Thank the spice trade of yesterday for excellent dim sum in Toronto today

The food: dim sum

My favourite: the steamed scallop dumplings

Frilly steamed scallop dumplings from Pearl Harbourfront

The story:

I recently read (for an upcoming review) An Edible History of Humanity, by Tom Standage, an intriguing book that looks at history as “a series of transformations caused, enabled, or influenced by food.”

An entertaining, edifying food history book.

An entertainining and edifying food history book

My favorite chapters elucidated how the demand of Western civilizations for spices, which dates back to the Roman era, if not further, led to world exploration for several centuries. Without ancient Egyptians and Romans, followed by medieval Europeans, craving spices big-time, the major navigation discoveries that connected cultures and countries around the world might never have happened when they did.

Cross-cultural influences at work: these shrimp chive dumplings are called hockey pucks.

Cross-cultural influences at work: these shrimp chive dumplings are called hockey pucks on the Pearl menu.

In other words, without spices being a hot commodity long ago, we might not be able to eat excellent dim sum in Toronto today, perish the thought.

Plump har gow (shrimp dumplings) with delicate, translucent wrappings.

Plump, delicate har gow (shrimp dumplings)

In my not so humble opinion, the best dim sum in Toronto, bar none, can be found at Pearl Harbourfront, a light-filled second floor space with panoramic harbour views in the Queen’s Quay Terminal building on Toronto’s waterfront. (And what about the oft-touted Lai Wah Heen on Chestnut Street, you cry? Here’s what: it’s too formal, too precious, and too expensive and the food is not as good as Pearl’s. So, no.)

Fried scallop dumplings

Fried scallop dumplings

Admittedly, the parking is neither cheap nor easy at Harbourfront. And the Queen’s Quay building, though it sports an airy, bright interior and a niftily restored Art Deco frontage, contains an odd assortment of touristy shops (Inuit sculpture, anyone? A Tilley hat?). What a friendly yet sophisticated white tablecloth Chinese restaurant offering delicious, high quality dim sum is doing in this setting, I don’t know, but the food, ambiance and service are worth the trip.

Stir-fried egg noodles with bean sprouts

Stir-fried egg noodles with bean sprouts

Feast your eyes on the Pearl Harbourfront menu selections shown here (There are many, I know, but hey, 5 of us ate that day), know that the food tastes as good as it looks, then go there, in any weather on any day of the week (weekend lunchtimes when the weather is fine can be hectic, with lineups, but Pearl does take reservations). Push politely past the odd busload of tourists wandering dazed through the ground floor shopping area, head up the escalator at the south end of the building, and delight your palate.

Shiu mai

Shiu mai


The non dim sum food, like this braised bean curd with vegetables in oyster sauce, is great too.

The non dim sum food at Pearl, like this braised bean curd with vegetables in oyster sauce, is very good too.

Pearl Harbourfront on Urbanspoon

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