Succulent dumplings and glistening stir fried noodles are by now a mainstay in many Torontonians’ diets — they are everywhere and affordable, unselfconsciously delicious despite their stints as American-Chinese food. In the precarious food world where trends bubble over, these classics seem somehow eternal. We’ll be slurping up versions of glistening noodles long after toasts become toasted bread again, terms of authenticity are redefined, and the kingdom come. And if there is a place to slurp, slurp as the world pirouettes out of orbit, Chop Chop on Dundas West is the place to do it.
The tall windows, the white walls, and the high ceiling of Chop Chop would put one in mind of a hip brunch place with colorful hollandaise sauce and ‘creative’ takes on French toasts, if it weren’t for the subtle nutty smell of woks being worked in a small open kitchen. The simple menu, divided into three short sections, ‘Dumplings’, ‘Appetizers’, and ‘Mains’, feels like a bridge between a menu at a corner takeout joint and one at a place marked authentic. Ginger beef, Shanghai Noodles, and General Tao chicken sit side by side with mapo tofu, Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, and spicy cucumber salad. The daily specials menu that includes braised eggplant and pig ears continue the theme. Chop Chop does not cater to the shooters in search of the authentic, nor does it fall back on the comforts of the simulacrum. It’s truly welcoming, in the way eating at a friend’s place is: Come eat what we like to eat.
If you luck out and find the pan-fried vegetable dumplings on the daily specials, start there. The thick and chewy skin that’s absorbed the nutty oil lead the way to the sweet fillings of cabbage and other veges I was frankly too absorbed in eating to decipher. The Shanghai noodles is unsettling as it reminds diners of how good this simple dish can be: vegetables sautéed to be soft with a hint of crunch, slivers of pork and small shrimps swimming in the tangle of oil-glistened, perfectly seasoned noodles. The mapo tofu, more mellow and tangy than it would be in a Sichuanese restaurant, is silky and comes with just the right amount of kick to offset its own sweetness. The braised eggplant makes the apostate believe in vegetables again.
Among the fortune cookie-like aphorisms written in crisp red letters throughout Chop Chop, every syllable of “Happiness begins from within your stomach” rings true like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Eateries abound. But where to eat? In a peculiarly sprawling city like Toronto, where side streets are left to thrive in their residential calm adjacent more often visited avenues, on a single crowded block you can find a mulch of names that do not give in so easily to guesses. Unless you’re the type to read and ruminate on menus on a busy street putting smooth pedestrian mobility, the foundation of urban civilization, in danger — please don’t —, you go where you’ve been before; a place a friend recommended; some place you’ve heard from a coworker; one with a decent Yelp review. It gets boring, tedious, and downright no-good-places-to-eat-around-here ridiculous when it should rightfully be exciting, like Pizza Hut birthday parties were back when you were eight.
Novella rose to the occasion to bring it back. Welcome to Where Toronto Eats, a new series focused on where we eat and where we should eat more often. We talk about the food and the culture behind the quiet eateries that hold Toronto down as the multicultural food capital of Canada.
I’ve lived in Toronto for six months. The nature of a transplant is such that it feels the need to know its environment in ways a born-and-raised cannot. As a diehard stickler for rules when it comes to all-important matters such as pizza and slurping noodles — the answer is ‘Always Slurp’ —, I’ve done my share of food-adventures here. Jordan D., our arts & culture editor, on the other hand, is steeped in Toronto’s food scene. We hope that our different perspectives on the city will give us fresh insight into its culinary cartography.
Loga’s Corner in Parkdale is a real life brick and mortar place you’ve visited in your flighty dumpling fantasies; a place where perfectly shaped momos — thin doughs packed with delicious beef and vege fillings steamed or fried — are served on unpretentious paper plates for $6; where the bright orange and jubilant homemade hot sauce in unassuming red bottles jolts you out of that dreamy state of dumpling satisfaction into an even more profoundly delicious reality.
