PREAMBLE & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘The pierogies are my mom’s recipe,’ Barb tells me as I bite into the potato- and meat-stuffed Polish culinary staple. Covered in fried onions and served with a side of sour cream, the savoury treat is wildly flavourful – and instantly familiar. While I relish the mouthful, my head fills with memories of my late Oma’s vereniki (Mennonite ‘pierogies’ stuffed with cottage cheese or stone fruit and served with white sauce), which she would spend entire afternoons making from scratch for dinner whenever she and my Opa visited from Winnipeg back in the eighties.
‘These remind me of my childhood,’ I tell Barb as I shake a dollop of sour cream off my spoon and onto another of these wonderful Polish dumplings – this one stuffed with sauerkraut – before popping it into my mouth. ‘They remind me of mine, too,’ Barb responds. Reminders of childhood, memories of home: common themes, I’m finding out, on this fourth of seven foodie stops along the ‘Dumpling Trail’ in London’s Old East Village – or ‘OEV’ for short.
It’s early afternoon on a Wednesday in January and my TOQUE partner Cai and I are enjoying a late lunch at chef-owner Barb Czyz’s Unique Food Attitudes – an authentic Polish restaurant she opened in OEV just over ten years ago. The place is filled with regulars, and conversation and laughter, in both English and Polish, punctuate the bright and cheery space. ‘How many dumplings are too many, do you think?’, I mumble to Cai between bites. Before she can answer, I proclaim: ‘It’s a trick question – you can never have too many.’ On this day, it certainly seems that way. Who would have thought these small masses of dough – alternately boiled, baked, steamed, or fried – could provide so rich and varied and affecting a culinary escapade.
Our dumpling adventure began mid-morning at The Market at Western Fair District – a fantastic fifty- thousand-square-foot market featuring over one hundred permanent vendors – where Cai and I primed our appetites on Latin American empanadas (at True Taco) and Nepalese momos (at Momos at the Market). Family recipes, the lot of them. It continued a few blocks further down Dundas at Bella’s Acacia Catering – a plant-based Korean joint – where we dug into a plate of kimchi dumplings served with house-made soy sauce. ‘My mom’s recipes from our hometown on the outskirts of Seoul,’ Bella told us as we savoured the texture and flavour. Then it was off to Barb’s place for pierogies, followed by So Inviting – a Chinese dumpling take-out place where chef-owner Yamei told us that she modeled her recipes after those of her grandfather.
And the ‘Dumpling Trail’ didn’t stop there. After taking a bit of a break – during which we ducked into OEV’s Illbury & Goose, clothier, and then Powerhouse Brewing for a pint, and then our terrific suites at Delta London Armouries Hotel – Cai and I were back on the case. First for wonton soup at Vietnam Restaurant. And then for panzerottis (Italian ‘dumplings’) at Tony’s Pizza. Both places are institutions in Old East Village. And both places are run by second-generation family members – with family recipes in place.
All along the ‘Dumpling Trail’ that day we encountered and shared so many warm recollections of childhood, so many affecting memories of home. Come along with us for the ride.
11:12AM – MOMO’S AT THE MARKET (INSIDE THE MARKET AT WESTERN FAIR DISTRICT)
At our first stop along the Dumpling Trail, Momo’s chef-owner Yam Gurung indulges us with four types of Nepalese momos – stuffed with pork, chicken, veggies, and water buffalo. Momo’s has been a staple at The Market since 2008 and is London’s only Nepalese restaurant.
Pro tip: order Yam’s house-made hot sauce on the side. It’s fiery – with a wonderfully-complex taste profile.
11:42AM – TRUE TACO (INSIDE THE MARKET AT WESTERN FAIR DISTRICT)
For our second stop along the Trail, True Taco chef-owner Jo Rivas and her kitchen partner Elsa serve us chicken, chorizo, and bean empanadas crafted with the freshest ingredients sourced straight from The Market. Jo and Elsa draw richly from their families’ Mexican and Salvadoran recipes.
Pro tip: don’t sleep on the tacos (ours filled with pork, pineapple, and beef tongue) and pupusas (stuffed with beans, pork, and cheese). You’ll thank us.
12:47PM – BELLA’S ACACIA CATERING (630 DUNDAS ST)
At Bella’s – our third stop along the Trail – chef-owner Bella Kim crafts a batch of handmade Korean vegan kimchi dumplings. Inspired by her mom’s recipes from the family’s hometown on the outskirts of Seoul, the dumplings are a taste explosion.
Pro tip: don’t forget the flavourful soy sauce – it’s made in-house. Bella is perhaps most famous for her line of bottled vegan kimchi – including an armful of mild and spicy varieties
1:55PM – UNIQUE FOOD ATTITUDES (697 DUNDAS ST)
Our fourth stop takes us to Barb Czyz’s Polish joint for pierogies and cabbage rolls. (See preamble for deets.)
Pro tip: check out the daily specials – which include combo plates that allow for sampling.
3:46PM – POWERHOUSE BREWING CO (100 KELLOGG LN)
After scarfing down our terrific pierogies and cabbage rolls, we make the short jaunt to Powerhouse to wash down all the dumpling deliciousness with a cold one. The brewery – located in a former industrial park – is the perfect destination for a midday break.
5:12PM – VIETNAM RESTAURANT (1074 DUNDAS ST E)
Our next stop for dumplings is Vietnam Restaurant, which has been a staple in Old East Village since 1994. Now run by Lam (who took over from his father a few years back), the place is a family affair – featuring a menu based on Lam’s mom’s recipes. Our dumpling dish: the fantastic wonton soup.
Pro tip: Whatever you do, order the Spring Rolls (wrapped in lettuce and mint) and Crispy Chow Mein.
This mural, by Pamela Scharback & Andre Garzon, graces the side of Vietnam Restaurant
6:47PM – SO INVITING (876 DUNDAS ST)
We make our sixth stop at So Inviting for Chinese dumplings. Yamei Min’s place is unique – a self-
serve take-out dumpling bar highlighting Yamei’s grandfather’s recipes. While we were there, we met a Western student who told us he’d traveled forty minutes by transit just to stock up on these dumplings. Pro tip: every item costs the same – price is by weight.
8:14PM – TONY’S PIZZA (980 DUNDAS ST)
Our seventh and final stop along the Trail is Tony’s Pizza. Founded in 1970 (and so reminiscent of its era), the place is an exercise in glorious time travel. Tony’s ‘dumpling’ dish? Panzerottis, of course. Second generation’s affable owner, Vince, is always ready for chats and laughter.
Pro tip: order the Caesar salad. Trust us.
9:49PM – DELTA HOTELS LONDON ARMOURIES (325 DUNDAS ST)
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay when you’re visiting for dumplings (or more), this hotel should be high on your list. Built into the former armouries building, the place is teeming with history – and maybe even a couple ghosts.
Pro tip: visit the bar for a night cap. The layout is charmingly eccentric, and the smoked negronis the perfect way to end any day.