East Comes West
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Anyone who knows anything about Shanghai knows about the iconic Yu Garden restaurant.
More than a century old and sitting in the old town of this bustling mega city, this signature restaurant has been popular with local and foreign dignitaries for years, as well as being a draw for visitors.
Now the first ever Yu Garden has opened on North American soil, in Richmond Hill.
Although it only opened in September, the restaurant has already attracted a following, as word spreads that this is the real thing.
“We didn't even advertise, but after four nights, we were turning over three dinners in one night,” explains Irwin Li, the Richmond Hill entrepreneur responsible for bringing the Shanghainese brand to Canada.
Having grown up in Shanghai, Li says he always loved the food at Yu Garden and when returning to Shanghai with business clients, always took them there for their first lunch. He had the idea that the food would be well received in the GTA.
“I was fascinated with the taste of the food and figured that a diverse city like Toronto would love it,” he says.
 With the help of the Ontario Trade Mission to China in 2014, he clinched the deal with the parent company and, together with two business partners who have extensive restaurant experience, he plans to open 15 restaurants in five years across Canada and the United States.
“I had only wanted to open one,” he admits, “but the parent company has seen such a good reception in Richmond Hill, that they want me to open more.”
There will eventually be three in Toronto, but the restaurant at Bayview Avenue and Hwy. 7 is the first.
Shanghainese food is known for its diversity, as it reflects the diversity of the city itself.  Once a small fishing village, the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century brought prosperity to the city and it quickly became known as the “Paris of the Far East.”  This flourishing trade attracted people from all over China and so the food of Shanghai came to include dishes from north, south, east and west.
“If you want to taste authentic Chinese food, then Shanghainese is the best bet,” Li says.
The Yu Gardens area in Shanghai is the oldest part of the city, having been built in 1559. During the years of occupation, it was the only part of Shanghai that still belonged to China, which is why so many of the old buildings remain and why it is the natural place to go for traditional Chinese cuisine.
When it opened in 1875, the Yu Garden was the first restaurant in the Yu Gardens and recipes dating back to these times are still found on the menu today. Its steamed buns are particularly famous and consistently attract line-ups of more than 100 people waiting to taste them. These same buns, made from a 115-year-old recipe, can be found at the new Richmond Hill restaurant.  
Keeping the authenticity of the brand is crucial to Li. “This brand offers over 100 years of history,” he says, “and I believe in the quality behind the brand.”
In order to make sure the food is true to its Shanghai roots, Li has brought in a chef from the restaurant in Shanghai and intends to train Canadian chefs in the precise art of preparing the signature dishes. These chefs will, in turn, train chefs in the United States as the brand rolls out across North America in the coming years.
But for now, Li is happy that the food has had such a warm reception in Richmond Hill.
“Many people from all different backgrounds have been to Shanghai and so they know the brand,” he says. “I have been overwhelmed by the reaction.”

Yu Garden
8750 Bayview Ave., Richmond Hill (Loblaws Plaza)

Yu Garden's Shanghai Fried Noodles 
Makes 2 to 4 servings
170 g (6 oz) lean pork, sliced into 1/2-cm (1/4-inch) strips
3 mL (3/4 tsp) cornstarch
2 mL (1/2 tsp) light soy sauce
1/2 mL (1/8 tsp) dark soy sauce
5 mL (1 tsp) Chinese cooking wine
pinch of sugar
45 mL (3 tbsp) oil, divided
8 shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dry and soaked), thinly sliced
450 g (1 lb) Japanese-style udon noodles
12 mL (2-1/2 tsp) dark soy sauce or Shanghai Noodle sauce (available at Chinese grocers)
12 mL (2-1/2 tsp) soy sauce
1 mL (1/4 tsp) sugar
1 small bunch choy sum or baby bok choy, washed and trimmed
Mix together pork and marinade ingredients. Set aside for 5-10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
Heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) oil in a wok over high heat. Add pork and stir-fry until browned. Turn down heat, remove pork from wok and set aside. Heat 30 mL (2 tbsp) oil in wok, add mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes over medium heat. Break up noodles gently with your hands and add to wok.
Add soy sauces and sugar. Stir-fry everything together until noodles get an even, deep brown colour. If you're not seeing the colour you want, add a little more dark soy sauce.
Add greens and combine with noodles, stirring until wilted.
Serve hot. Some people like to add a few drops of dark vinegar right before eating.

TIP: Omit pork for a vegetarian dish.


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