Hakka Chinese Food in Toronto at Hakka Garden
Hakka Chinese food is one of my favourite types of fusion cuisine styles. It’s savoury, spicy and packed with intense flavours. There is no firm consensus on the origin of Hakka Chinese food, but here in Toronto, it’s safe to say that it’s East Asian cuisine with South Asian flare.
Hakka Chinese food restaurants are plentiful in and around the GTA. Unfortunately, many of the good Hakka Chinese food places opt to serve a partial halal menu, pork and or/alcohol. Some have also been known to mix meats as well, purchasing from multiple suppliers to get the best deal, worrying more about their bottom line.
Personally, we stopped eating from these establishments as the risk of cross contamination is quite high since most restaurant owners are not knowledgable on proper halal and even proper food handling for that matter. So why take the chance?
Many years ago we visited a little place in the heart of Thorncliff (East York) called Hakka Garden. The food was meh (definition: nothing great, or worth any opinion at all, positive or negative). As a food writer, my biggest challenge is writing about places that are just ok. As a result, we never really bothered to go back. Also, with so many other restaurants in the same area, there was never any reason to think twice about Hakka Garden.
Fast forward to 2012, I was asked to write an article for a Toronto website on the best halal restaurants in Toronto. I did some informal surveying and came up with a shortlist which I shared with Halal Foodie fans on Facebook and Twitter. Many people were stunned that I had not placed a single Hakka Chinese food restaurant on my list. After that realization was made, I wondered the same thing. All those years not eating Hakka Chinese food and I completely forgot how marvellous it truly was! I immediately started asking around, What is the BEST Hakka Chinese food place in Toronto that had a 100% halal menu, no alcohol and no pork? With those criteria in place, not a lot of responses came back except — Hakka Garden.
“It’s my favourite place to eat”, “I go there every week”, “It’s legit, all their meat is halal”, “their crispy beef is AMAZING!”. Lots of comments, all on the same Hakka Chinese food restaurant, Hakka Garden.
Is this the same place I visited before? In Thorncliff, near the masjid? Yup, that’s the one. Apparently, they’ve stepped up their game to bring tasty, budget friendly Hakka meals to the large Muslim community in this area. The best part is their meat is from reputable sources such as their neighbours, Mecca Halal Meat.
My husband and I (with two kids in tow) set off for Hakka Garden to enjoy Saturday evening liner (lunch/dinner, you’ll understand if you have small kids, mine need to be fed at 5pm or they go wild). As we pulled up, memories of my last visit started to flood in and I wasn’t sure I could be won over with this place despite raving reviews from others. Located in a strip plaza, Hakka Garden neighbours Arza Pizza, Mecca Halal Meat & Seafood and is really close to the Islamic Society of Toronto, Masjid Dar-us-salaam.
The interior was the same as I remember which didn’t surprise me. I’m sure it’s the same aunty that designs all Hakka Chinese food restaurants because they’re all identical. Lots of booths surround the perimeter of the dining area which is great. We grab one on the far left side because it seemed to have the most surrounding floor space to manoeuvre our youngest child in his stroller. Our waiter greets us, brings over menus and takes our drink order.
A lot of the same menu items you would expect to see are here. That’s ok, for once I’m not looking for variety or innovations. I’m looking for traditional dishes that I’m used to seeing and that I’ve longed to taste again. I’ve heard that prices are really good and orders should be kept to a minimum since you’ll end up walking out with a wheel-barrel for a doggie bag. With that in mind, we decide to order beef fried rice, garlic chicken and chilli beef, all recommended by the waiter. We also grab two orders of extra white rice, which looking back probably wasn’t necessary because the fried rice was enough.
Our orders arrive in record time which tells me food is already cooked and is just being mixed and reheated. I’m not fine dining here, so again, I’m ok with this (I just hope it was made fresh at some point that day). We prepare our plates and the smells are already getting to me, I’m hungry!
The food was everything I was hoping it would be; spicy and intense. Healthy eating, at least for this hour, was out the window. We prepared ourselves for indigestion.
The garlic chicken was by far my favourite. Rich fiery orange colour with a shiny glaze of oil, so bad, yet so good! The chilli in the garlic was a welcomed flavour combination. I’ve had ginger chicken in the past, but garlic chicken was a first. My preference with Hakka Chinese food, is saucy dishes. I’m not into anything too dry unless it’s Indian food that I can eat with naan.
The chilli beef wasn’t a hit with me just because the base was a little too watery. I think next time I’ll go with the battered, crispy beef, which is has a thicker sauce. The chilli beef flavour was good, but spicy. However, I remind myself that anything with “chilli” as a preface is going to have a kick. My husband didn’t seem to like the chilli beef as much either. His complaint was the texture and the fact that the beef wasn’t battered. Plus, with the base being more on the watery side, it was not what he was expecting.
My kids loved the beef fried rice. You can’t really go wrong with the beef, chicken, vegetable or seafood version. The flavour was mild and surprisingly not as oily as I’ve experienced at other places. After fried rice sits on your plate for a bit, it usually leaves a pool of oil, I didn’t experience this with Hakka Garden’s version. Ignoring the fact that the vegetables were very obviously your frozen packaged variety, it was still all bright and steamed just right, not overcooked or dull. For the price, the meat to rice ratio was pretty good too. I recall feeling bamboozled in the past when I order a meat fried rice at other places and feel like I’m digging for treasure trying to find the scant morels of meat.
We all ate to our stomach’s content. We opted for water instead of our pop as we needed the palate cleanse. Pop would be overkill and might tip the indigestion scale from moderate to high.
The food was in fact plentiful. In my opinion, three adults can comfortably eat from a single dish like chilli beef or ginger chicken. So my calculation for two to four people stays the same for ordering; one dish per person, plus one or more rice or noodle dishes, and then share (or just order more plain white rice to keep the price of the meal even more economical). You’ll still get lots of leftovers and everyone will have a good selection to choose from. If you’re ordering for a larger party, try one of their various combos which are a good option as well.
I tend not to write about places that I wouldn’t recommend, so Hakka Garden is a winner and my new go to when I have a craving for Hakka Chinese food, which now, will be often!
*UPDATE* I’ve been tipped off by a Hakka Garden regular that the best dishes are: chilli chicken, masala chicken, chicken pakora, crispy beef and spicy green beans — check them out! Thank you to our friends at Ok Tax Services 😉
25 Overlea Boulevard