Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The perfect Chinatown snack shack

My favourite spot in downtown Chinatown is a mysterious little shack labelled 'lamb kebab.' It has a idyllic poster of sheep in a green meadow with a couple dozen freshly grilled lamb skewers floating above them in the perfect blue sky. 

The official name of this take-out stall is Cai Die Xuan Food and according to its city registration, it's located at 494 Dundas Street West. However, on it's own flyers it says it's located at 492 Dundas Street West and it's simply called "BBQ Store." Never mind—just look for the dreamy lamb poster on the north side of Dundas just east of Spadina and you'll find the place. 

The three-year old stall serves a wide range of street food you'd find in China, with some dishes hailing from the north and others from the south. The most popular dish is the northern-style lamb kebab—you can get two skewers for $3. They are grilled right in front of you and staffer Shiming Zhang coats them with a generous amount of cumin and hot pepper.


Shiming also recommends the squid, cut into curly, taut chunks, skewered and slathered with barbeque sauce. Cuttlefish balls are dense, springy marbles that pack a tasty, fish-intense punch. Adventurous eaters can sample pork hoof, pig blood, deep fried smelling tofu and duck gizzards. Grilled sweet potatoes and corn on the cob are also popular. 
"People always eat on the street in China, so when they come here, they feel like they're back home," explains Shiming, who wears his winter jacket in an attempt to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures in the stall. "They eat here and they feel good."

If you're at the BBQ Store, make sure to try the sugar-coated haws (below). This is a skewer of haws, a candied fruit that comes from the Chinese hawthorn. The outside is very sweet, while the centre is pleasingly tart. 

Thanks to Seb for the tip.

BBQ Store is located at 492 Dundas Street West, just east of Spadina. Tel: 647 994 8710. Hours are 12:30pm to 9pm every day, although they sometime shut early on quiet nights. 

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