East of East Dining Series: South End “China Town” Food Crawl
Halifax has never been known as the most multicultural city in Canada, but anyone who lives downtown has probably noticed a bit of a shift, with more and more businesses catering to the growing Asian population. At the foot of Barrington and Inglis, there are signs of growth, indicative of a potential South End Halifax China Town. My observations were echoed in this article which suggests that more and more international students from China are staying and calling Halifax home. Yay! Then it was announced that Halifax would have its first Chinese Festival this past summer! Double yay! You know what this all means, right?! It means that a new wave of Chinese food is on the way: one of variety, regionality and authenticity.
I decided to explore this burgeoning food scene by getting a group together to go on a food crawl of this new little South End Halifax China Town! I’m excited to further my education in Chinese cuisine, especially considering most of my previous experiences have been with southern Chinese foods, and it seems that Halifax is seeing a lot of representation from Northern China. Also, as most “China Towns” are not exclusively made up of Chinese businesses, I’ll also be exploring Taiwanese restaurant chains brought to Halifax by Chinese entrepreneurs, and some Filipino food thrown in for good measure. Phew! I say bring it all on! I can’t wait to eat and learn and share my experiences with all of you! Read along in my East of East Dining Series.
Qiu Brothers Dumplings
1335 Barrington Street
Hospitality studies grad, Leon Qiu, brings northern Chinese food to Barrington Street, specializing in steamed and fried dumplings, steamed buns, Chinese sausage and pig’s ears.
We came for the namesake dish, so we ordered Pork & Shrimp Dumplings ($11.99) (steamed) and Pork & Sweet Corn Dumplings ($10.99) (fried). While the wrappers are on the thicker side, the chewy shells are complimented by the crispy web formed when frying. We didn’t care as much for the steamed dumplings, which lacked this contrast. The fillings didn’t taste wildly different from one another, but we got the occasional pop of sweet corn. They were quite tasty, especially with a bit of black vinegar. Yum!
Kusina Express (Bearly’s House of Blues)
1269 Barrington Street
Just as I was mentally organizing this food crawl, a co-worker informed me that Bearly’s has a Filipino kitchen (the Mr. Bern’s food truck guys). Calling themselves Kusina Express, they offer typical pub grub alongside a range of Filipino noodle dishes and all-day breakfasts. I was told to try the pancit (Filipino noodles). So I whimsically added them to my food crawl for some southeast Asian variety.
There are several pancit dishes on the menu, with different types of noodles and combinations of meats and vegetables. We ordered the Pancit Palabok ($14): round rice noodles smothered with a thick golden shrimp sauce, topped with shrimp, ground pork rind, hard boiled egg, fried garlic and minced green onion.
The spaghetti-shaped noodles were firm and chewy, the toppings and sauces tasty. We only wished the portion was larger.
Kusina also make Mr. Bern’s Pork BBQ Skewers ($3/each) and Spring Rolls ($5/3). The skewers reminded me of a saucier version of Rocky’s street meat, and were the perfect accompaniment to beer. The spring rolls are the Filipino version: lumpia. I don’t normally order spring rolls in pubs, but I would make an exception for these.
1070 Barrington Street
If you’ve never had bubble tea, there is no time like the present! Chatime is a Taiwanese-based franchise with 2 locations in Halifax offering an extensive menu of this sweet and chewy drink. Also called “pearl milk tea”, this drink originated in Taiwan and has surged in popularity all over the world! The most classic variety is black pearl milk tea, and is basically a sweet milky iced tea with chewy tapioca balls.
“But I don’t like tea” and/or “I don’t like those weird chewy balls”.
Well, you’re missing out! But this doesn’t mean you won’t find something you like at Chatime. There are smoothies, fresh juices, and even coffee and chocolate varieties. You can forego the pearls and opt for coconut jellies, aloe chunks and even tofu pudding. Or nothing! Deliciousness abounds!
I had a Red Bean Milk Tea, which had soft chunks of sweet red bean alongside the pearls, while others tried the Kumquat Juice w/ pudding, Honey Lemon Aloe and Chocolate w/ Mousse.
