Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Accio Chinese Cafeteria! - Shi Tang (食堂)

Shi Tang is kind of like the Leaky Cauldron of Montreal. Non-Chinese people walk past it all the time without even noticing its existence (muahahaha you muggles), and the few that do notice and venture inside are instantly repelled by the intense Chineseness of it all, including the fact that there's not a single English word to be found. ANYWHERE. Yeah, if the OQLF couldn't stand seeing the words 'pasta', 'calamari' and 'fish'n'chips', then they'd have an aneurysm by just setting foot in this place. Even the TV is playing Chinese news (CCTV 4, go figure). But I'm about to divulge a secret to you, a secret that will soon reveal all to the unknowing, and may ostracise me from my kind... 


Well, maybe nothing so dramatic. Shi Tang (食堂) literally translates to 'cafeteria', or 'canteen', if you speak in fancy, and I can tell you for a fact that this place holds all the elements that a Chinese cafeteria does, right down to the sketchy unkempt appearance. It really does feel like you walked through a portal and ended up in China. The patrons even all sit facing the TV, their eyes glued to the screen, like they do in China. There is also the issue of questionable hygiene...  But hey, what you can't see can't hurt you, right? ...Right?

Accessibility - Grade: A
It's right across from Guy-Concordia metro, Guy exit, next to the John Molson School of Business. It's located on top of a Lebanese pizza place, and only has a sign that reads "Shi Tang". Really. There's nothing that gives away the fact that it's a restaurant, other than maybe the Chinese people sitting at the window, shovelling food down their throats in a hurry.

Service - Grade: B+
Service isn't really an issue, since the extent of the interaction between you and any employee is basically you ordering at the counter, and them giving you the food. Still, the lady that usually takes our orders is really friendly and nice, and even kicks people who butt in in front of you to the back of the line. It might not be much, but it's better service than I get at most restaurants. And she doesn't even get tipped.

Food - Grade: B
I'm still iffy about the cleanliness of the food, but taste-wise, Shi Tang offers a little piece of Chinese authenticity to those overseas students nostalgic for home-cooking, or for the adventurous Westerners looking for something different. But if you're someone who's really picky about preparation methods and dubious cleanliness, then maybe this place isn't for you. You have been warned.

Now, there are several items you can order from the menu pasted on the wall, but the most featured choice is still the combo, which gives you a selection of three dishes and a bottomless bowl of rice. No, really, I'm pretty sure you can get refills. How this works is that you'll see a variety of different dishes in a buffet-like set up at the counter, and you can choose three types. The lady will then scoop a generous amount of each onto a plate, give you a bowl of white rice and charge you $8 flat.

We got the mapo tofu (or 'Tofu de la vielle dame avec des verrues' after the OQLF is through with them), a vegetarian eggplant dish, and a pork and potato dish. The eggplants were just as I love them, crisp and caramelized on the outside, while soft and pulpy on the inside. The mapo tofu tasted as mapo tofu should, which is to say spicy with a bit of that tingly after taste. It's not quite as spicy as mapo tofu from Sichuan would be, but it's better than the sweet stuff that you usually see in canto restaurants. The meat and potato didn't have much meat, but was still pretty tasty.

It's greasy, has its fair share of MSG, but what can I say? It tastes like home. It's a worthwhile indulgence once in a while, and for $8, you really can't go wrong. And it tastes better than most of the 'Chinese' restaurants in Montreal.

Here's the bowl of rice that came with the combo, and next to it is a gigantic 'vegetarian' baozi (包子), or bun. I don't even know how to translate that into French. Anyway, vegetarian, in this case, includes shrimp and eggs. If you grew up on Northern Chinese food, then you'll be familiar with this baozi. The filling is a mix of fried egg, tiny dried shrimp and Chinese leek. The dough is pillowy soft while the filling is savoury and light. This bun is great if you're looking to grab a quick lunch to-go.

I also ordered the shao bing (烧饼) with meat, which is like a flat bread/pancake with a layer of braised pork meat in the middle. From what I saw, these were pre-prepared, and after I ordered them, the lady stuck the thing into the microwave, plastic bag and all. Again, if you're looking for a fine establishment, this ain't it.

Other than the whole plastic-microwave thing, I really enjoyed this bing. The bread part is soft and doughy, and breaks apart easily when you tear it apart, and the braised pork was fragrant and tasty.

Other than the combo, the menu also offers soup noodles (braised beef, from what I saw), dumplings, buns and some BBQ'd meats. 

Price - $
This place defines cheap eats, which might explain why there's a ton of overseas students here every day. The combo was $8, the baozi was $2 and the bing was $3, which made all of the above a grand total of $13. My friend and I had split this between us, so it came down to $6.50 per person flat, but a combo is definitely enough to feed even the hungriest of men. Unlimited rice refills, remember?

Final Grade: B
While eating here too often may prove to be a health hazard, that doesn't detract from the fact that Shi Tang serves up some of the most authentic and tasty Chinese fast-food in Montreal. If you feel up to it and reckon that you have a stomach of iron, I'd say go forth and be adventurous, my friend. But if you're the type who's really concerned about the origins of your food, then don't say I didn't warn you. Like ten times.

Accio baozi!

I haven't doodled in a while because my tablet broke, and I can't draw with a mouse. But I was starting to miss it, so I decided to just doodle something by hand and add it in.

Shi Tang
1622 de Maisonneuve Ouest 

(514) 439-0986

Restaurant Shi Tang on Urbanspoon


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