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years of practice = dumplings that make my grandma proud

The boy wanted dumplings for dinner on his birthday. Done! I’ve been making them with my grandmother as long as I’ve been using chopsticks, and though it’s a time consuming effort, the results are well worth it. It really doesn’t matter what you throw into the filling, though I’m partial to ground pork as the meat base. These ones also sported copious amounts of ground ginger, shredded napa, and rehydrated shitake mushrooms. As per usual, swigs and dashes of soy sauce, sesame oil, ground pepper, and garlic powder were added to the concoction that amassed into the filling – my secret tactic for spice balance was to pan fry a glob of the filling to taste-test (plus I was feeling a little peckish). Then, onwards and upwards with placing the filling in store-bought wrappers (I should really make my own one day – it’s merely flour and water). Needless to say, these pan fried beauties were consumed in a matter of minutes.

Yes, jellyfish! Quite edible, and non poisonous.

Jellyfish has been something that I’ve grown up with, and definitely not considered odd in my book of edibles (then again, it would be quite difficult to try and deter me when it comes to food). It was most fun to introduce it to the boy and a brave friend, who agreed upon viewing the package, that jellyfish was ‘goopey looking’. [Package consisted of: pre-soaked, pre-shredded, insta-serve jellyfish in a sealed packet, alongside envelopes of MSG related seasonings plus sesame + chili oils]. Despite the floppy looking texture, one mustn’t be fooled: jellyfish has a distinct and pleasant crunch! Random as the textures may be, it may help in explaining the fact that we often refer to jellyfish as ‘rubber bands’ in Cantonese.

Jellyfish itself is neither fishy nor seafood-like, and actually isn’t very flavourful in general: it all becomes a function of the marinade in which it’s thrown. Interestingly enough, jellyfish is associated with banquets for me, and has only been consumed out of that context rarely. Though the aforementioned packages are quite convenient, I look forward to buying the stuff that hasn’t been pre-shredded to make my own rendition of jellyfish ‘salad’ – combining soy sauce, sesame oil, chili oil, and perhaps some rice vinegar and sugar. Sesame seeds are also fantastic additives for an extra nuttiness.

Vegetarian Thai dinner, for a vegetarian friend’s birthday. Where else in Montreal, but Chu Chai?

Located at 4088 Saint Denis (between Duluth and Rachel), the restaurant was packed, naturally, on a Friday night. The restaurant is victim to the Chinese floor plan syndrome (I overheard the waitstaff in Cantonese): business mentality of cramming more people than allowed by fire regulation policies. Not only did I worry about knocking people (and their dinners) over while squeezing my way to the restroom, we were made to wait 90 minutes before our orders were taken. But I should backtrack slightly: the birthday girl made reservations for 7:30, for 11 of us – and half of our party was standing at the door for 40 minutes because they only had a 6-person table available. Do ‘reservations’ not mean anything? Half an hour of waiting later, the waitstaff mumbled something about compensating our inconvenience with free drinks. That offer, they quickly retracted. And we ended up having to barter for a discount: at first, they agreed to 10% off all drinks (what does that work to, 50 cents per person?), and finally 10% of the final tab. Role reversal indeed: aren’t restaurant owners supposed to alleviate the situation and win-over their frustrated patrons? I’ve never heard of customers having to bargain for a discount when clearly they have been wronged.

Poor service aside, their pad thai was quite delicious, as was another noodle-ly concoction ordered by the boy: it sported generous amounts of thai basil, and imitation duck. I started with their tom yum nam khon- hot & sour soup with coconut milk, which was good, but I had slight doubts: I suspect that their broth sits in a giant vat, and the remaining ingredients of desired soup-type (soup with mock seafood/meat/tofu/etc) are tossed into the bowl of pre-ladled soup. Not impressed with the undercooked mushrooms, and wished the soup came piping hot. Washing the meal down with Tsing Tao, however, was definitely a good call.

Highlight of the evening, of course, was good company. And the backgammon and key lime pie: mmm.

ChuChai on Urbanspoon

Pan asian restaurant, this time in RH way up at 10610 Bayview Ave. Sweet Basil is worth raving about: fabulous service, and great price:quality ratio (8.99 pad thai, 14.99 appetizer plate for 2-3 with spring rolls, satay chicken, mango salad, crab cakes). Lemongrass ice tea? Tasty.

Of course, I was in great company.

Sweet Basil Pan Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon