Food + Drink

A Beginner’s Crash Course to Asian Cuisine in Toronto

Ever find yourself intimidated by the daunting array of Asian cuisine, wanting to move on from the generic chow mein and sweet and sour pork from your local Manchu Wok? You wonder, “Where should I start? How do I even use chopsticks? Should I try Japanese food or Korean food?” And then you find yourself lost in a sea of new terms. Even the restaurants have unfamiliar names. “What is Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu and what can I eat there?”

As a resident Torontonian, keen on Asian cuisine, I frequently show my friends new places to eat, gauging their comfort with local cuisine.

For the newbies, I like to start them off with dumplings. Mother’s Dumplings on Spadina is a great place to start. Here, you have your staple Chinese food that most people have already tried. Don’t feel quite ready to branch out? Try the pork and bok choi dumplings!

After this, you can move on to all-you-can-eat sushi. This can seem daunting as some people are turned off of the idea of raw seafood. A couple popular places are Aji Sai on Queen Street and Spring Sushi at Yonge and Dundas. Here, customers are given a plethora of choices—from chicken teriyaki to unagi (fresh water eel) sushi. You can play it safe with cucumber sushi and beef tempura, or you can venture into raw fish territory with tuna or salmon sashimi. A bonus is that most of the dishes served at these joints are easy to eat with chopsticks.

After you’ve mastered the art of sushi, you can venture into foods that are more difficult to eat. Rare beef pho is a Vietnamese dish that does not seem intimidating at first, with its clear broth and thinly sliced raw meat, but there are hidden difficulties to eating it. First, you must learn not to eat the beef right away—the  meat arrives uncooked, actually cooking as it sits in the broth. If eaten too quickly, you may get food poisoning. Another obstacle is learning how to eat with a large soup spoon in one hand, and chopsticks in the other. After accomplishing this, you will feel like a real pro. You can try this dish out at Pho Vietnam in Scarborough or at Pho Rua Vang Golden Turtle on Ossington.

If you’re not in the mood for Vietnamese food, you can try Japanese ramen. Now, I know that this sounds like the instant ramen that you make during your college days, but I promise that this is not that. Check out Sansotei Ramen on Wellesley or Kinton Ramen near Bathurst to try this satisfying dish. Standout dishes are tonkotsu ramen at Sansotei and shoyu pork ramen at Kinton. Each bowl is around $10, satisfying your stomach for a low price. The noodles are a little difficult to pick up, but I’m sure you can handle it.

Finally, if you’re feeling comfortable enough with Asian cuisine, try out some Korean food. You can go to Korea Town between Bathurst and Christie Station for some new restaurants. Some notable restaurants along this stretch are Owl of Minerva and Korean Village.

At Owl of Minerva, you can try the classic GamJaTang, which is pork bone stew. This stew is a little spicy, and you have to scrape the juicy meat off of the pork bone, but it is well worth it. Along with this, you are given some banchan, which is a selection of Korean side dishes that may include kimchi, pickled radish, and bean sprouts. They are free, so go ahead and dig in! Just a warning, your hand may get cramped from all the work you put in to eating all of this food.

The walls of Korean Village are plastered with photos of the owners with various celebrities (Sandra Oh, Nelly Furtado, and Jackie Chan!), so you know it’s a good place to be. Here, you can try jajangmyeon, which are noodles covered in black bean sauce, paired with some dukbokki, which are spicy rice cakes. Once you’ve mastered these, you can try anything. Congratulations!

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