Why House of Gourmet’s wonton-brisket-noodle soup is an essential Toronto dish
Toronto’s a city of many neighbourhoods and many nationalities, so finding that one oh-so-Toronto dish is an impossible task. We're asking some of the city’s top food folks about their favourite T.O. meals
Trevor Lui is no longer focusing on Kanpai, his Taiwanese spot in Cabbagetown. These days, the restaurateur is spending half the week in Ottawa where his new concept, Fat Rabbit, is hopping along nicely. The rest of the week is spent at Stackt, where Lui has committed to running a food container that will change concepts every three months. In two weeks, Lui’s first concept, Chen Chen Chicken, will open. He’s running it with China-born, Nashville-raised chef Chen Chen, who once worked at Kanpai.
For over two decades, his go-to spot for comfort food has been House of Gourmet. He distinctly remembers eating here in 1998, after a night of New Year’s revelling. “I passed out in my bowl of noodles,” he says with a laugh. “Right there at table 10. They definitely know me here.” Lui says the city is running short on Hong Kong–style eateries like House of Gourmet, which specializes in congee, noodles, barbecue and seafood. Though Lui never orders the seafood here. “The fish in those tanks don’t look extremely happy,” he says. “That one stuck in the net is in the queue! You can’t be happy when you know you’re next.”
“I always order way too much so I have enough for a whole other meal at home,” says Lui, who has a roster of about 16 favourite dishes. “It really depends what time of day I come here. If it’s late and I’ve been out drinking with friends, we have to get the salt-and-pepper squid.” He also enjoys lunches at House of Gourmet with his daughter and wife. The place is a well-oiled machine. “Even though they offer 700 items, everything is super fresh and comes out faster than at McDonald’s.”
House of Gourmet’s wonton-brisket-noodle-soup
484 Dundas St. W., 416-640-0103, houseofgourmet.blogspot.com
This wonton-brisket-noodle soup is a popular dish at the street food stalls in Hong Kong (which are called dai pai dong). The broth is imbued with a fatty richness ness from the ultra-tender, master stock-braised brisket, and does an excellent job of flavouring the noodles.
Growing up, Lui’s mom cooked a lot of Cantonese food for him, so many of items on the menu have some nostalgic value. “There’s a lot of east-meets-west food in Hong Kong, but you’re seeing this less and less in Toronto, as most new Chinese immigrants are coming from mainland China,” he says. He’s planning a trip to Hong Kong with his parents this autumn, as it’s been 35 years since he visited. Lui’s currently writing a memoir, so he’s hoping to reconnect with his roots during the trip—and also eat a ton of great food.
Char kway teow is originally a Singaporean dish, but House of Gourmet makes their own take on curry-flavoured rice noodle dish: pan-fried ho fan “Singapore-style”. The broad, flat noodles are tossed with fried egg, bean sprouts, char siu, and white and green onions. Over the years, the chefs have gone lighter on the curry, but Lui loves it when the kitchen’s heavy-handed. “It takes a lot of skill to make this in the wok, the noodles have to keep dancing not to stick to the sides,” he says.
“Congee is our soul food,” Lui says. Growing up, his mom would make congee every Sunday, and this bowl, made with pork loin and duck egg, reminds him of his mother’s. He always orders congee with a youtiao (Chinese doughnut). Here, they have a doughnut with beef that’s wrapped in a rice roll. “Usually you’d just dip your salt doughnut in your congee. But this is like a combo dish: it’s three perfect things in one,” he says. He puts a bit of peanut sauce and hoisin on each bite.
Although Lui’s been coming to House of Gourmet for decades, he doesn’t know who the owners are, nor has he ever seen into the kitchen. “They’re very secretive here,” he says. “I was once standing on the steps in front filming a segment for my show and the lady at the cash came and cussed me out.”