On Sunday morning, Nick Liu, chef and restaur-entrepreneur took us to his parents’ house in Markham outside Toronto. Torontoneighbourhoods.net lists it as one of the most multicultural communities in the largest of Canada’s cities; the strong Chinese presence makes a dumpling shop in one of its retail parks a highly desirable lunch destination for those in the know.
Before we could sample the oriental chilli beef sinew and soup dumplings, we had to get our hands dirty at the grassroots, literally.
Nick was looking for purslane for a foraged menu, muttering ‘sometimes my dad trims the edges’, as he tracked for it along the join of the front lawns & the asphalt around the estate.
We did well for chickweed, that early adopter of disturbed ground, and wood sorrel, plus other edibles from out of the suburban garden – begonia flowers, spotted dead nettle flowers, green tomatoes.
Over tea, Nick’s parents tell us something about how they got here, pregnant with him, from upbringings respectively in an India of unrest and in South Africa, via London and its 1960s photography scene – long journeys, racial pressures. Nick is fond of saying their family, and how they eat, are the product of four continents. The dim sum served in his downtown restaurant are actually made with dough supplied by his mum, to his grandmother’s recipe. A deconstruction of his dad’s winter melon soup features on October’s menu. A popular choice on the bar menu is a handcrafted steamed dumpling designed to replicate the taste of a Big Mac. It’s taken him a while to get this comfortable with all his influences; he describes a rebellious adolescence. Being at school with the ‘hockey jocks’, he hated having foreign leftovers rather than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his packed lunch.