Tag Archives: char siu

Chinatown Buns

We don’t venture downtown as often as we should considering all of the great things to see, do and eat. When we do go, we’re usually headed to Chinatown to buy buns, bubble tea and get something permanently etched into our skin. Our tattoo shop of choice, Sal’s Tattoo and Barber Shop (http://www.salstattoo.com/) is found there, surrounded by amazing bakeries and shops. Matt was headed for a consultation as well as to have his arm traced, while I tagged along for the food.

Chinatown is an experience – little old ladies sell baubles and plants on the sidewalk, and shops are filled with rambutan, durian, various types of tree fungus and jars of tiny, freeze-dried seahorses (I’ve yet to find a recipe for these, but if you’ve got one let me know). There’s a “smell”, but it’s less pungent on cooler days.















In the Spadina/College neighbourhood, two particular bakeries sit nearly side-by-side offering soft, sweet, pillowy buns with tasty fillings. We normally stop at each one, loading up on bun varieties the other bakery doesn’t offer. We first stopped at Ding Dong bakery for lunch, which consisted of a few BBQ pork buns, curry beef buns and my personal favourite – the bun with a hot dog in it. But we were surprisingly disappointed by these buns, which were not as we remembered when we last dropped in. Matt described his curry bun as “soggy”, while the BBQ pork was full of onions and none of the sweet red sauce that normally accompanies it.

The remainder of our bun shopping was done at Mashion Bakery just up the street. For savoury fillings, we chose BBQ pork, ham and cheese, curried beef and hot dog (“things with hot dogs in them” cross all cultural boundaries). There are as many sweet options, including coconut buns, custard, pineapple, raisin, wintermelon and red bean. Miniature and fried versions of most bun flavours are also available.








We loaded up two grocery bags full of buns, along with six loaves of coconut bread, which included all they had on the shelf plus much of what they were hiding in the back. Coconut bread resembles a batch of Wonderbread hotdog buns, but chewy, sweet, covered in sesame seeds – and each roll holds a tube of the most delicious ground up coconut filling not unlike what’s inside a Bounty bar.

Another of our favourite recent discoveries is Japanese cheesecake, a light and airy white cake with a distinct cream cheese flavour.

The buns are ridiculously cheap, sometimes two or three for a dollar. The total cost of our haul: a paltry $26. The buns also freeze well and make a great snack or lazy lunch. Next time, we’re bringing more bags.

Bun selection greatly diminishes at the end of the day, and there are never leftovers that are bagged up and sold for less later on, as far as we’ve seen. You don’t have to go all the way to your nearest Chinatown for these delicious buns, though. They can be found wild in great numbers at Asian supermarkets like T&T, as well as prepackaged at your average No Frills if they know what they’re doing.

Our next stop was the best bubble tea around, Number 9 Bubble Tea, which lets you combine various flavours to your heart’s desire. I had a coffee/coconut bubble tea followed by a blueberry bubble tea later on (elated after discovering I could double up on their tapiocas upon request, which are made in small batches and are the tastiest in the neighbourhood) while Matt discovered their amazing slushes – fruity, fine-grain slush that melts in your mouth. On this occasion, I must admit I also filled up my loyalty card and scored my second bubble tea for free.


Maureen’s Note: In Ottawa, Green Fresh Market in Vanier on Montreal Rd. has in my opinion the best bbq pork buns. Made fresh daily, they are made with a slightly sweet dough and generously stuffed with large pieces of pork soaking in an excellent Chinese BBQ sauce (char siu) – a bargain at 89 cents. This is my go-to early flight meal. The buns at T&T are more expensive and of lower quality with less filling, but are nicely individually wrapped. Several of the grocers in Ottawa’s Chinatown offer an array of stuffed buns as well.

Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.

Fragrant Coconut Ginger Fried Rice with Char Siu

This quick, tasty dish can be whipped up in no time on a weekday if you prepare the rice ahead of time. Char siu is that delicious, red, Chinese BBQ pork you see hanging in the windows of Chinatown. I buy mine at Green Fresh in Vanier.


Fragrant Coconut Ginger Fried Rice with Char Siu – adapted from Sassy Radish
Serves 4

2 cups good quality rice
1 can coconut milk, water
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, cut on the diagonal, white and green parts separated
1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. sambal oelek*
1 lime, juiced
1 pound char siu (store-bought Chinese bbq pork)


1. Prepare rice and chill. Open the can of coconut milk and remove the solid plug. Save. Pour the liquid coconut milk into the cooker with the rice. Mix the solid milk with enough water to bring the liquid level to the 2 mark in the cooker. Give it a stir and start the cooker. The finished rice will be quite toothsome and seem undercooked. This is fine as it will be cooked further in a wok. Chilled rice is essential to perfect fried rice with separate grains.

2. In a large wok, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and cook for one minute until fragrant. Add chilled rice and cook on high for four minutes, stirring constantly. Stopping to take pictures at this point is not advised. 🙂

3. Stir in the white parts of the green onions and half of the cilantro. Cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Add fish sauce and cook one more minute. Add sambal oelek, stir, and add remaining green onion and cilantro. Stir to combine. Add fresh lime juice. Stir and remove from heat. Serve in bowls with sliced bbq pork.

* Sambal oelek is a Chinese chili paste that provides a nice mild background heat. You will find it at your local Chinese grocer and in some grocery stores with a good Asian section.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.