You’re my city for the next four months.
I’m hoping your food scene doesn’t live up to all the shit outsiders say about it, because I’d hate to think about all the money I’d be wasting and trash-talking I’d be doing if it were true.
So, where to for my first meal? As a self-proclaimed dumpling nut, it was only fitting that I start with a dumpling feast. Located near the corner of Spadina and College, locals and experts say Mother’s Dumplings is the place to be, so, I obliged.
Like many Chinatown joints, the space is unassuming, the vibe is low-key, prices are cheap and the lead principle is, let the food speak for itself. The menu goes beyond dumplings, but if I wanted beyond, I wouldn’t be at a dumpling shop. I thought I’d be overwhelmed by the selection, but it’s...modest. Filling the order form took a minute.
After watching the staff stuff, fold and pleat my requests, the boiled dumplings filled with pork and chives ($6.39 for a dozen) were the first to arrive, teasingly plump, steaming hot and ready to meet their fate. Turns out, they were destined to be uneaten. The thick skins clung to a poorly balanced mixture of meat and herbs. Chives add a mild onion flavor with a hint of garlic when used sparingly, but in excess, the results are overpoweringly grassy and taste nothing like onions…because they’re herbs. That was the case for these tiny pouches of disappointment. Don’t label them pork and chives if they only taste like the latter.
The pan-fried pork and bok choy dumplings ($7.99 for 10) were a slight improvement. Slippery from the oil that browned the bottoms to just short of crispy, thick, chewy tops gave way to juicy centers unmistakably infused with ginger. There was something that wasn’t quite right about them. I blame the texture of the meat. It was too lax.
I couldn’t resist the steamed juicy pork buns – the soup dumplings, otherwise known as xiao long bao. Finally, something…decent. Sold in sets of eight for $7.29, the dumpling fairies sealed in the soup and pork by folding the wrappers and gathering the signature pleats over top. The stretchy, delicate skins were thin, but sturdy enough not to rip and release all the liquid when lifted from the liner – yes. Inside were little balls of pork that were too soft in texture in a shallow pool of salty, gingery juice. People like to nibble on a corner and suck hard, but I like when they explode in my mouth. Beware of my methods, amateurs. You want them hot, but not so much that you self-inflict your trap with first-degree burns. Timing is everything.
The beef-onion roll ($6.99) was a sad peking duck pancake wannabe. A cross section of the roll revealed a thick, bland pancake brushed with barely any hoisin sauce with dry slices of beef and a handful of spring onions tucked between the folds. No. Never again.
To say Mother’s Dumplings was a let down is an understatement. I thought I had love for all dumplings, but clearly, I don’t. I promise to keep references to my hometown to a minimum, but I just have to say, coming from Montreal, where the Asian community is puny in comparison to Toronto’s, your “best dumplings” don’t even touch our worst. Harsh, I know. Sorry. But what’s up with that? You guys should be miles ahead of us when it comes to this stuff.
412 Spadina Avenue | map