Midnight at the Dragon Cafe and memories of Har Gao 蝦餃 - 虾饺 Dim Sum 飲茶 ( 點心 - 点心) - Toronto's One Book Community Read 2011
If you've been reading Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, Toronto's 2011 One Book community read, then you know the key role food plays in the novel. The family owns a Chinese restaurant in small town Ontario but the food is for the local "lo fon" population and not really Chinese. The food the family cook for themselves though is authentic and laden with taste and hidden meaning - love - rejection - secret desire - sensuality - comfort - nostalgia - family obligation and duty.
Part of the pleasure in reading novels set locally is the association it brings to places and things you're familiar with. If you know Baldwin street (just north of D'Arcy Street where Aunt Hai-Lan lived) then you may remember the Yung Sing Pastry Shop. A family run business since the 1960s, it served many generations of university students. While others praised the buns, for me it was the weekend only har gao and fried pork dumpling potstickers that appealed. I saw the mother (maybe even grandmother) age over time - I recall when she could nimbly go in and out of the floor level window to the basement kitchen. Latter her hearing declined, and sometimes orders would go astray, but the children of the family, who were in fact adults, took over more of the counter work and she would help in other ways or simply boss them around. One day it closed with an enigmatic sign saying under renovation, but I secretly suspect it will not reopen.
Ah but the har gao of my youth! The shrimp were cut into big pieces - cooked but not overcooked - so they had fresh flavor and a bit of meaty crunch. The skin of the rice flower pastry covering was translucent - you could see the faint pink color of the shrimp inside. Each order was freshly made, and took some time, so you would wait outside and then eat them hungrily when they were ready. Reading about the har gao in Midnight at the Dragon Cafe (pg 187) I had a Proustian moment - he with his madeleines and me with my har gao. I had a similar feeling around the 二胡 erhu music mentioned in the book.
If you're interested in how to make har gao at home why not try these Youtube videos - one is in English and the other, below, is in Chinese. I dare you though to see if you can pleat the casing as well as this woman!
If you're interested in Chinese food and Midnight at the Dragon Cafe why not come to some of the many events that are happening :
- Eating Chinese: From Ginger Beef to the Dragon Café with Lily Cho
- Chinese Gong-Fu Tea Ceremony
- Reading at the BBC Cafe
If you're interested in books in Chinese on Dim Sum 點心 Yum Cha 饮茶 /飲茶 try these titles:
- 成功示范中式面食点心 /
Cheng gong shi fan Zhong shi mian shi dian xin
- 轻松学做50道中式素点心 = Vegetarian recipe /
Qing song xue zuo 50 dao zhong shi su dian xin = Vegetarian recipe
Dian xin zhi zuo jiao cheng
If you are interested in English language books on Dim Sum why not try some of these?