Crepe Crepe Cafe
1070 Barrington Street, Unit B
Jianbing is a type of crepe that originated in northeast China, where it is a popular street food. Crepe Crepe shares a space with Chatime (separate ordering counter), and specializes in jianbing alongside a few varieties of sweet Western-style crepes. For the Chinese crepes, you get a choice of chicken or sausage (or extra egg) and this is folded into a crepe with a cracked egg, lettuce, cilantro, green onion, hoisin sauce and crispy fried dough (bao cui, which resembles a fried dumpling wrapper).
The crepe is soft and chewy, with a crunchy, meaty, salty-sweet umami goodness inside. This is definitely my new favourite thing.
*Update 2020: Crepe Crepe is currently closed. I will update if I hear anything about reopening.
1065 Barrington Street
This Taiwanese franchise specializes in desserts, and if you’re unfamiliar with Taiwanese desserts, this is quite the experience! There is a small menu of savoury items and a large selection of fancy drinks (including bubble tea). The dessert menu features grass jelly desserts, tofu puddings, coconut puddings, black glutinous rice, sweet soups, shaved ice, waffles and more!
I ordered: Grass Jelly #1 ($7.50): grass jelly w/ pearls, mung beans, and Q balls.
Grass jelly: a black jell-o with a mild herbal taste, made from the “Chinese Mesona” plant (an herb related to mint).
Q Balls: chewy balls of taro, matcha and sweet potato flavours. “Q” is slang in Taiwan that roughly means “chewy”.
Mung Beans: a legume. Sweetened beans are commonly used in Asian desserts.
Denton ordered: Tofu Pudding #1 ($8.40): silken tofu in a sweet liquid with peanuts, pearls, mung beans and Q Balls. A colourful bowl, mildly sweet with an interplay of textures.
Everyone else had a frappe, which is basically flavoured shaved ice with toppings.
Matcha Red Bean Creamy Frappe ($8.90) w/ red beans, pearls & condensed milk
Pearl Milk Tea Creamy Frappe ($7.90) w/ lychee jelly, pearls & condensed milk
Strawberry Creamy Frappe ($8.90) w/ strawberry jelly, rainbow cereal & condensed milk
People were surprised by these desserts, as they were not sweet by western standards, and had familiar, yet unfamiliar, tastes and textures. ZenQ is especially famous for their grass jelly, so lovers of this dessert are in luck that we have a place in Halifax with so much variety! My group had mixed feelings about the tofu and grass jelly, but felt that the frappe would be a good conversation piece to share with a date.
Oh – and definitely try the crispy chicken while you’re there!
Wonderful Bao Bao
*Update 2020: Wonerful Bao Bao is now closed.
1022 Barrington Street
Wonderful Bao Bao specializes in, well… bao. Generally these are steamed buns with various fillings, popular at dim sum or as a street food. Also called baozi, it is a variation of mantou: steamed bread native to Northern China where wheat was traditionally grown instead of rice.
Probably the most popular variety of bao you’ll come across is cha siu bao (barbecue pork), or, just as likely these days, a hip fusion variety – some sort of bao taco filled with duck confit or pork belly and kimchi.
But let’s bring it back to the basics. At Wonderful Bao Bao you have your choice of a meat or vegetable bao for $3/piece. The bun is soft and sweet, filled with a salty medley of ground pork.
We also tried the Fried Bao ($8.99/8pc), which were lovely crispy dumplings and a “Chinese Hamburger” ($5) (rou jia mo) which is possibly the world’s oldest sandwich. Try it out! It’s an affordable, tasty sandwich with a greasy medley of loosely chopped pork, green peppers and onions. It was LA’s favourite dish of the day!
I think my favourite item was the “fried bao” but I enjoyed everything enough that I definitely want to come back and try more of the menu.
Other Places to Check Out in South End Halifax China Town:
Captain Ma (Chinese fast food chain serving Lanzhou beef noodle soup)
1070 Barrington Street (with Chatime & Crepe Crepe)
5483 Victoria Rd
George’s (formally Bubble Tea, now specializing in soup)
5385 Inglis Street
Bai Wei Bar Grill (Barbecue/Hot Pot)
1075 Queen St
Piece of Cake Bakery (Crepes, Cakes, Bubble Tea)
1475 Lower Water St
5190 Morris Street
Man Bean (Vietnamese)
1284 Barrington St
5164 Morris St
Gangnam Korean BBQ
1261 Barrington Street