Monday, July 06, 2009

Jia Mo and Other Chinese Snacks (in London and Montreal)

Ba Shan, on Romilly Street in Soho, just the other side of Shaftesbury Avenue from London's Chinatown, specializes in Northern Chinese snack items from a number of different provinces, but which are popular all over China. I focused on the dishes that aren't readily available at New York's Chinese restaurants, so I passed on dishes like the Sichuan dumplings in hot sauce (chao shou) and Beijing zhajiang mian (noodles with spicy meat sauce).

Two items I tried, both from Shaanxi province, were little sandwiches. The jia mo were served on slightly dry but puffy and springy buns. These I had with stewed pork. The cumin beef filling for the lotus leaf buns (similar to jia mo, but green with a leaf imprint) was excellent, but I found the bun much too dry and dense.

The chicken guo tie, pan fried dumplings from Xian, were fabulous, with a light, crispy skin. There was something familiar about the texture of the thin, crisp skins, and when the waiter told me they were made with rice flour I realized they reminded me of South Indian dosas, even though they look completely different. And they look marvelous--a group of five is served as a single sheet, to be broken up into individual dumplings.

The menu features two kinds of Beijing bing, stuffed pancakes, and I was disappointed that the egg and scallion (jian bing) was not available. But the beef and coriander version did not disappoint.

Exactly two weeks after my dinner at Ba Shan I had another jia mo, this time in Montreal's second Chinatown.  Old Chinatowns in many cities are centrally located and not especially conducive to expansion, so new Chinatowns spring up in neighborhoods that attract new immigrants.  In Montreal the second Chinatown is still pretty close to downtown, near the Guy-Concordia metro station.  There are a number of places out there that look promising, but I only had time to stop in for a snack at La Maison du Nord (on St.-Mathieu near Lincoln).  La Maison du Nord specializes in noodles and jia mo from Shaanxi and Beijing-style dumplings.  This jia mo, with wonderfully unctuous chopped pork, was much larger than the genteel tea sandwiches at Ba Shan.  It consisted of a dense, flaky, fried pancake-like bread stuffed with what I assumed to be pork shoulder, skin and all.


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