Greater Toronto's best ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip mall eateries.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mongrel Chinese cooking with an Indian kick

What do you get when you take a group of culinary minded Chinese people to India, home of many of the world's greatest spices, and have them refine their cooking for local tastes for several generations? You end up creating Indian-style Hakka Chinese food, such as the fare served at Danforth Dragon at 861 Danforth Ave. 

Danforth Dragon owner Anthony Lin is hakka, meaning he speaks the hakka dialect of Chinese. His grandfather took a two-month boat ride to flee China for India to avoid political instability and violence. Anthony was born and raised in Calcutta.

"Hakka people are like gypsies," says Anthony (pictured below). "They travel everywhere." Anthony says as the third generation of his family to live in India, he doesn't know much about China, but he still speaks hakka at home and cooks hakka food. However, Hakka cooking evolved considerably in India over the years. "Our food has an Indian twist," he says. "It is Chinese food for Indian taste buds, so it's spicier."

The Danforth Dragon's jeera beef dish ($9.50) is a good example of the hybrid techniques. It's marinated in a Chinese style, using soy and potato starch to make it tender. It's also infused with a strong dose of cumin seed and garlic, giving it punchy flavour that resembles a Pakistani lamb skewer.

Chili paneer with Chinese greens (below; $8.99) is another great dish, featuring flavourful Indian cheese and Chinese cabbage stir fried with onion and soy. Many of the dishes are peppered with bits of green chili, which pack a fiery punch. It's also worth paying 99 cents for the hakka-style special hot sauce—a slightly sweet concoction made with chilis and garlic.
The spicy egg roll is better than expected, with minced pork, fresh green peas, and a bit of curry flavour. Hakka style fried rice ($7.99) is a spicier version of the Chinese classic.

The evolution of hakka food hasn't stopped since its arrival in Canada: Anthony also serves what he calls "North American Chinese" food such as chicken balls, chop suey, General Tso's chicken and lemon chicken, to cater to his mostly Canadian-born clientele.

Danforth Dragon is one of the only Indian-style hakka place in Toronto proper, but Scarborough is chock full of hakka places, some Indian-style and some with more traditional fare. Scarborough is also home to many Jamaican restaurants that are run by Chinese—turns out that most of the Chinese population in Jamaica is also of Hakka origin.

Thanks to Neeraj Singh for the tip. 

Danforth Dragon is at 861 Danforth Ave. between Pape and Donlands. Tel: 416 461-9238. Hours: open Monday to Friday, 11:30am to 10:00 pm; Saturday 4pm to 10pm; Closed on Sunday and holidays. Delivery in the local area starting at 1pm daily.

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  1. Neeraj took me to Danforth Dragon as well and I share your enthusiasm for this hybrid cuisine. It's been long enough - time to go back!

  2. This place is great! It also fills the "north american chinese" takeout niche for me. I like the jeera green beans and ginger eggplant, as well as the vegetable balls in manchurian sauce (on the appetizer list) I'll have to try the chili paneer dish too :)

  3. We love hakka Chinese! Do they have chicken pakoras? We're going to have to try this place for ourselves. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Thanks T&T. Yes they do have chicken pakoras.

  5. Great review. Both the Jeera beef and the paneer and veggie dish sound unique and flavourful. Is that Chili Chicken i see in the picture? Keep the east end reviews coming!

  6. Good review. I have been meaning to to try this place but there is a great Hakka style restraunt right by my house at warden and danforth called 'Lotus Garden' You should review it some time. Glad i found the blog. I LOVE SPICE!