Bubbles is one of Diva #1’s oldest friends, they met in grade one and went to high school, CEGEP and university together. They grew up mere blocks from each other and, by coincidence, when they grew up and moved, they still live just a handful of blocks away from each other. When Diva #1 is craving authentic Asian cuisine, she makes plans with Bubbles as she is of Chinese descent. Because it can never be simple, Diva #1 brought Diva #2 and Sensei on her date with Bubbles. Diva #1 and Bubbles don’t get to see each other as often as they would like but when they do it is a lot of reminiscing. They were inseparable in high school and spent most of it causing a lot of trouble together, it was good times and bad decisions from a young age.
We were craving dim sum so we went to Le Cristal Chinois in the Swator Plaza, which according to Bubbles is one of her two favourite Montreal dim sum restaurants. Located in Chinatown, it is a massive restaurant with a large menu with pictures for white people to know what the hell they are ordering. This was very helpful, although Bubbles soon took control of ordering for the white folk and impressed us with her dim sum knowledge. Cristal Chinois is known for being the more expensive of the dim sum restaurants in Montreal, but it is also known for its cleanliness and fresh ingredients amongst the Chinese community. We were hungry and ready to try everything; there wasn’t a squeamish eater amongst us!
Bubbles insisted that we start with the dry scallop with steamed dumpling soup. This soup came with the addition of a vinegary sauce that we were told to add to the soup according to our taste. It was unlike anything that we had ever tasted, it was sour and when the dumpling was cut up into the soup it added to the flavour of the broth. Bubbles explained how few dim sum restaurants make this soup but that it is a Chinese speciality that is quite popular. She even called her family when she couldn’t remember its name to ensure that she ordered the right soup.
We ordered two types of rice rolls, the beef and the BBQ pork, the BBQ pork being the more flavourful of the two. These steamed rice rolls are entombed in rice noodles, and a sweet soy sauce is poured over this popular Cantonese dish that is traditionally eaten at dim sum. The Vietnamese have their own variety but we have only tried the Chinese version of this dish. The rice rolls looked like they would be chewy but they weren’t, the sweet sauce softened the rolls and the meat within was plentiful and tasty. The BBQ pork rice roll was saucier whereas the beef rice roll was dryer but they both tasted similarly. We recommend only ordering one of these dishes when going for dim sum as they are very similar.
Bubbles always makes fun of Diva #1 who at the age of 15 went to a Chinese restaurant with Bubbles’ family and ate everyone’s crab legs. No one liked crab and the plate was being ignored so Diva #1, being the glutton that she is, ate all the crab legs. Even the waiter noticed and commented and from here on whenever Diva #1 goes with Bubbles for a traditional Chinese meal, she orders some sort of dish with crab meat. The deep fried crab claw with shrimp paste was delicious, it was served with a cherry sauce and though deep fried the seafood taste was evident. The shrimp paste surrounded the crab claw before it was deep fried. This was a fun treat!
A favourite at the table was the pan fried turnip cake; each little cube of turnip was fried with bean sprouts and peppers. It was the first time that the Divas had tried anything like this, each bite of the turnip cake actually tasted like a type of cake made with some sort of root vegetable. Even when Diva #1 brought the leftovers home to P’tit Frère he argued that this did not taste like turnip and that she must have been mistaken because the flavour was incomparable. The pan fried turnip cake came with XO sauce, a spicy Chinese seafood Chinese sauce that is often used to flavour bland food such as tofu. It certainly enhanced the flavour of the turnip but without it being saucy, the fact that there was a sauce incorporated into the dish was barely detectable at all.
Of course you cannot go for dim sum without enjoying dumplings. The traditional shrimp dumplings were our favourite of the different types of dumplings that we tried. Dim sum chefs are judged by their ability to make dumplings, the skin must be translucent yet firm enough to not fall apart when picked up by chopsticks. The shrimp was plentiful and the skin of the dumpling was thin, and we should have ordered more of this dish.
