First Markham Place: Junk Food Fix
3255 7 Hwy Markham, ON
We stopped into First Markham Place plaza to pick up prescription glasses but I was soon distracted by the food. Getting a little bit homesick for Richmond Night Market street food, I was happy to find some similar items in the First Markham Place food court.
One item that I’ve never found anywhere in Vancouver are these little plump fish paste dumplings wrapped in the same tasting shells as traditional steamed pork dumplings (shao mai). I have a major weakness for fish paste. I like to think of it as Chinese mystery meat because to this day, I haven’t the faintest idea what is inside fish paste, nor do I want to know. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s made of pureed fish bone and guts. It tastes amazing though, and soaks up other flavours just like a sponge.
These fish paste dumplings were no exception. Sold by the carton full, the dumplings were steamed right on the counter beside a selection of sauces that you can use to drench the dumplings in.
The dumplings tasted salty with a distinct briny seafood taste and were soft and fluffy in the middle. The thin but chewy shells were the perfect contrast to the soft, moist steamed fish paste. I’ve always thought of Chinese fish paste as comfort food, it’s addictive and delicious and always comes in bite-sized forms: fish balls in soup, medallion sized pancakes and in this case, dumplings.
Normally, I don’t even like beef jerky. Who wants to eat meat with all the moisture sucked out of it? The beef jerky I normally find is from chains like Costco and Safeway, where the meat is cut into strips and packaged in plastic vacuumed sealed pouches. The drying method for mass produced beef jerky involves a lot of salt, chemicals and a low temperature drying method that makes a very salty and chewy snack.
Another type of beef jerky prevalent in Asia is bakkwa jerky, a more moist and sweet jerky that is dried in sheets and contains Asian spices and soy sauce. In Malaysian and Singapore, bakkwa jerky is prepared for special occasions and festivals such as Chinese New Year and given away as gifts.
Bakkwa was even once considered a luxury item in China. Of course it has now become more affordable and is readily available around the world (thanks, globalization!).
We bought three types of beef jerky from Oriental Recipes: original, black pepper and spicy.
The original tasted sweet and salty, like a more smoky sweet and sour beef. The texture actually was moist and chewy unlike the dry textures of Western beef jerky.
The black pepper beef jerky also tasted sweet but with very distinct punches of spicy black pepper throughout. The texture was still moist and sticky.
I had a glass of water in hand when I tried the spicy flavour. I can barely handle pepperoni, I was pretty sure the spicy beef jerky would be suicide. I only bought it since everyone else in my family loves spicy food. Turns out though, it wasn’t even spicy. It was more sweet than anything with waves of barbecue flavour and the most subtle tingly aftertaste. Whew! Dodged that spicy bullet!
For drinks, we stopped in at the Fruit Jungle for fresh fruit juice with pearls. Actually, I tried to order my drink by saying ‘with pearls’ but apparently they call those little things ‘tapioca bubbles,’ here in Ontario. Sigh, the slight differences in culinary terminology takes some getting used to.
I went with fresh lychee juice “with tapioca bubbles.” And ordered a large because after beef jerky, fish paste dumplings in combo with the insane Ontario summer heat, I could probably drink a lake.
The murky lychee juice didn’t look like it was the most appetizing but upon my first sip, the intense syrupy sweetness of fresh lychee totally hit the spot, cold and refreshing! And to top it off, there really were large chunks of soft and juicy lychee in the drink, adding more sweetness to the beverage and contrasting in texture with the chewy tapioca bubbles.
Our fresh strawberry juice was also shockingly refreshing. Does every cold item taste this incredible in summer heat?