

A few nights ago my friends and I went to try a small ramen restaurant tucked into that ever-popular Chinese corner of Silver Star Boulevard (peeps from Scarborough would know what I’m talking about), located right beside the infinitely more well-known Destiny Bubble Tea. We were celebrating one of my friend’s birthdays and, given his love of ramen (on par with my love of Montana’s ribs, I’ve been told), chose this venue for our little get-together.

Called Yokozuna (which is the highest rank that a sumo wrestler can attain), this little

He’s gonna greet you like a BAWSE.

restaurant is modern, well-lit, and full of staff that enthusiastically greet you loudly in that classic Japanese greeting one gets when entering many sushi establishments. Side note: One of these days I gotta look up what that salutation is. They yell it with such gusto that I’ve always wondered what the hell it is they’re saying.

Now, when someone says ramen restaurant in the GTA, people immediately will think of either Kenzo (if you’re a local) or Ajisen (if you used to live in Asia). But there’s much more than ramen on the menu here. Yokozuna offers sushi, okonomiyaki, and various rice dishes. It is, in short, a rather comprehensive Japanese restaurant. Their signature dish was, however, definitely ramen, as evidenced by the large specialty menu detailing just about all the permutations and ingredients that a simple bowl of soup noodle can take.

WW ordered the red miso ramen off of the special menu, while yours truly ordered a simple dynamite roll sushi, having eaten quite substantially a few hours previously due to another fuction (what can I say, I gets quite popular). The total bill came up to around $20 or so after taxes and tips, so it’s quite reasonable.

So how did everything taste? Well, for those of you who don’t have time to read further on, let me sum everything up in one sentence: “Good, but could be better”. For the rest

I don’t see no red here 😛

of you cool enough to stick around, let me explain a bit further. Firstly, the broth, which is absolutely the KEY thing I look for in ramen, is very good. It’s tasty without being overly salty. It seems to be missing a little bit of complexity in its flavour, and that’s the only thing preventing it from getting full marks. So the soup definitely passes the test. The ingredients were plentiful, though WW found that the pork wasn’t as tender as Kenzo’s. I think they use a more lean cut here, which is better for you, if not for your tastebuds. Then we come to my biggest gripe: the ramen itself (uh-oh). It was served al dente, as in not fully cooked and with a little bit of firmness. I’m a big fan of this in pastas, but NOT in ramen. I’ve been told that this is a personal choice, and that different places have different preferences when it comes to noodle firmness, so I guess  the restaurant’s preference simply didn’t match mine. Overall? Not a bad tasting dish, but quite a few points lost in my books.

My sushi was so-so. The tempura shrimp within it was fresh and tasty, but the quality

So-so-sodio!

of the rice left a lot to be desired, mostly because Yokozuna uses a very dense kind  that feels like congealed sticky rice. The saving grace was the dipping sauce. I’ve made a habit of asking for spicy mayo sauce for sushi (yeah yeah unauthentic, I know, talk to my other blog post about that) and this place’s homemade condiment was beautiful. it was light with a slight kick to it, but a hint of sweetness too. So overall, the sushi was average as well.

A cute unexpected highlight was that, due to the large orders we were placing, we could get half a pound of salmon sashimi for $2, which proved to be fantastic value due to its sheer freshness and thick juicy cuts. This one is a definite winner. Too bad it was mentioned by the owner only as a bit of an afterthought.

Final point I’d like to make is: The service was excellent the whole night. Every single server in the restaurant is helpful, quick to notice my flailing arms (and sometimes limbs) when I want to order something/ask stupid questions, and speak very decent English. Plus points for that.

I would definitely consider returning to try some of their other offerings, like the okonomiyaki, and perhaps their spicy ramen, but overall I have to say I’ve had better. Still worth a shot for those who are either a) curious to try a ramen house that serves a lot of variety of food and b) wanted to go to Destiny but found it too full of uber skinny Asian teens with funny hair that chat way too loud and are therefore left wanting to go someplace else.

(Disclaimer: I’monlyjokingIloveyouDestinyandyourhoneydewmilkteas)

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Yokozuna Japanese Noodle Eatery

633 Silver Star Blvd
Scarborough, ON M1V 5N1
(416) 293-9123