East Court & Mike's BBQ
East Court & Mike's BBQ, more commonly known as East Court, is a tiny takeout counter specializing in what's known in Cantonese as "siu may": the art of Chinese barbecue.
This strip plaza stall would be hard to miss if it wasn't for the giant photos plastered on its windows. Ads for whole roasted pigs, crispy BBQ pork on rice, sweet and sour pork, and more importantly, price tags — nothing over $10.
Since 2014, East Court has been owned by Jack Tsoi, also known as the "siu may sifu", or the master of Chinese BBQ.
Walk into shop on a weekday and peak into this box-sized kitchen and you'll find Tsoi in front of the gas oven (which goes up to 1,000 C), lifting pig carcasses more than 100 pounds, or handling racks for roasting and marinading that look almost medieval.
Tsoi, who is incredibly sprightly for 62, took over Mike's BBQ and combined it with his own shop East Court, formerly in Dragon Centre's food court. In just a few short years, he's transformed this little diner into one of the city's favourite Chinese lunch box spots.
But aside from the boxes of rice, people flock here for whole roasted pig. In fact, Tsoi tells me that, thanks to his offering of both Chinese-style siu yook and Filipino lechon, 50 per cent of his business comes from the Filipino community.
Pigs around 55 lbs typically cost upward of $180, depending on the current price of pork.
Lechon is stuffed with aromatics and with some moisture intact, unlike Chinese-style roasted pigs ($9.99 per pound), which is served open-stomach, hence its incredibly juicy and crunchy skin.
Roasted ducks, or siu ap, are similarly dried, hung, and barbecued. You'll find at least four of them hanging tantalizingly in the window at the start of each day. A box of half-duck is just $11.
There's charsiu, barbecued pork shoulder, which is marinaded in Tsoi's secret blend of spices, slow-cooked, dunked in a box of honey, and glazed in a sweet but muted maltose.
A box of BBQ pork with rice is $7, served with a side of cabbage mixed with lo sui — essentially the master stock of Chinese barbecue, mixed with spices and simmering bones — carrots, and garlic.
You can also get boxes with up to three types of meat for a mind-blowingly low price of $8.50. Throw in some free range chicken, or "running chicken" in Cantonese, in to the mix.
Most days, it's just Tsoi and another staff, Chu, running the kitchen. But in recent years, Tsoi has received an apprentice: Clarence Kwan, who helps out on weekends for free.
Kwan says that it's not glamourous work, but the goal is to keep Tsoi's legacy — and the art of Chinese BBQ — alive.
"The amount of technique required is more than any other restaurant, but no one values it," says Kwan. "Tsoi's key is patience. Don't skip the steps, don't rush."