The steamed siu mai dumplings with caviar were another type of dumpling that we tried. Siu mai is a pork dumpling that is also traditionally served with shrimp dumplings at Dim Sum. These particular Siu Mai dumplings were also stuffed with caviar but the fishy taste of caviar was not apparent in these dumplings that dominantly tasted of pork. The chaozhou dumpling is called this way because it is from Chaoshan area of southern China. The dumpling wrapper is usually thicker for this type of dumpling and there are more ingredients such as vegetables along with the meat or seafood. These dumplings did not particularly stand out for us, they were good but not as delightful as the other two.
We had to order sticky rice with our dim sum! Diva #1 was quite surprised with the sticky rice with pork, shrimp and mushrooms wrapped in a bamboo leaf or even lotus leaves. Bubbles explained that we should open these little pockets of rice and just eat what was within, and not the leaf itself. Diva #1 is not a fan of rice but really enjoyed these little rice pockets. The pork was saucy and tender, it overpowered the taste of the shrimp but we didn’t miss it and the sticky rice tasted like anything but boring white rice. We ordered too many sticky rice pockets so Diva #1 got to bring this home to P’tit Frère too and although he fought with her, he didn’t end up eating the bamboo leaf. In China this way of preparing rice in a wrapped leaf is called Zongzi or rice dumplings. It is a skill to know how to wrap the rice properly and it is cooked in its leaf wrapped by steaming or boiling for long periods of time.
Diva #1 had wanted to order rice noodles since she had thought that she would not be a fan of the sticky rice, but she had loved the rice, and we quickly ended up with too much food. The Hakka fried wide rice noodles were tossed with bean sprouts and peppers and stir fried with sauces to create a simple yet flavourful dish. Hakka noodles are traditionally made with unleavened rice dough and after being cooked, are pan fried in a stir fry like fashion with vegetables and soy sauce, sometimes with schezwuan sauce too. We wouldn’t be able to tell you which sauces were used in Cristal Chinois’ Hakka fried noodles but the dish was tasty.
Sensei wanted spare ribs which came in a black pepper sauce. This dish wasn’t a favourite of the Divas, it tasted good but there were so many better ones on the table that it was not eaten with glee. The pork spare ribs were enjoyable, they fell off of the bone but they were a bit fattier than the Divas would have liked. The pepper sauce was not overwhelming and though it was good, there was better.
We were a Greek with two Italians; deep fried squid rings called calamari by our people were not going to easily impress us. The rings were large, lightly battered but what was more impressive was the odd vinegary sauce that had come with the squid rings. This was very different form the traditional Greek tzatziki or Italian marinara sauce that comes with calamari. We enjoyed the rings although they were more ordinary in comparison to the other dim sum dishes that we had ordered.
Next came the fun dishes, not for the faint of heart. The chicken feet arrived and we were ready for a challenge. Chicken feet are mainly made up of skin and tendons with little muscle, meaning little meat. The chicken feet were almost gelatinous in texture and for a lot of work you did not get a lot of meat. It was an experience to try, the sauce being very good, but not something that we would order again. We ordered it knowing that it would be more about the experience, even Bubbles refused to try it. In China, chicken feet are usually steamed or deep fried before being stewed in a sauce to make them appear bigger than they are.
Mediterranean ethnics are not squeamish about tripe; we had no problem ordering and very much enjoying the tripe with ginger and onions at Cristal Chinois. Tripe needs to be very well cleaned before consuming, many restaurants do not like serving it as it is rather a liability. Chinese tripe is typically infused with a lot of ginger and onions to overpower the stench and overpowering flavour often associated with tripe. Fret not, the tripe dish at Cristal Chinois’ dim sum was light, flavourful, and less pungent than the Divas had been expecting when we ordered it.
