KIMLING (2173 Lawrence East, at Birchmount, 416-285-0289) The nomadic cuisine of the Hakka has travelled from northeast China to Southeast Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent to the Caribbean, and now to Scarborough. Is this Indian Chinese food the next Szechwan? Er, no. But it's tasty if you select savvily. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: slight bump at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Fusion may have put toronto on the culinary map 25 years ago, but the next foodie front line is the hybrid cuisine found in the burbs. To investigate, the Literary Device and I head up the DVP to the Hakka restaurants of Scarborough. Hakka is often described as Indian Chinese, but it's really somewhere in between, which makes sense given its history.
The Hakka people are nomads who once lived in Manchuria. When Genghis Khan moved in during the 13th century, the Hakka said no thanks and split for southeast China, Malaysia, northern India, Pakistan, then the Caribbean and, eventually, the home of Channel 9.
Their frugal fare's an interesting mix of all these places. Hakka (it means "family guest") cooking is considered home-style comfort food even if it's found on Brimley via Trinidad and Kuala Lumpur. Imagine mushy sweet 'n' sour breaded chicken balls cranked up to 10 by the addition of pickled green chilies.
It's not something you'd want to eat on a regular basis unless you're a masochist with a sweet tooth, but in small tastings it makes for adventurous dining.
First stop: Kimling, a pleasant beamed storefront whose Hakka chefs hail from Bombay. The 40-seat room is full for the massive $3.99 lunch deals, but we zero in on the house specialties.
Hakka Bean Curd ($6.50) sees minced shrimp and shredded chicken in a tofu stew tossed with green peas and fresh coriander leaf. Both it and Shrimp Manchurian Noodle ($7.50) really perk up with a spoonful of chilies.
To bring us back to earth, silken lychee kulfi ($2.50) provides the perfect ice cream antidote.
We're eyed suspiciously when we order Hakka Chow Mein ($6.50), but after assuring the doubtful server that we know what it is and like it, we're confronted with fluorescent orange licorice-like linguine drowning in a sauce with the distinct metallic undertaste of MSG. We'll soon come to know this frightening glow well. Even Hakka-style greens are red.
After a stop at Value Village -- vintage hiphop gear! -- we hit Kim Kim (1188 Kennedy, at Cornwallis, 416-757-8300), a spectacularly spotless takeaway with an art deco-ish feel, complete with goldfish tank populated by several black-eyed mollies.
Again the skepticism. Manchurian Soup ($3.50 small/$9.50 large) turns out to be Szechwan hot-and-sour minus the heat and the vinegar, while Manchurian Tofu ($6.50) seems to be thin, triangular wedges of dense tofu doused in a sugary red chili sauce. Mixed pakoras -- a dozen very deep-fried packets of minced fish, chicken and pork ($9.50) -- are simply overcooked.
Another strip plaza, another eatery. This time it's Chung Moi (2412 Eglinton East, at Kennedy, 416-755-5293), a beautiful 50s-era Pakistani Chinese restaurant popular with local cops, some of whom are standing behind us waiting for takeout. I doubt they're going Hakka; Chung Moi, like all the diners we visit, also offers more traditional Chinese noodle dishes and Subcontinental curries. Manchurian Chicken ($8) is more of the battered deep-fried stuff in nuclear gloop, but Manchurian Mix Fried Rice ($7), while definitely shocking pink, includes tender chunks of chicken with coloured rice that's not overly sweet but still has a hint of heat.
All the people we meet on our Hakka attack have been more than friendly, if a little curious about why we're interested in this idiosyncratic grub. Apparently, only the South Asian community enjoys this culinary clash, the area Chinese deeming it low-class.
Garishly decked out in shades of pink, with large-screen TVs blasting Bollywood musicals, Lucky Chinese (3774 Lawrence East, at Scarborough Golf Club Road, 416-431-0383) offers Spiced Hot Salad ($2), an orangey carrot-cabbage slaw in light chili vinaigrette, the expected Hakka Chow Mein ($7.50) and an unanticipated American Chop Suey ($7.50).
Last stop, Federick -- yes, Federick -- (1920 Ellesmere, at Bellamy, 416-439-9234), a rather grim luncheonette near the Scarborough Town Centre. The clientele sit all lined up at burgundy-topped tables under unflattering fluorescent light. Orders get barked through a takeout window by the door. We try Manchurian Broccoli ($6.50), a few soggy spears in that now familiar saccharine sauce, assorted chunks of randomly hacked deep-fried meat in dry batter (Combo Pakora, $10.50) and Hakka Chow Mein ($6.50), which gets labelled Weird Spaghetti when the remains are refrigerated.
Three days later, I wonder if my body's gone into sugar shock because of all the relentless sweetness. Digging on the Net for Manchurian Hakka recipes, I find my answer: "Very little MSG is to be added to give the Chinese aroma to your Manchurian. God help you if added more." firstname.lastname@example.org