Stopping in Quebec´s “UNESCO City of Design” and looking for something different from bagels or scrambled eggs for breakfast? Easy. Montréal offers a wide range of gastronomical styles. While a lot of restaurants continue to preserve and/or to develop the traditional French Canadian cuisine, there are many, many other ethical styles available, which the varied demographics of immigrants living in the city mirror well.
Montréal hosts the second largest Canadian community of Italians after Toronto. Followed by large numbers of Irish, English and Scottish. It is also home to many Arabs and people of Middle Eastern origin and bursts a rich community of Asian nationalities, with the Chinese providing the largest one.
And that is what I was heading for during my last stay. Montréal´s Chinatown lies centrally located and spreads over a couple of blocks from Rue Jeanne-Mance to Rue Saint Dominique, in close reach to Place-d´Armes metro station.
The morning after my flight I woke up so hungry like a Tiger, that I could have literally eaten an entire cow if I had the chance to. But my cravings were looking for everything BUT the typical North American breakfast. I wanted something substantial, yet nothing bloating or too light. My mind began already wandering into the Middle Eastern cuisine, but while googling breakfast places and sipping on my instant “Emergency coffee” I trembled over an article by the MTL Blog. And suddenly it was crystal clear: What I needed this morning was a decent Chinese dim sum breakfast.
Dim Sum might not be an appealing breakfast alternative to the typical Western traveler, but it surely is a delicious, healthy and nourishing dish to start the day with. Traditionally served with Jasmin tea, these little pieces of art generally not form the lightest meal to have, yet shake off easily any eggs with bacon and deep-fried French Toasts.
So I went to try out their recommendation: The Cristal Chinois.
The restaurant lies on the 6th floor of a rather unobtrusive commercial building on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. After you entered, take the elevator up that directly terminates into the enormous top floor space. The Cristal Chinois spreads out over the entire width of the building. There are two small terraces that hold additional seating during the summer. Most chairs and tables are found inside though. The venue is decorated in light colors and light woods. There is plenty of daylight through the many windows and the view is not obstructed.
At first, the size of the “hall” might be a little intimidating, yet if you have experienced “real” Chinese restaurants in overseas, you will notice that the Cristal Chinois transports the flair and the local customs authentically.
So does the service. Being a foreigner, the greeting may seem a little sober or distant to what you might be used to living in North America. To me as a German and regular traveler to mainland China, it serves the purpose and can be considered as normal.
I am being escorted to my table and I am the only Western guy around (ALWAYS a good sign in restaurants!) . Jasmin tea (the traditional beverage with dim sum) is straightly served in a pot, other drinks are available upon request.
The morning menu consists exclusively of dim sum (8am – 11am). English menus with pictures are available and are handed out automatically. You order by filling out a pre-printed list that is left with you along with the menu, simply indicating the exact number of orders next to your favourite dish (portion sizes are fixed and vary between four and 12 pieces, indicated in the menu by the letters S – XXL).
My dim sum is prepared to order and served when ready. My vestigial pronounced “Che Che” (Thank you) makes the Chinese woman smile as she rolls by my table several times with her cart, from which she places my orders on my table.
Overrated appetite made me eventually eat way too much! Three out of my five choices would have been more than enough, but I simply could not resist and wanted to try as many different kinds as possible. Who knows when I would have dim sum cravings again? And you wouldn´t bee satisfied with a review about one kind, would you?
And it was well worth it! The ShiuMys with Crab were fantastic! So were the deep-fried Squid tentacles. But I absolutely LOVED the Rice noodle rolls with Japanese tofu. They were soft, tasty and together with the soy sauce simply delicious. Of course, they didn´t last very long. Good, but for my taste a little too much dough around, were the steamed Shrimp dumplings in the basket.
Not so much persuasive was the Lotus leaves covered sticky rice with Pork, Shrimp and Mushrooms. I didn´t like the combination of flavours and spices used, but tastes are different and it might well be delightful to your palate.
So after I managed to wipe out at least one piece of sticky rice at last, I simply had to surrender to my aching tummy. It was a good suggestion and a great idea to pick up this breakfast inspiration. And a cheap one!
One pot of tea and five dim sum (ranging from four to 12 pieces a portion) cost me 18 Canadian dollars (around including the tip! For the quality, the taste and the amount of food I received a more than extraordinary price. And since I didn´t get hungry before the evening again, it paid off twice.
So try out something new next time you are in town. This Chinese breakfast at the Cristal Chinois should be definitely part of your Montréal travel experience. Not only when you have cravings for Cantonese cuisine…
Safe travels, folks! See you on the road…
Le Cristal Chinois