Exploring strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best international food

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dumplings that are truly works of art

***Update as of Jan. 21, 2014: I just learned this restaurant is now closed. Apologies, it has been a few months since I was there. If you know another restaurant serving Xian dumplings in Toronto, please get in touch. 

A small restaurant at First Markham Place, a jam-packed Chinese mall at 3255 Highway 7 East, has dumplings like you've never seen before. Not only are these dumplings at Ling Long Legend extraordinarily tasty, they are handcrafted to look like miniature works of art.  

I went to the restaurant with Zhixi Cecilia Zhuang, a Ryerson prof who shares my love of strip mall eats. In fact, Zhixi, who hails originally from southern China, researches ethnic retailing in Little India and the Pacific Mall in Markham. But even Zhixi was surprised to discover the strange and beautiful dumplings this restaurant has to offer.

Ling Long Legend has been around for roughly two years, and the name means 'delicate and beautiful,' explained Zhixi. Their delicious Ling Long dumplings, shown above, have a pocket of meat inside, topped with three separate chambers filled with egg, carrot and mushroom. 

The restaurant specializes in dishes from northwest China, a region known for its noodle and lamb dishes. In contrast, Zhixi explains, Cantonese food specializes in soups and fresh, steamed fare, while Shanghai food tends to be cooked longer with more seasoning.

We tried an excellent braised pork pancake: a wonderfully intense meat stuffed between a two layers of bread with the consistency of naan. The spicy chicken in a pot with noodles, a classic northwestern Chinese dish, was also very good, with hand-pulled noodles, salty potatoes and fresh, crunchy peppers.

Co-owner Ailing Hu, shown above, hails from the Chinese city of Xi'an, where dumpling making is somewhat of an art. It turns out that if you preorder a few days in advance, a party of ten can sample dumplings she makes in the shapes of animals, flowers and plants, handcrafted like little sculptures. 

She showed us her technique: in less than a minute she stuffed a ball of dough with meat and transformed it using just her hands and a few simple wooden tools into the shape of a fish. It was incredibly fast, like watching a sped up video of someone making origami. Then Ailing did the same thing to create a duck, complete with black sesame seed eyes. 

After, she prepared these adorable golden fortune dumplings for us. They are supposed to bring you good fortune, of course, and are filled with a smooth, sweet egg yolk paste. I'll definitely be back to try the dumpling special and see more of these wonderful little creations. 

Ling Long Legend is located in First Markham Place, 3255 Highway 7 East, Markham. Tel: 905 477 9881. Hours: Open 11am to 10pm Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 11pm Friday and Saturday. 

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