Bus: STL 55, 144, 151, 902, STM 64, 68, 69, 180, 468
Visit: May 31, 2012
When people think of Chinese food in Montreal, one’s mind starts to think of Chinatown. In recent years, places outside that small sector have popped up in various locations around the Greater Montreal region. While Tong Por might not be one of those recent places, it’s one of those names that are quickly mentioned when one thinks of Dim Sum in this city. It’s northern location allows those who can’t travel to the central city to get their fix.
For me, I haven’t got a Dim Sum opportunity since last July at Kam Fung. Even then, my only other opportunity came at another fabled restaurant in Chinatown called Ruby Rouge. In a way, I set a goal to try them all, in order to get the best feeling as to where to rely on for my favorite Dim Sum offerings. Tong Por was the latest choice and its choice distance to my place of employment made it the opportune place to go to. It also wasn’t very hard to convince fellow colleague Heizenberg to come along, since he spent a lot of time in B.C. eating Asian food of all kinds. Rounding out the group was our ride, Steakman.
The second you enter Tong Por, you notice the vast amount of space. From what I’ve heard about the place, you could be waiting for quite the while on peak days. This was a Thursday noon hour service, so seating was affordable. The waiters, who were the ones who seated the customers, made sure that all new tables were seated closer to the window area.
You’d think that you would get the chance to sit down and acclimatize yourself to the restaurant, but that’s when the action started. I swear, I wasn’t even seated yet and we already had something like 3 dishes on the table. This fast and furious action, in a way, took Steakman by surprise. For the rest of us, this was normal Dim Sum proceedings. Yes, Steakman was expecting a menu.
The one thing to note when you’re doing Dim Sum is the language barrier. If you have someone who can communicate with the ladies pushing the carts, you should be fine. You’re also quite covered if you have someone who knows what’s on the carts. But, if you should find yourself completely shut out of those two situations, patience will become the biggest virtue. While I knew what most of the dishes were, the ones that were new to me cause a little bit of hesitation. However, we got everything we came for.
These are fish cakes. These usually contain items like shrimp, pork, and chives. This wasn’t particularly popular with my colleagues, as I ate all three of them. I really liked how the taste doesn’t really overwhelm you. I think they were turned off by the way it looked. The past fish cakes I had came from home and they didn’t quite have that green coloring to them. I thought it would be a detriment, but it really wasn’t.
These are your standard beef meat balls. In other places, you can find them in the shrimp variety, but we didn’t get that chance. This was a little more popular with the table. These are normally steamed. What some people notice is that this dish can be served with a tangerine peel under the meatballs, but I don’t think this was the case. It was the first highlight of the proceedings.
Shrimp Stuffed Tofu
For me, this was the mystery dish. Now, I would most likely be wrong about what this is, so I’ll ask for someone to clarify if that happens. From my research, this is a kin to tofu stuffed with shrimp paste. On top of that would be something like a scallop. This was the third dish that impulsively found its way on the table. Since my colleagues didn’t want to touch it, it was up to me to finish it. I didn’t really mind the shrimp and tofu part. It was the scallop-type topping that seemed out of place for my tastes.
In my recent Dim Sum visits, I haven’t seen this being offered. These are pork dumplings, where places like Qing Hua really specialize in them. In a way, they remind me of pot-stickers, something that I remember my family taking home from their time working at Wong Wing. This dish got us back on a roll.
Lo Mai Gai
This is sticky rice stuffed in a lotus leaves. This dish is usually popular because it provides you with a quick lunch. You have glutinous rice combined with chicken, which is an entire meal by itself. The lotus leaf or similar type of leaf wrapping provides you with a makeshift container for the meal. I’ve never in my life got to try this and this didn’t change on this day, though I would’ve liked that. What surprised me is watching Dim Sum rookie Steakman devour this like it was nothing.
Shrimp Cheong Fun
This is when the going got good. This marked the first appearance of the dishes that make my Dim Sum experience work. To me, this is one of the top stapes in Dim Sum. The rice noodle rolls, which wrap up the shrimp, are usually topped off with a generous quantity of sweet soy sauce. This dish, as per usual, really did the trick, though I found the rice noodle roll was a little thicker than I was used to.
Pork Sui Mai
This was the second Dim Sum staple to reach the table. This was by far the most popular choice we made. It was so popular that we got seconds, even though it increased our bill. These dumplings are a combination of mostly pork, but with pieces of shrimp inside. You cannot go an entire sitting without getting these.
This has become one of my favorite dumplings to have. I’ve always mentioned how much I love shrimp and this, alongside the rice noodle rolls, feature that the best. There’s nothing more to mention here, other than the fact that these rival any version of this I’ve had in the past, another must-get.
Beef Spare Ribs
This is where the Dim Sum experience got interesting. Steakman was going on and on about how he wanted something with beef or chicken in it. Since chicken didn’t make one appearance, we looked a beef alternative. When the lady told us this was beef spare ribs, we took a chance. Steakman took a bite and was overtaken by the spicy taste of it. Personally, the appearance of this dish didn’t make it too appealing to try, so I didn’t touch this. We were lucky that we had Heizenberg, who gladly tackled this.
Beef Rice Noodles
Steakman was getting depressed, feeling that he was getting shortchanged, that is, until he saw this. He was going to go for a more traditional chow mein, when I pushed him to try this. This is a dish of beef rice noodles, one that you can get at most sit-down Chinese restaurants. I normally have this dish weekly, so part of me wasn’t so interested in touching this. Watching my two colleagues make this whole thing disappear was amazing, because I was thinking we already ate so much, how could we eat more?
This is the bill you get at Dim Sum. For those who aren’t familiar with the process, I’ll explain it. Every time you get a dish, which range in price, the cart ladies will initial the bill. At the end of the process, the waiter will come by and tabulate your final score. The higher your price, the better you did. Alright, I made up the stuff about the score. In the end, we managed to get out of this at 20 dollars a head, which isn’t half bad for a normal lunch.
For anyone who is trying Dim Sum for the first time, you have to realize that there is a learning curve. There is a lot of hit and miss that goes into this. If you don’t know what to get, you will feel lost. It might seem like everything is going on too fast. But, with more experience, you’ll learn how to pick and choose what you want to get the best out of it.
Tong Por, which serves Dim Sum daily until 3 p.m., is one of the top places to go to for that service, in my opinion. You’ll find that the quality of their offerings rival anything you can get in Chinatown. Its location allows it to cater to people who cannot necessarily travel so far. For a time, you’ll think that you’re deep in Chinatown, enjoying the best of what it has to offer.