an ode to Chinese food (plus fried rice recipe)

Memories of China House

Memories of China House.

 

Growing up in my family our Sunday night ritual was going out for Chinese food. We rotated among four popular Chinese restaurants in Toronto: House of Chan, China House, Young Lok and Lichee Garden. I have such good memories of those delicious Sunday night dinners. Often my grandparents or some family friends with kids our age would join us and we’d all sit around a big, round table with a lazy Susan and share sweet, spicy, sticky Chinese food. After chowing down, we’d rinse our hands in a bowl of warm water with a slice of lemon and sit around drinking Chinese tea and reading our tea leaves and fortune cookies. My mom tells the story of when my brother and I were really young, before we could read, and she would “read” our fortunes to us: “When you get home you will go straight to bed.” As teenagers we’d laugh our heads off reading our fortunes aloud and ending them with the phrase “in bed” (see below).

 

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I can’t wait!

 

All of the restaurants had different specialties and I still remember my favourite dishes from each one.

Lichee Garden: It was famous for its puffy, eggy egg rolls but it’s the Mongolian beef on a skewer that I recall most fondly. Like candy on a stick. It was here at “Lichee” that my dad taught me how to use chopsticks. A highlight was the shmaltzy piano player—there’s nothing like slurping lo mein from your chopsticks while listening to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” And the little colourful umbrella that came in the Shirley Temple made me feel all grown up.

Young Lok: This Szechuan restaurant at Village by the Grange was my fave. It had the tastiest food of them all: sticky General Tsao chicken, moo shu chicken (I loved rolling my own) and the famous fried banana dessert. This was the first place I ventured to eat and fall in love with spicy food.

 

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Though “The Chan” is revered for its steak and lobster (and my brother is a diehard fan of the wonton soup), my faves were the chow mein with crunchy house noodles and the BBQ back ribs. This iconic Toronto institution at Bathurst and Eglinton is the only place on this list left standing after more than half a century but, to the dismay of my brother and other Chan regulars, it will be closing its doors in the next year or so.

 

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Up until until two years ago this retro resto was located across the street from House of Chan for a whopping 53 years. This was old-school Chinese food, Westernized Cantonese chow in all its deep-fried, corn-starched glory. For me, China House was all about the kitschy decor (red and gold colour scheme and artificial Bonsai trees) and the bridge, where we would stand and drop pennies into the water below as we made wishes. But let’s not forget the vegetable fried rice. With a dollop of sinus-clearing yellow mustard and neon orange plum sauce, there was nothing like it.

 

I miss Chinese food. We hadn’t gone out for it since Lily was diagnosed four years ago because of the gluten issue…

 

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…until last fall, when PF Chang’s opened in the Shops at Don Mills. They have a gluten-free menu that took me back to the days of old-school Chinese food. A couple of months ago we had dinner there with some friends whose kids both have celiac. The kids loved their first taste of Chinese food! The highlight was the chicken lettuce wraps. I can’t wait to go back, next time with my parents on a Sunday night.

 

The veggie fried rice recipe here reminds me of the fried rice from China House. It is so flavourful and a bit greasy and I could eat an entire order. I’m grateful to Gluten Free Consultant JoAnne Bennett-Mirsky for sharing it with me…and I’m sure you will be too! It’s quick and easy and a delicious way to use up leftover rice.

This fried rice hits the spot.

This veggie fried rice hits the spot.

 

Veggie Fried Rice

2 tbsp vegetable oil (I use grapeseed)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 egg, stirred
2 cups diced or sliced vegetables — any combination of fresh, frozen, canned or cooked, any mixture of whatever you fancy (for this variation I used edamame, corn niblets and carrots because it’s what I had at home; you can also use peas, mushrooms, broccoli, bean sprouts, etc)
2 cups diced cooked meat (chicken, beef, pork) or fish or shrimp (I like my fried rice veggie-style so I hold the meat)
3 cups cooked rice (or you could use quinoa)
2 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce/Tamari
1 tsp sesame oil
4 green onions, sliced

*I think ginger would be a tasty addition to this dish but I haven’t tried it yet.

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over medium to high heat.

Add onions and garlic and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until onion is slightly softened.

Stir in egg and cook the mixture just until the egg is scrambled. This will only take a minute.

Toss in the vegetables. Put in the ones that take the longest time to cook first, then the next and so on, adding any cooked vegetables only at the last minute. Soft, watery veggies like zucchini and bean sprouts will cook faster than hard, solid ones like carrot and celery.

Once the veggies are all in the wok, throw in the cooked meat and stir everything a bit. Since this ingredient is already cooked, you just need to heat it.

Add cooked rice and keep stirring.

Add soy sauce, stirring and tossing for another 2-3 minutes, until everything is hot and well mixed.

Sprinkle in the sesame oil and green onions.

Toss it all around, remove from heat and serve.

This fried rice is so yummy all on its own, even without the mustard and plum sauce, and the girls just gobble it up. Now all we need are the fortune cookies, gluten free, of course…in bed!