For some reason, Scarborough is a new immigrant’s first landing spot, and is more commonly known by Torontoians as Toronto’s armpit. Recently, a U.S. economist by the name of Tyler Cowen came out and declared that Scarborough is the “best ethnic food suburb he has ever seen in his life, ever, and by an order of magnitude”. I personally couldn’t agree more, and in my view, I am surprised it took people this long to discover that Scarborough is not exactly the armpit, but more of an elbow. See, I grew up in Scarborough, so I had the luxury of eating out at these cheap, yet delicious restaurants at a young age. As a poor immigrant family, we didn’t have the means to go out and eat all the time, so when we did, HUZZAH!! We ate like kings for a fraction of the price you would typically find in a downtown Toronto restaurant. Also, these restaurants were so authentic, that for any new immigrant that missed the motherland, the very act of shoving rice into your mouth with chopsticks, for instance, would literally transport you back home.
Enter today, where I am a hundred pounds heavier and on a rage for Hakka food. For those of you who are not familiar with Hakka culture, they are people from southern China near the border of India,which makes Hakka cuisine an eclectic mix of Chinese and Indian cuisines. It is also DELICIOUS. For a while now, I have been seriously craving this cuisine, to the point where every night, I would squeal “I WANT HAKKA” to Chuck, and he would exhaustingly look over to me and sigh, “I know…you’ve been talking about it for weeks now”.
Some of my favourite Hakka restaurants are located in Scarborough, but for this particular post, I will highlight what is in my opinion the BEST Hakka restaurant in the city, Federick Restaurant located at Ellesmere Road near Bellamy Road. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much on the outside. Heck, you wouldn’t even glance in its direction if you were not actually going there in the first place! It’s in this shitty little plaza complex with 6 parking spaces out front, so it’s very easy to miss. Just look at it!
Anyhoo, Federick’s has changed from when I was younger – the decor inside is much nicer and modern, although it is still very small. They have a separate entrance for those wanting take-out and boy, was this narrow hallway packed! When we got there around 7:00pm, the place was completely full, and we had to wait about 10 minutes while another patron was just finishing up. It really didn’t help that we were super hungry and the smells of the kitchen was wafting into the dining room, slowly tantalizing and teasing us while we waited. However, it’s a good thing we got there when we did because 5 minutes later, there was a line up of people going out the door!
Once we were seated our waitress came out with a jug of ice water, a sign of spiciness to come. The menu was extensive and had all the traditional Chinese comfort food like chow mein and general tao chicken, but they also had Chicken Pakoras, and something called Manchurian chicken, which I heard was delicious, but we didn’t end up ordering it. The four of us finally settled on a Federick’s special vegetable fried rice, chilli paneer with gravy, Federick’s special sweet and sour chicken, chilli squid, and for my vegetarian friend, a veggie delight. We also ended up getting dessert, but more on that later.
Like most Chinese restaurants, food flew out of the kitchen and landed on our table almost instantaneously after we ordered. First to come was a heap of Federick’s special vegetable fried rice, the size of which both surprised and intimidated us. Because I hadn’t been there in years, I forgot just how large the portions were. Just look at the size of this dish!
The rice was buttery without being too oily (it tasted like they used ghee to fry up the rice), and was doused in this sauce the taste of which I couldn’t put my finger on…it was spicy, yet light, and had a slight smokey flavour to it. The bok choy in the rice was soft on the outside, crunchy on the inside and complimented the peas in the rice perfectly. We dug into the plate like ravenous coyotes, spooning heaps of rice onto our plates while our mouths watered in anticipation.
Next thing that flew out of the kitchen was the Sweet and Sour Chicken and the veggie delight, the portions of which were the same size as the rice:
OH. MY. GOD. The chicken was out of this world delicious! And as if it wasn’t enough food, the chicken came with a huge bowl of plain white rice! The sauce for the chicken was smooth in texture and not as sour as one would normally taste in a sweet and sour sauce, and it felt like velvet in my mouth. The pineapple in the dish gave just enough tartness and sweetness which complemented the chicken well. The pieces of boneless chicken itself had a perfect amount of crunch on the outside from the breading, but was juicy and soft on the inside. This cornucopia of flavours on my palette made my tongue scream for more!
While the chicken was tangy and sweet, the veggies were garlicky and firm. The broccoli was cooked perfectly, with the florets on top soft and springy, and the stalk firm and crunchy. The snow peas were soft and sweet. The veggies were smothered with this extremely garlicky sauce, which made everything taste super savoury. It. Was. GLORIOUS.
As we were eating this feast, we had forgotten about our other orders. AND FOOD JUST KEPT COMING! The next thing that landed on our table was the paneer with gravy, which had ALOT of kick to it. The paneer itself was firm like tofu, with a milky aftertaste characteristic of cheese. The gravy…oh my the gravy…it did not taste heavy, had an amazing spiciness to it, and thick in the most fantastic way. And fit perfectly onto the plain white rice.
But wait, there’s more! Just as we thought we had all of the food we ordered out on the table, the final dish of chilli squid came. This dish was the coup de grace for my stomach that night…the chilli peppers and spices assaulted my taste buds (in the most excellent of ways) and left them craving more. The squid was lightly breaded and crunchy on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside.
After all of that food we decided to finish off the feast with a dessert of 2 fried bananas and 2 scoops of ice cream shared between the four of us. The heat from the fried bananas was melting the ice cream quick, so naturally we had to eat quicker! Just look at its gloriousness!!!
Overall, this meal more than satisfied my craving for Hakka food and made my weekend just that much more delicious. Oh, and before I forget, guess what the bill came up to for four people? $47 on the dot! (Sorry I left the bill at the restaurant so no picture). Divide that by 4 and you get $11.75 per person! Yes, it is $1.75 over my threshold, but for the amount of food we got, that $1.75 extra was worth it. I didn’t feel like I had to eat for the rest of the week!
I would like to add that beginning with this post, I have taken some of your suggestions to add a rating system to these restaurants, which I will post on my Rating System page. For Federick’s Restaurant, I give a rating of 6 out of 5 stars and here’s why:
1 star for atmosphere: the dining room was modern and clean. It’s a little cozy, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
1 star for customer service: We didn’t have to wait very long for a table and they apologized to us from the get-go about the wait. Also, the waiters and waitresses at Federick’s are very friendly (even though some of them don’t speak English very well), and would come to the table the second you caught their attention. One of our servers also recommended the dessert (although we were going to get it anyway) and was joking around with us, even though they were super busy.
1 star for taste: As I have mentioned throughout my post, THE FOOD IS DELICIOUS! And I didn’t feel heavy afterwards.
1 star for cost: It literally cost us $11.75 per person for 6 dishes (I’m counting dessert), which brings me to my next point –
1 star for portion sizes: As you can see from the pictures, the portions are HUGE! There literally had to be about 3 solid pounds of food on the table;
And finally, 1 star for overall experience: eating the dishes transported me to my youth, when I had last gone there. It gave me fond memories of those special occasions where my family would actually go out to eat since we couldn’t afford to do so on a regular basis. It was nice to share that experience with Chuck and our friends for the first time (it was Chuck’s first time trying Hakka food, but not the last, I hope).
If you get the chance to visit Federick, make sure to wear your stretchy pants and bring a good appetite with you. The food will blow your mind.