Our first dessert or perhaps what could have been a punishment was a Chinese durian pastry. Before eating this dish Bubbles kept moving it around the table because the stench of it was driving her insane. The Divas didn’t mind the stinky fruit so much and Sensei feared a Durian falling on his head, with its thorn covered husk, and killing him during his many treks to third world countries. He was less concerned with how the pastry would taste. The smell of durian evokes feelings of revolting disgust to desire for the fruit. Some hotels and restaurants in China have prohibited durian from being on their premises. This was seen as a challenge by the Divas, and though we do not see the need for revulsion, it was not particularly delicious either. It just tasted okay, the pastry puff that enclosed it was buttery and lovely but the durian filling was just a filling, there was nothing more to say. Though the aroma traumatized Bubbles, and we agree that it was strong, it did not affect us in the same way.
The coconut cake was not enjoyable, made with gelatine and chunks of some type of candied coconut it did not particularly taste like coconut but just sweet milky jello. Even P’tit Frère, the garbage disposal in Diva #1’s family was not tempted to eat it. On the other hand, the egg tart was delicious, Diva #1 has had many Chinese egg tarts but this one was her favourite. The pie tart was crumbly and fresh and the egg custard did not taste too strongly of eggs and was very mousse-like in texture. This simple egg custard tart was a lovely end to our meal! Chinese egg custard tarts are more eggy and less creamy than their British counterparts but this one did not have an overpowering taste of egg, which was lovely.
Of course we can never keep a day simple, we were sober, since it was a very early lunch, and even Sensei exclaimed that we were particularly well behaved. All good things must come to an end, and though we hadn’t had a sip of liquor, Diva #1 grew louder and began arguing with Diva #2…. For her birthday, Diva #1 wanted Diva #2 to make her persimmon jam and then place it on baguette slices with fried panko crusted fried brie and basil. She had discovered her love of persimmons just this year when Diva #2 had brought some to work for fruit-time. Since then, the Divas have had a love / hate relationship with this almost unattainable fruit because Diva #1 buys the least ripe persimmon and needs Diva #2 to choose the right ones. Unfortunately, persimmon season does not extend into April. Bubbles did her best to bring us around Chinatown to all the little grocery stores and fruit stalls to help us find persimmons, but alas, it was not meant to be. Diva #1 pouted and tried to convince Sensei to take Diva #2 to Leopoldo at the Jean Talon Market where we had gotten a persimmon lead. Diva #2 sighed like a mother with a unruly child, and Sensei simply ignored us all while Bubbles lead us to the next fruit store in search of this much coveted fruit. Needless to say we didn’t find it though Diva #2 promised to find a solution.
A day in Chinatown is not complete without the customary visit to the lions at the entrances to this part of Montreal. Diva #1 took her customary picture by the lions, a tradition that started about two years ago and has been an ongoing joke whenever she is near the lions. She wanted to try climbing the lion, but Bubbles said no, mortified by the white people that she had brought into Chinatown. Maybe Diva #1 is just a free spirit who doesn’t like to be constrained by societal norms? Or maybe she should just start thinking before she acts… Either way, she has Diva #2 to tell her when her plans are insane or when she has gone too far… not that she is that sane herself, she is just better at fooling everyone. It was another adventure for the Divas and a delicious filling meal at Le Cristal Chinois. We look forward to trying other dim sum restaurants and authentic Asian fare with Bubbles, hopefully they will let us back into Chinatown.
Our Rating: Splendid
Tagged: 998 St-Laurent, Asian, Asian Brunch, Bamboo Leaf, BBQ Pork, Beef Tripe, Brunch, Chicken Feet, Chinatown, Chinese, Chinese Brunch, Crab Claw, Cristal Chinatown, Cristal Chinois, Cristal Chinois Chinatown, Cristal Chinois Dim Sum, Cristal Chinois Montreal, Cristal Chinois Swator Plaza, Cristal Dim Sum, Cristal Montreal, Dim Sum, Dim Sum Montreal, Dumpling Soup, Dumplings, Durian, Egg Tart, H2Z 9Y9, Hakka Noodles, Le Cristal Chinois, Lunch, Montreal, Montreal Chinatown, Montreal Food, Montreal Restaurant, Reservations Needed, Rice Rolls, Shrimp Dumplings, Spare Ribs, Squid, Steamed Dumplings, Steamer Baskets, Sticky Rice, Swator Plaza, Tripe, Turnip cake, XO Sauce