In preparing for a trip to Montréal, my accomplice and I had trouble finding the names of Chinese restaurants with unalloyedly good reviews on Chinese discussion sites. There were many references to all-you-can-eat dives, where one pays bottom dollar for strong-tasting recipes cooked using ingredients of the lowest possible quality. Obviously, anyone who would recommend such a place is not serious about getting good food. One commentator even said “没有一间好吃” [there isn’t a single good place] in Montréal. However, with some persistence we found Màixiāngyuán cānguǎn 麥香園餐館, an excellent dumpling parlor in Chinatown. The name Mai Xiang Yuan means “the garden of wheaten aroma”.
Owned by people from Dàlián 大連 in the former Manchuria, Mai Xiang Yuan offers some 30 varieties of boulettes (shuǐjiǎo 水餃 ‘dumplings’, rendered ravioles by the francophone press). These dumplings may be ordered boiled or pan-fried, as well as cooked in soup, and you get fifteen to an order. There is a smaller range available at lunch.
We ordered the lamb and onion and the beef and celery dumplings, both of which were delicious, with a good balance of animal and vegetable flavors, dumpling-skins cooked to perfect al dente texture, and apparently meat of decent quality. These are philosophically sound boulettes Chinoises, in my judgment.
The lunch menu also has a vegetarian offering, and beyond that there are some salads. Of these, we had the jièwèi sānsī 芥味三絲 [three mustard-flavored shredded things] combining slivers of bokchoy (dàbáicài 大白菜), fried egg, carrots, and rice vermicelli (mǐfěn 米粉), in a mild white vinegar-and-wasabi dressing with a hint of sesame oil apparent, and barely sweetened. This little salad was so good at the start of the meal that we ordered it again at the end, and it left us wishing only to be hungry once more so we could go back to try more kinds of boulettes.
Mai Xiang Yuan’s address is 1084 Boulévard Saint-Laurent and its phone number is the distinctively Chinese (514)-875-1888. At the moment, Google Street View shows a previous tenant of the space, Épicerie Thiên Phat 天發雜貨, but the address is not hard to find. The proprietress suggests visiting outside of the hours 5:30-7:00 pm, when the place is mobbed. We counted 34 seats at 17 small tables; on our arrival at 2 pm on a weekday there were perhaps ten guests already engaged in boulette-demolition. We put away thirty dumplings and two small plates of the salad, paying about CA$25 for everything, including a generous contribution of 15% sales tax to the Canadian economy.
We will be back before long, I feel sure.