Chinese Traditional Buns
I love the almost musical lilt of Mandarin. I've studied it on-and-off for years, vainly hoping that some of it would stick. It definitely takes a little while for your tongue to get used to. On one of the rare occasions I was foolish enough to try and speak it in public, attempting "I don't want any MSG" came out (much to the glee of those Mandarin speakers around me) "I don't want to feed the chickens". So this past Lunar new year's eve visit to Chinese Traditional Buns I keep what little Mandarin I have a secret while tucking into a porcine feast.
By "Now" I'm sure you've heard it all before. At this point there have undoubtedly been megabytes devoted to this Chowhound cause celebre and humble stalwart of northern regional Chinese food so I can confirm the following:
- Yes the room is austere bordering on fugly--a few paintings and a menu disturb the otherwise unbroken whitewash along the left wall, construction paper cut-outs naming the various specials in two languages adorn the right, while white plastic tablecloths scatter cold fluorescent light in all directions of this dis-orientingly unassuming subterranean dining room (mix in the opera occasionally breaking the silence through tinny speakers mounted over the glass and aluminum warming table and you're about a droog away from a Ludovico technique environmentally speaking).
- Yes, the spoons are plastic and most of the plates are Styrofoam--an obvious ploy meant to attract the Billy-bob Thornton set.
- Yes the food is amazingly good and exceeding cheap. A definite value for the money. Your waitress will chuckle as you, silly hipster, overzealously order plates more food than you'll know what to do with (a suggestion: take them home, as leftovers they still punch well above their weight).
What better way to usher in the year of the pig than with the fantastic Xian cured pulled pork sandwich? AKA the mongolian hamburger it sees a modest heap of sweet, saucy, cinnamon heavy five-spice braised pork served between the toasted slices of what tastes and feels like a cross between an English muffin and a tea biscuit. The house special jellied bean-curd soup turns the heat up to respectable northern Chinese levels immersing custardy-soft silken tofu in a wonderfully flavourful broth enhanced with the flavour punch of raw garlic, chili oil, fresh coriander leaves, further enriched by the crunch of seaweed and Chinese pickle--culinary panacea for anyone who's got ADD inflicted taste buds.
Dan Dan Noodles raise the heat even further, taking chewy wheat noodles smothering them in an incendiary mix of garilicky-gingery ground pork, spicy chili oil and crunchy Chinese pickle.
Making its name on its bao tse, the dumplings don't disappoint.
Savory pork and vegetable pot stickers and Beef soup buns acquit themselves quite well and provide some much needed respite from the chili onslaught. Save room for the puck-sized sweet potato pancakes and enjoy the addictive greasy-sweet, crunchy chew that'll cool your burning tongue and harden your arteries all at the same time. I personally can't think of a better way to go.
Humility, shyness and modesty are hallmarks of those born in the year of the pig and likewise of this northern Chinese nosharama. But these traits belie a richness of character that can be bold and full of surprises. But if the fantastic food here should come as any surprise you need to get yer tongue in gear!
Chinese Traditional Buns - 536 Dundas West (at Kensington) - 416-299-9011