Montreal’s Chinese food game is pretty strong, from Cantonese restaurants to Szechuan, to places that serve only dumplings; we’ve got it all. I think we can consider ourselves lucky to have restaurants that specialize in such regional specific dishes – this is something that means a lot to me and I am thrilled at the proliferation of the variety of Chinese restaurants around town. I recently had dinner at Hao Hao in Verdun. What I was told to be a Szechuan restaurant turned out to be Shanghainese Szechuan restaurant.
Shanghai cuisine is the sweet and sour influence in the Szechuan cuisine spectrum. We in the west understand Szechuan cuisine to be dishes that are hot and spicy with a subtle sweetness. This sweetness in Szechuan cuisine is influenced by the Shanghai area and the appropriation of Jiangsu and Zhejiang regions and their style of cooking. So in lieu of challenging my gastrointestinal tract with a meal that will leave me praying for a bucket of yogurt the next day, I checked out the sweeter side of Szechuan cuisine.
Nanjing salted duck. A dish that’s not much to look at but is quite the production to make. Short of giving you an actual recipe, the process in making a Nanjing salted duck involves a quick poach, brine, hanging to air dry and a second poach. A classic Chinese dish that’s served cold, the pronounced flavours of the aromatic spices used in the broth is infused into the duck but not overbearing as to take away from the duck’s inherent taste. Subtle floral notes of anise and heat from szechuan peppercorns and ginger. Most of the fat is rendered out of the duck leaving the skin toothsome to the bite.
Since blue crab are in season, we took advantage of Hao Hao’s specialty crab dish. The colour is deceiving – not really blue after they’ve taken a few tosses in a fiery hot wok. The shells were weakened having been fried in oil so getting to the meat took little to no effort.
The sauce that coated the crabs was a flavourful and aromatic and most notably sweet. There was a definite tang from the use of black vinegar that accentuated the prickly spicy notes and balanced the overt sweetness of the sauce. I found myself ladling the sauce over my vegetables and white rice and sneaking spoonfuls of it into my mouth and was short of rubbing it all over myself in a desperate attempt to get pregnant by it… Ok I did.
Sautéed cucumbers with wood-ear fungus and egg. The egg is cooked and scrambled in a heavily oiled wok so it comes out remarkably fluffy and light. If you’ve never had cooked cucumbers you should try this dish. The sauce was light and savoury. It brought out the natural sweetness of the cucumbers and highlighted the unmistakeable taste of eggs cooked in a wok. You have to taste it to know what I mean; there is a certain umami that is distinct and recognizable in wok fried eggs. This dish an celebration of textures.
When Shanghai cuisine isn’t being plated for some palatial banquet, it’s known for being “homestyle cooking” and this is what you get at Restaurant Hao Hao (a mom and pop outfit that’s popular with the local Chinese community in Verdun.) The crabs were more like a snack that ideally would have been best accompanied by beer and a hockey game and the wok fried eggs with cucumber is a dish that I’ve had many times as a child growing up made by my grandmother. Comfort food maybe? Regardless, their menu of 40+ items will be warm and cozy to some, while challenging comfort zones of others.
Restaurant Chinois HaoHao
727 rue de l’eglise