The stretch of Yonge Avenue operating from Sheppard Avenue to Finch Avenue East has develop into a buzzy culinary strip lately — specifically, for Chinese language, Korean and Japanese fast-casual chains establishing their first Toronto outposts — because of a big East Asian inhabitants within the neighbourhood that’s been unofficially dubbed Koreatown North.
Whereas the culinary choices may be overwhelming, there’s one place I’ve been returning to, often after I’m hopping on the GO bus throughout the road and wish a bowl of consolation meals for the journey to the airport.
Rougamo and Noodles, at 4905A Yonge St., known as in Chinese language White Deer Plains (after a traditional piece of literature set in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province). It’s a bit of five-year-old restaurant arrange by veteran noodle maker Susan Gao, serving, as its English identify suggests, noodles and rougamo. The latter, a stuffed flatbread originating from Shaanxi, has develop into a typical avenue meals all through the nation — its Chinese language identify that means “meat sandwiched in bread.”
“It’s my ardour. I need individuals from Xi’an (the capital of Shaanxi) and folks in Canada to get genuine meals and a style of their hometown,” mentioned Gao, as her son, Daniel Wang, translated from Mandarin. “I’ve been making noodles since I used to be 9 for my siblings and my mother and father, and I’ve been making noodles in Toronto for 23 years.”
“Clients comply with my mother wherever she’s cooking,” Wang mentioned, including that when his household got here to Toronto in 1999, Gao labored in lots of kitchens. Phrase quickly unfold about her noodle-making abilities, prompting restaurateurs to hunt her out earlier than she opened her personal spot in 2018.
Wang, who began on the restaurant in October 2021, studying to make his mother’s recipes, describes Shaanxi cooking as hearty with a spicy tang, that includes influences from its Muslim inhabitants (although the meat right here isn’t halal).
Relying on which desk you’re occupying, you would possibly be capable of crane your neck to observe one of many area’s most well-known dishes being made within the kitchen. Dough is stretched and pounded on a desk earlier than it’s changed into lengthy strips of flat, vast noodles known as biang biang mein (named in any case that banging). Additionally known as belt noodles (the English menu right here calls them BB noodles), they’re topped with scrambled eggs sautéed in tomatoes and spiced shredded pork, and completed with chili powder. The noodles are dense and splendidly chewy, generally with slight variations in thickness and width, signifying they didn’t come from a machine.
Unofficially, the noodles are thought of one of many “eight curiosities,” or distinct traits, coined by locals of the Shaanxi province. The others embrace having an affinity for spicy meals, making flatbreads as huge as a wok and consuming out of enormous bowls. Non-culinary traits embrace setting up homes with half a slanted roof and having the dexterity to squat somewhat than sit. On a worldwide scale, Shaanxi is maybe most well-known for its terracotta warriors.
As its English identify suggests, the restaurant’s different draw is rougamo, a hand-sized flatbread known as baijimo usually full of spiced shredded pork. (Gao’s recipe makes use of 20 aromatics, together with star anise, bay leaves, nutmeg and coriander.) Balls of leavened dough are pressed by hand on a big round griddle on the entrance of the restaurant; the cooks make about 20 at a time (usually totalling as much as 200 per day). Different stuffings embrace lamb and beef, in addition to a vegetarian choice mixing pickled greens with shoestring potatoes which were doused with sizzling chili oil.
The menu’s Qishan-style rougamo is called after a mountainous area within the Shaanxi province famed for its hot-and-sour noodles topped with minced pork, diced carrots, tofu and wooden ear mushrooms. This rougamo swaps out the noodles for the flatbread. To clean it down, Wang says it’s customary to drink orange pop — often the Ice Peak model hailing from Xi’an, although due to provide points the restaurant shares Beijing’s Arctic Ocean.
One other dish that’s attribute of Xi’an, Wang mentioned, is paomo, a really filling sizzling stew with a lamb or beef broth (the restaurant makes use of a mix of each), chopped items of flatbread and skinny cellophane noodles on the underside. It’s completed with cilantro and chili sauce for an natural distinction and served with complete pickled-garlic cloves for a pop of candy and bitter.
Although Wang says the menu options only a fraction of what the area has to supply, he’s excited to see Shaanxi-style cooking gaining recognition within the GTA, citing Beijing-based rougamo chain Bingz, which has opened a number of areas within the GTA as its first foray into the North American market. (Bingz serves a flaky variation.)
“We don’t do promoting, so clients come right here as a result of they’ve heard of us from others,” he mentioned. “Xi’an is a noodle mecca and individuals who have been there learn about us.”
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