First meal in Toronto after 30 hours flying from Singapore was dim sum at Rol San Restaurant in Chinatown, because dim sum was my most memorable meal when I was last in Toronto nearly 30 years ago. I couldn't locate the restaurant that left such a deep dim sum impression on me, so we settled for one of the reigning local favourites Rol San on Spadina Avenue. I wasn't looking for Rol San at first.
First day in Canada, we were blessed with fine weather in the middle of Winter season.
Physically, it seemed that Toronto Chinatown hasn't changed too much during these 3 decades. It still has that charm that a congregation of Chinese restaurants, groceries and curio shops exudes. The streets were filled with throngs of youthful folks, probably some were homesick overseas students like we were decades ago. Banter is now in many more Chinese languages, other than Cantonese which was the main lingua franca here in the 1980s.
Rol San Restaurant looks quite plain on the outside. It is also not a dim sum specialist. It's a Cantonese restaurant with a full menu but it has jumped on the "all day dim sum" bandwagon by popular demand.
Rol San has a front section with a bit of sunlight flooding in through the windows facing the street. Long and narrow space, simply laid out and unpretentiously furnished. The tables are laid with disposable white plastic "table cloth", so you know it's geared for fast turnover 😃
The second section further inside. When there is a long queue outside Rol San, locals in the know walk straight inside to this second inner section which is usually less crowded. (Rol San does not accept reservations.)
Today, we shall focus on Rol San's dim sum menu and shall be back for their other Cantonese menu another day.
Ordering is easy - just check what you like on the ordering slip provided. The waiter takes your order slip to the kitchen for your orders to be prepared and served. Sorry, there are no ladies with push trolleys loaded with dim sum, the traditional way 😂
Two of us had 10 dishes - some we love while others not so much.
Normally, I will have braised chicken claws at every dim sum session. But, when I saw duck web on the menu, I went for these immediately instead. Duck web is rarely served at Singapore and Malaysia dim sum places.
So glad we had these duck webs. They are served boneless and the springy crunchy tendons, web and skin are marinated in a sweet, tangy sauce with gentle hints of chili. We love this dish.
Baby octopus steamed with a mild sweet-savoury sauce. We enjoyed the octopus' bouncy spring and it's natural sweetness which can be tasted above the mild sweet-savoury sauce.
Steamed beef tripe was another of our favourites at Rol San. The soft springy ribbons of beef stomach had an addictive gentle sweetness.
Rol San's siew mai is good - meaty with loads of natural sweetness from the steamed fresh pork topped with fish roe.
The shrimp dumplings (haar gow) were nice as the shrimps were fresh and the warp was just the right thickness and texture.
I ordered these steamed beef balls immediately when I saw it on the menu - we don't often have these dish in Singapore and Malaysia, especially the good ones.
Alas, these beef balls were not tender enough and yet we tasted a bit of tenderiser on our tongues. The only good way to tenderise beef balls is to smack the minced beef by hurling it forcefully against a hard surface a hundred times - there is not other better way 😂
I had high expectation of these yam (taro) puffs from their looks but the crispy outside was flavourless and the yam paste fillings inside though generous, tasted quite flat (as there was not enough pork and spice in the blend).
The skin of these vegetable dumplings were just right but the vegetable filling was a feebly flavoured mash.
If you expect the savoury-sweet golden filling of your Liu Sar Pau to flow like lava, then skip Rol San's rendition even though the pau's fluffy outer layer is quite good.
We ended our dim sum lunch on a sweet note with these pumpkin puffs.
The thick rice flour wrap had bouncy texture and sweetness like mochi. Inside, the savoury-sweet pumpkin and salted egg yolk filling was like thick golden lava (such as those found in a good Liu Sar Pau). Love this sweet dessert.
A bit of dim sum trivial. If you saw and wondered why some people will softly tap either the tips or mid-joint of two fingers on the table top when tea is poured, there is a legend behind the practice.
It is actually a show of respect. According to legend, in China during the Qing Dynasty under the reign of Qian Long 乾隆帝, the Emperor liked to inspect his realm disguised as a commoner. To keep up his disguise, the Emperor would even pour tea for his retinue of accompanying officials when they stopped at tea houses.
As any overt show of respect to the Emperor would expose his true identity, the officials will tap their finger tips or mid-joints to represent the act of kneeling in respect. The finger tips and mid-joints represent the knees.
Hence, to this day, this seemingly peculiar gesture serves as a sign of thanks and respect to the person pouring tea.
After lunch, we explored Toronto's Chinatown on foot. I am sure we will be back many more times for food and the vibrant rustic charm here.
👉 A nice local favourite Chinese restaurant. Some hits and some misses, overall we still like the dim sum here which are tasty and served in big portions. We would also like to come back for their other Cantonese dishes. Service is efficient and polite though there is little engagement with customers. Our bill today for all 10 dim sum dishes plus a pot of Chinese black tea came to CDN$42 before tax and tips - which is competitive pricing here.
But, this is the not the Toronto dim sum of my memories and so the search continues. If you know another good Toronto dim sum, please help me by leaving a comment. Thank you.
Restaurant name: Rol San Restaurant 龙笙栈
Address: 323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2E9
GPS: 43°39'15.8"N 79°23'54.4"W | 43.654382, -79.398452
Hours: 9:30am to 2:00am
Date: 23 Feb 2017