This Tibetan eatery is run by Loga and his family who moved to Toronto from Northern India back in 2012. Loga manages the restaurant while his wife, Dolma Yangchen, and his eldest son, Dorjee, work momo magic in the kitchen. When Loga first opened his Tibetan eatery, it was a small take-out place with almost no seatings. Then over the years the business expanded twice to first take over an adjacent room then what was formerly the Fat Lava Vintage Coffee. Now the spacious café offers many seatings, Loga’s generous hospitality, which includes a plate of tangy and spicy pickled daikons sprinkled with sesame seeds, and photos of his holiness the Dalai Lama.
Momos aren’t a staple dish in Tibet. A more typical meal, Loga said, consists of salty butter tea mixed with tsampa, roasted barley or wheat flour, and some beef. Vegetables are scarce as few thrive in high altitudes. Momos are a special-occasion dish, a delicacy. Even in India, Loga said, the necessary ingredients are too pricy to make them regularly. Only once he and his family moved to Canada did making momos as a business venture make financial sense. And it wasn’t such a farfetched idea as Dolma Yangchen is more than proficient in the exquisite art of dumpling making. “My wife,” Loga said, “is very good at understanding what people like.” That we can enjoy the delicacy on a daily basis here in Toronto is a testimony to our unprecedented and relatively unreal prosperity — something to be thankful for while sipping on a cup of mango lassi and waiting for the momos.
Though the dough of a momo is light and soft, the contents are hearty. The beef, mixed with just the right amount of onions, has a certain kind of homeliness to it, like being tucked into a duvet after coming in from the cold. The vege momo, on the other hand, filled with potatoes and other goodnesses, is a wonderful union between a dainty dumpling and a perfectly spiced samosa.Then there is the beef noodle soup — a bowl of beefy umami broth and perfectly chewy and soft noodles to be slurped with bite-size pieces of meat. All of them offer simple, clean satisfaction.
Loga’s Corner, though unassuming from the outside, is in fact a beautiful microcosm of multiculturalism. After the 1959 Tibetan Uprising following periods of armed struggle, Tibetans, in steps with the Dalai Lama, left their homeland for Northern India. Loga’s parents were a part of this exodus, which only increased in numbers with time as political and cultural repression worsened under Chinese control. Once in India, many Tibetans, Loga’s family included, were left to adapt to a drastically different environment with little to no means of easing the transition. Though Loga was born in India, he remembers this history as both a personal and communal experience.
Now in Parkdale, Loga and his eatery reflect his mixed cultural heritage. The parathas, flatbreads stuffed with curried potatoes, and the spices and the spiciness of the hot sauce, atypical in Tibetan cuisine, harken back to time spent and meals had in India. The potato balls, deep fried, crispy, and amazingly only $1 each, were included in the menu because Loga saw, with his ever increasing business acumen, that we in North America love our potatoes especially when they’re fried.
There is a reluctance about Loga when he speaks of his family’s success as though it were less of their doing and more of a benefaction bestowed upon him. Indeed when he speaks of his success, he speaks of it in terms of moral responsibilities to be respectful and honest to his customers and community. Sitting on a table where there used to be a wall, Loga spoke about Buddhism, laws of causality, and the need to do good on a daily basis: “I think a Good Samaritan [approach] will work where ever you go.”
There are three doors to Loga’s Corner. The first, closest to Queen W. with a blue staircase, is the main entrance and opens to the original space of 2012. The second is usually locked, though if Loga sees you, he will gladly unlock the door and welcome you in. The third retains signs of having once been a ‘vintage’ coffee place. Once inside, Loga opens your heart with his warmth while Dolma Yangchen’s momos open it through your stomach.
Loga’s Corner is located at 216 Close Ave. in Parkdale and is open from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. everyday. If you go with friends, order one of everything and share. If you’re on your own, definitely the beef momos, a potato ball, and a mango lassi.