When I was a kid, my parents owned a Chinese-Canadian restaurant called Lee’s Garden. It was located on Park Avenue near Laurier Avenue in Montreal. I started working there on weekends when I was in elementary school, helping my mother make egg rolls or bagging take-out orders. By the time I was in high school, it became a full-time summer job. I answered the phone and handled the cash register. The restaurant was like a second home. The waiters and cooks became extended family and regular customers became old friends.
Then one day my parents told me something that shocked me to the core. Nothing on the menu was real Chinese food, they said. The butterfly shrimps, chicken chow mein, pineapple chicken, and everything else was invented for the ghosts, the red-haired devils. The news hit me like a lightning bolt. How could that be? Chicken Soo Guy, won ton soup and egg rolls were my comfort food! They were fake?! If the food was fake, then what did I know about being Chinese?
The restaurant’s most popular dish and one of my favourites (and still is) was Dry Garlic Spare Ribs. The tender, melt off the bone ribs with the sweet, sticky sauce was on almost every order. The recipe is one of the few things I have left of the restaurant and I’ve decided to share it with those who made the restaurant a welcoming place, a place where Sunday dinners became a part of their family traditions, where special occasions were celebrated and where the regulars dropped by for a cup of coffee, a piece of pie and friendly banter. You. The public.
Lee’s Garden closed in the early 1970s, but it remains forever in my heart. If you or anyone you know frequented the restaurant, please write a comment. I’d love to hear your story.
Lee’s Garden Dry Garlic Spare Ribs
(A Chinese-Canadian classic)
3 lbs. pork spare ribs
3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1 to 2 quarts boiling water
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup white sugar
- Wash and cut the ribs into bite size pieces. Trim excess fat.
- Heat a large frying pan or wok on medium high heat. DO NOT ADD ANY oil, butter or margarine as this will produce an oily film on the ribs.
- Stir fry ribs until they are an even light brown color. Keep stirring to prevent the meat from sticking to the pan. Drain the juice from the pan.
- Add garlic and continue to stir fry for five minutes.
- Sprinkle the soy sauce over the ribs and continue stir frying on medium for about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Pour boiling water into the pan until the water just covers the ribs.
- Sprinkle the salt over the ribs and stir. Cover and boil on medium high for 10 minutes.
- Add sugar, distributing it evenly over the ribs. Cover and boil on medium for 20 minutes.
- The ribs should be very tender. If not, continue to boil for a few more minutes.
- The sauce should be thick and brown. If it is still too watery, leave the cover off, allowing some of the water to evaporate. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of boiling water.