Spice City Toronto: Hakka on the Danforth
Danforth Dragon makes spicy Hakka cuisine, right on the subway line.
What do you get when you take a group of culinary-minded Chinese people to India, home of many of the world’s greatest spices, and have them adapt their cooking to local tastes for several generations? The answer is Indian-style Hakka Chinese food, such as the fare served at Danforth Dragon, at 861 Danforth Ave.
Danforth Dragon’s owner, Anthony Lin, is Hakka, meaning he speaks the Hakka dialect of Chinese. His Chinese grandfather took a two-month boat ride to India in order to avoid political instability and violence. Anthony was born and raised in Calcutta.
“Hakka people are like gypsies,” says Lin. “They travel everywhere.” As part of the third generation of his family to live in India, Anthony doesn’t know much about China, but he still speaks Hakka at home and cooks Hakka food. “Our food has an Indian twist,” he says. “It is Chinese food for Indian taste buds, so it’s spicier.”
The Danforth Dragon’s jeera beef dish ($9.50) is a good example of the hybrid technique. It’s marinated in a Chinese style, using soy and potato starch to make it tender. It’s also infused with a strong dose of cumin seed and garlic, giving it punchy flavour that resembles a Pakistani lamb skewer.
Chili paneer with Chinese greens ($8.99) is another great dish, featuring flavourful Indian cheese and Chinese cabbage stir-fried with onion and soy. Many of the dishes are peppered with bits of green chili, which pack a fiery punch. It’s also worth paying 99 cents for the hakka-style special hot sauce—a slightly sweet concoction made with chilis and garlic.
The spicy egg roll is better than expected, with minced pork, fresh green peas, and a bit of curry flavour. Hakka-style fried rice ($7.99) is a spicier version of the Chinese classic.
The evolution of Hakka food hasn’t stopped since its arrival in Canada: Lin also serves what he calls “North American Chinese” food such as chicken balls, chop suey, General Tso’s chicken and lemon chicken, to cater to his mostly Canadian-born clientele.
Danforth Dragon is one of the only Indian-style hakka places in Toronto proper, but Scarborough is chock full of Hakka places, some Indian-style and some with more traditional fare. There are also many Chinese-run Jamaican restaurants in Scarborough. Most of the Chinese population in Jamaica is of Hakka origin.
Danforth Dragon is located at 861 Danforth Avenue. Tel: 416-461-9238. Hours are 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Monday to Friday; 4 p.m.–10 p.m., Saturday; 4 p.m.–9 p.m., Sunday.
Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.
Photos by Sarah Efron.