I go to Kim Moon Bakery for breakfast when Toronto's feeling like Hong Kong - polluted, muggy, and crowded. I guess it's the weather that gives me a craving for congee and racing papers. And while there is probably better congee in the GTA, there are few options so convenient and reassuring as Kim Moon.
Walking along Dundas, I stop by the newspaper vendor on the insurance building's stoop. Half-hidden by a concrete post, he's easy to miss--he's usually in earnest conversation and mostly sells the Chinese papers. But he always has one or two copies of the Star or the Globe , so I get a paper--it's not Hong Kong horse racing, but that's OK, I don't know anyone who bets on the horses in Toronto, it's not politically correct. Then I walk the rest of the block to Kim Moon Bakery.
As the sign suggests, there's a bakery here--the winter melon pastries are the nicest I've found in Chinatown--but Kim Moon is really a restaurant, and its windows are currently obscured by bubble tea advertisements. I've never actually seen anyone inside drinking such a thing; you want bubble tea? Go somewhere else.
Past the bakery display cases, there's a plainly-decorated restaurant. Where, when I arrived the other day at 8:30am, the best round tables were already occupied by elderly men reading the papers and drinking iced milky tea and watery coffee, a few little plates at their elbows.
This is breakfast without the dim sum trolley performance; customers just order a few basic things from the waitress. There's reassuring sticky rice in lotus leaf, a variety of buns and pastries (including the essential little custard tarts), and a brief menu. I order the sticky rice and tarts, along with an iced tea and my favourite winter melon pastry. But the key for this kind of breakfast, for me, is congee. Plain, ordinary, white congee.
Technically, congee is rice soup, thickened with dry shredded scallops and yuba skin; these days, most places use instant starch. Congee is a bit like chicken noodle soup: it's not about glamour, it's not very photogenic, and everyone has their own favourite recipe. It's straight-forward stuff, the kind of food that grandmothers foist on anyone who dares to complain about a cold or upset stomach. Before adding hot sauce, congee tastes vaguely like porridge, without that regretful leaden oatmeal feeling afterwards.
Within forty minutes, instead of feeling muggy and irritable and wishing myself absolutely anywhere else but Toronto, I've polished off my congee and the Kim Moon pastries, I've drunk enough iced tea with condensed milk to sweeten an army, and I actually feel ready to confront the day.