It’s been a bit of an ethnic food extravaganza here in Montréal as after stopping by Bombay Mahal, I went for a Sunday dim sum brunch in Chinatown. My friend and acquaintances included those who were new to the arena of dim sum and also not very big eaters of Asian food in general. So bringing an older European couple to a Sunday brunch nary of waffles and eggs was a gamble, but I think the meal went over well and we found new fans of Chinese breakfast.
Dim sum isn’t a big weekend brunch go-to here in Montréal as it was as I was growing up in Toronto. As a child my family, like many other Asian families, would arrange these Sunday meals with other family friends at our favourite spots, first hitting downtown restaurants but later heading out to the suburbs. (As it happens, with time the Hong Kong immigrants settled in places like Markham, leaving much of downtown Toronto Chinatown in the hands of mainland Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants.) Our party would number about twelve in total — three families of four — and like a hoard of Asian bus tour bangers, we would convene on the chosen spot and feed on a very heavy breakfast.
I have very fond memories of eating dim sum with my family, and watching these carts being pushed in the aisles by ladies who spoke snippets of English, if any. My family, being Korean, would often be mistaken as Chinese — the story of my life — and these ladies would push up to our tables and offer their spiel in Cantonese. Like all the non-Chinese diners in the restaurant, we would just have to resort to pointing and nodding. My family was very well versed in the offerings of dim sum, but occasionally we would receive a surprise dish (“Is that beef? Pork? OK nevermind, we’ll get it”) that, most often than not, was a hit anyways.
Here in Montréal I wondered where I can find dim sum in the popular Hong Kong style — with ladies (and it’s always ladies) pushing these carts with various offerings and rotating around the restaurant. I knew a few places in Montréal Chinatown that offered dim sum, but ones that you can only order off menu. Perhaps there isn’t a big market for dim sum, I thought? Well, I didn’t know many people who seemed gung-ho about a dim sum weekend brunch, whereas back in Toronto it was a thing so common amongst my friends; though myself and my group of friends bear resemblance to a United Nations convention, so many of us were down for dim sum weekend and late night Chinese “cold tea” noshing.
From left to right: Salt and pepper fried tofu, fried pork dumplings, chicken spring rolls, deep fried sardines, rice noodle with coriander and shallots, and rice noodle with beef (centre)
But I had heard about La Maison Kam Fung as the Chinese restaurant to go to, so I had checked out the restaurant a small number of times since I had landed in the city a few years back. I would say that Kam Fung, in general, is a pretty good spot to hit when you want some solid, general Chinese food. There are a few additional spots in Chinatown that I enjoy, but Kam Fung is definitely the most famous out of the bunch and they also operate another location in Brossard, a southern suburb off the island. And I had a bit of a hankering for dim sum so I recruited the a few people whom I thought would likely not object to having a Chinese breakfast — my friends who would eat anything, and acquaintances who are always happy to have an outing to the downtown core.
I called the Chinatown location of Kam Fung and inquired about their weekend dim sum. First, they took my name for reservations, but then I was suddenly transferred to another person on the line who clarified that weekend dim sum was first come first serve. Okay, no problem. She said if we came in by 11 am, there will likely not be a very long wait. That sounded decent, so I rounded up my breakfast party and we arrived just a little past 11. We only waited about ten minutes for a table of four, and I noticed that as it became closer to noon there a swarm of people started gathering outside the restaurant.
From left to right: Fried rice, and fried squid
If you are new to dim sum, I would definitely recommend that you look at Kam Fung’s website as they have shots of all of their dim sum offerings, along with descriptions of each menu item. As half of my table were new purveyors of dim sum, we ordered quite a variety and also quite a lot. Just like in Toronto, the ladies pushing the carts did not speak any English nor French, and they communicated mainly with me since it was clear I was the expert at the table. Of course, since I have yet to master any Cantonese or Mandarin (if ever), I just pointed and hoped for the best, and ordered myself a few vegetarian-ish dishes in the process. I say the dishes are “vegetarian-ish” because you can never guarantee that Chinese food is fully vegetarian unless you find yourself the rare Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant — they do exist, but none that I know of in Montréal. Chinese food is definitely not like eating vegetarian Indian food where vegetarianism is definitely taken seriously and some restaurants will have separate kitchens to prepare non-meat items. But I would also like to point out that a lot of Chinese “oyster” sauce is not made of actual oysters so, if you are strict vegetarian, try buying a bottle of Chinese oyster sauce if you want to explore Chinese food at home.
From left to right: Fried shrimp dumpling, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, crab claw stuffed with shrimp, and pork dumpling
I would say the hits of the table were most of the dumplings, the crab claw stuffed with shrimp, and even the stuffed rice noodles which I thought might have too much of a unique texture to be enjoyed by both Montréalers and European immigrants. There were a lot of pork items offered that landed on our table, and though my boyfriend isn’t a big fan of pork, he was definitely a big fan of pork dim sum in its many forms. I thought the food was pretty good — not amazing, but decent — and I was happy to find a dim sum spot to hit in Montréal. Service was actually very attentive, and we noticed someone who seemed like a manager walking around the tables including ours and making sure all our needs were met. And as we looked around, I would say at least 50% of the tables were filled with Asian Canadians which is often a good sign for a restaurant serving Asian food and even more impressive in a city that doesn’t have the highest number of Asian immigrants.
As I rambled in my previous post, there is definitely a lack of good ethnic restaurants in the city as the immigrant population is definitely very different from cities like New York City and Toronto. So if you are from either of those cities, and especially if you’re a native of Vancouver, Kam Fung isn’t going to dazzle you. It’s not the best Chinese restaurant out there, but I would say for Montréal they really try to bring things up a notch. And they definitely don’t try to tweak menu items for the French Canadian taste which, as I have mentioned previously on this blog, happens way too much in this city. So I respect that. And they also try to differentiate themselves with excellent service which I find generally uneven in both the restaurant and retail sectors in Montréal. So kudos to Kam Fung for bringing decent Chinese food to French Canada. And yay that I have dining companions willing to eat dim sum with me the next time I am in the mood for ethnic food extravaganza.