Chinese culinary style can be divided by region or even by city, and with over 80,000 distinct and separate dishes (according to the cultural food guide, You Eat What You Are, by Thelma Barer-Stein) the term “Chinese food” is far too broad a descriptor when referring to the authentic cuisine of the country.
What North Americans commonly refer to as Chinese food is the adaptation of the cooking of early Chinese immigrants. Arriving on the west coast, primarily to work the railway, Chinese people prepared meals from home using local ingredients. Some opened small restaurants, further altering the style of cooking to suit Western tastes and, Canadian-Chinese food was born.
And although “authentic” Chinese food is becoming more widespread in Metro, the Canadian-Chinese hybrid is by far the most common commercial Chinese food. One such restaurant is May Garden, which has locations in Dartmouth, Lower Sackville and the recently expanded dining room in Bedford, which we are visiting. Every now and then, I get a hankering for the “exotic fare” of my youth—chicken balls, garlic spare ribs and egg rolls—and I think that May Garden is one of those places that balances Near East/Far East tastes both in decor and on the menu.
In the foyer, a giant Buddha beams out from behind a Christmas tree; the simple, off-white window blinds in the dining room contrast with elaborate wall and ceiling murals. Similarly on the menu, there’s a small selection of dishes only available after 5pm and whose names are written in a Chinese dialect, but a turn of the page finds a listing for clubhouse, chicken fingers and a chicken ball, egg roll and French fry combo.
We start with wonton soup ($4.60), with deeply flavoured broth, plenty of cabbage and pork strips, and huge wontons stuffed with minced pork. The plain egg roll and spring roll are just ho-hum, but the May Garden Special Egg Roll ($1.80) is outstanding. A crispy, non-greasy wrapper is bursting at the seams with chicken, shrimp, pork, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
On to the mains: Honey Garlic Ribs ($8.60), though tasty, are a little on the dry side; the Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls ($8.40) far too doughy for my liking. Although I generally order steamed rice ($2.50), the May Garden Special Fried Rice ($7.90) is a nice change, with plenty of bits of chicken, shrimp, pork and egg.
From the “Chef’s Special” part of the menu, we sample the real winners: Curry Chicken ($8.60) is a mild yellow curry full of tender chunks of chicken, slivers of celery and slices of onion. Szechuan Shrimp with Vegetables ($10.50) is labelled hot, and while not overly hot, it certainly has zing. We love the Chef’s Special Pork ($9.40): battered pork fried with pineapple, red and green peppers and onions; sweet and sour at its best.
With the exception of the ribs, most of the food tastes and looks very fresh, with vibrant colours and plenty of crunch (in the parts that you want crunch, like the vegetables).
The service, like the pork, runs sweet and sour. We visit the dining room during lunch and dinner; during lunch we listen to one server complain loudly about a run-in with someone in the kitchen over washing dishes. Distracting, to say the least; though it must be said that all the servers that visit our table are very friendly and quite polite.
All in all, May Garden does Canadian-Chinese food quite well in their comfortable, well-balanced new digs.
May Garden1475 Bedford Highway832-2226 Mon-Tue: 11:30am-11:30pmWed-Thur: 11:30am-12amFri: 11:30am-3amSat: 3pm-1amSun: 3pm-10:30pm
Read more Liz Feltham reviews from the comfort of your very own digs at: www.foodcritic.ca
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