chinese restaurant menu toronto

Toronto restaurant has changed basically nothing since opening in the '60s

Plenty of people look up restaurants and their menus online, but sometimes these searches can lead you down the rabbit hole to some useless trivia that may eventually serve to be a good ice breaker.

In a fun and random internet find, the Ontario Heritage Trust account shared a menu from the '60s preserved by the Archives of Ontario.

The image posted is both sides of a takeout menu from China Food restaurant in Toronto's Leaside. Besides the semi-faded but still very clear print, basic graphics, plus a deep list of chop suey staples, we learn from the Twitter thread that the business is still in operation.

In fact, the commenter with that nugget of wisdom is Wayne Reeves, the former Chief Curator of Museums and Heritage Services for the City of Toronto, who had coincidentally posted about the location earlier this year.

As the government accounts note, menus can be a fascinating look into our past. So, that's what we did.

Comparing both the archived menu to a flyer from the restaurant's website (last updated in November of 2017), the first notable observation outside of the obvious layout change is the similarities between the dishes listed on the stalwart's menu from the '60s and now.

While there are new categories on the expanded menu, including those for appetizers, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, plus what looks to be a new interest in hot & spicy and curry dishes, the mainstays are there: chop suey, chow mein, vegetables and almond dishes (now including one with cashews), egg foo young, plus sweet and sour classics.

There are also fascinating references like chicken, pork or beef subgum chow mein (subgum meaning a mix of meat or seafood with vegetables), which isn't commonly found written in English menus these days, plus a dish known as Tai Dop Voy, another unknown term to many, that's composed of shrimp, chicken, pork and vegetables.

Then there are the dishes that include chicken liver. The organ meat is seen both in chow mein and another main dish prepared with green peppers.

Unfortunately, neither these terms nor the chicken liver dishes appear on the modern menu, a likely reflection of changing consumer interest. 

chinese restaurant menu toronto

The menu posted online at China Food that was last updated in 2017. Source: www.chinafood.ca

The most obvious difference between both China Food menus is the pricing of the dishes.

While menu items started as low as $0.10 for an order of the suggested crispy noodles or $0.15 for a "Delicious Egg Roll," peaking at a whopping $2.50 for fancy things like Butterfly Shrimps with Oyster Sauce, baring inflation and general increased operational costs associated with restaurants, the modern equivalent is $1.25 for egg roll and caps at a still reasonable $11.35 for the Shrimps Lo Mein.

It's also nice to see that the stalwart continues to offer combo meals, although it's interesting to note how $3 used to feed two, while the same five dishes (appetizer, three dishes, and side of rice) now costs $23.75.

Outside of the menu items themselves, it appears the business was and continues to be very proud to have their dishes delivered "individually" in "hot in perma-seal containers." Which, according to their 2017 menu, helps to "retain original flavours."

One example of said container, as well as a company stamp that's estimated to be at least 29 years old, can be seen here:

Delivery itself is still free, but these days require a minimum spend ($18 in 2017).

And when you do call to order, in the early days you were supposed to call Hudson (Hu) at 7-4641 (flyer), 9-2612 or 9-2778 (ads) depending on where you got the information, while these days it's a full nine-digit 416 area code number. 

While these are some of the immediate finds – including the fact that customers can add pineapple to their sweet and sour dishes for another $0.75 instead of $0.15, which begs the question if pineapple is as divisive here as it is on pizza, but I digress – there is little doubt that these menus reflect the city's changing palate and general perception of Chinese food, specifically Canadian Chinese cuisine over time.

It just goes to show that one person's hoarded collection of old menus can be a deep-dive treasure for others.

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