Lee’s Garden Dry Garlic Spare Ribs

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

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

  1. Wash and cut the ribs into bite size pieces. Trim excess fat.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Add garlic and continue to stir fry for five minutes.
  5. Sprinkle the soy sauce over the ribs and continue stir frying on medium for about 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Pour boiling water into the pan until the water just covers the ribs.
  7. Sprinkle the salt over the ribs and stir. Cover and boil on medium high for 10 minutes.
  8. Add sugar, distributing it evenly over the ribs. Cover and boil on medium for 20 minutes.
  9. The ribs should be very tender. If not, continue to boil for a few more minutes.
  10. 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.

50 thoughts on “Lee’s Garden Dry Garlic Spare Ribs

  1. I love how you led up to the shock. I was shocked, too, although I knew it. I knew it, but then I never saw it from the perspective of a kid of a restaurant owner.

  2. Which kind of Soy Sauce, meaning Lite, Medium or Heavy Thick should I use ? I usually use ‘House-Wife Soy brand’ which is a Medium -Lite.

    • When I make it now, I use a low sodium soy sauce, but in those days there was no such thing. There was only one kind and it was dark. I think you can use whatever you like.

  3. I left Montreal in 1971, but Lee’s Garden was right near my house Hutchison and Laurier. It was the first place I ever tasted “Chinese” food. All the things you mentioned. Eggrolls, spareribs, chicken soo guy were our favorite foods, and we did come often with our families. Good memories. i never knew what real Chinese food was,nor was I interested.The first time I ate in HonKong, I threw the food out of my mouth. So, not to worry. I will def. try your recipe. Would love Chicken Soo Guy next!

  4. Ate there as a kid with my mother, the ribs were just great.
    I remember a gentleman who would have been your father at the cash? He often would light an incense stick, I can still smell the perfume of it today.
    I attended a Jewish day school just around the corner on St.Joseph, while eating lunch there one day the vice principal was also having her lunch, a little embarrassing for her as the food was not Kosher.

    • Yes, that might have been my dad or one of his partners depending on the year. So nice to hear that you and the others have good memories of the place. I never knew what it meant to the customers. It’s really touching.

  5. Who is writing this blog? Is that you, Paul? I was just passing through St. Sauveur today and noticed a restaurant named Le Jardin Lee and my mind raced back to Lee’s Garden on Park and I wondered … “Could this be the same family?” Well, needless to say – that’s what brought me here… Very curious …. If it is you, Paul, I’m very glad that I decided to google you today! Cheers!

  6. An ex-Montrealer, i was looking for a recipe for dry garlic sauce and came upon this one. I remember many many years ago, as teenagers without too much money, we would go to Lee Gardens where we could get a chow mein bun (chow mein on a hamburger bun) for 25 cents. Those were the days!

    • Thanks for writing! It’s so nice to hear how you and other former customers enjoyed the restaurant. I’m so glad that the restaurant holds such good memories for so many people. Enjoy the recipe!

  7. I used to go to Lee’s Gardens when I was a teenager, either after bowling or shooting pool at Outremont Bowling Alley, or seeing a movie at the nearby Regent Theatre. Loved the spareribs there and, living now far away from Montreal, am thrilled to find your recipe for them online. Thanks!

  8. If your father’s name is George, my mother was a very good friend of his. They met back in the fifties when George was a recent arrival and I believe was planning to open a restaurant or it had just opened. I can’t really remember. We would go to Lee’s garden often to eat and visit George. My mother is Chinese-Canadian and it’s one of the very, very few times I heard her speak Chinese. I remember him as a very nice, hard-working man.

    • I think George was one of the partners. My father bought their shares in the early 1960s and became the sole owner. I’m doing some research for family history. Can I contact you by e-mail? I see it next to your comment.

  9. Tried the ribs and they were great. Does anyone know the secret to good old Montreal egg rolls. I’ve tried and tried to make them wothout success, I’ve searched the world for that same flavour with minimal success. Whenever I get back to Montreal I eat the damn things by the dozen to hold me over for the next few years. I suspect they are simple to make but I just can’t get it.

    • I’m glad you like the ribs. I used to make egg rolls when I was a kid. My mom made the filling which was ground pork and cabbage, but I don’t know what else. The egg roll skin was pre-made. We took some filling, rolled it to look like a small egg and placed it in the middle of the skin. We scrambled an egg and with a pastry brush, painted 3 sides of the square. Pick up the unpainted side and roll it over the filling and seal it with the other side. Pinch the ends shut. Drop them into a deep fryer. They float when cooked. (I think.)

      • It’s the “what else” part that I just can’t get right (pepper, dry mustard??) – I’m sure its very simple whatever it is, tried again last night (wife’s away so I get to mess up the kitchen). Oh Well, I live in Australia now but will be in Montreal for a visit in July and will be on the hunt for some more eggrolls. Not sure where to go, I heard that my current favorite, the Yangtze on Van Horne burned down a few years ago.

      • The original Yangtze burned down, but the new owner reopened on Sherbrooke St. West. You should check out the reviews. Chinese cuisine has changed a lot. Not many places like the Yangtze left. Chinatown is a good place to start.

  10. There are no words to describe these fabulous ribs…they are the best….most delicious …most wonderful flavor ever..and so fort and so on.
    Thanks a million Day’s Lee , wish you had more recipes to share.

  11. I now live in Laval, but like you I was shocked to find out that as a kid eating Montreal Chineese food was not authentic. I had moved to Arizona and was looking for a good plate of Almond Chicken, Chicken Chow mein or some dry garlic spare ribs… to no avail. So forget about Chicken Soo Guy or Beef Brocolli. I was out of luck.

    I remember going to your familly restaurant. Was there a link to ville Saint-Laurent’s Lee Cafe?

    Also, looking for a good Chicken Chow Mein receipe to try with your Garlic Spare Ribs

    • Glad you like the ribs. Unfortinately, I don’t have a chow mein recipe. I never really liked that dish even if my mom made it. Our family only had this one restaurant. I would love to hear what you remember about the restaurant if you don’t mind sharing your memories.

    • For those of your emailers who were looking for recipe for chicken  soo guy.  I found a few on line. This recipe seems close.  The only difference is that in Montreal it was served with sweet and sour or cherry sauce.  

      The ABCs of Michigan almond boneless chicken

      | | | | | |


      | | | | The ABCs of Michigan almond boneless chicken The acronym ABC usually stands for “American-born Chinese.” But if it’s shorthand for your favorite Chinese dish… | |



      From: Day’s Lee To: giselejacobson@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2016 11:28 AM Subject: [New comment] Lee’s Garden Dry Garlic Spare Ribs #yiv3387160289 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3387160289 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3387160289 a.yiv3387160289primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3387160289 a.yiv3387160289primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3387160289 a.yiv3387160289primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3387160289 a.yiv3387160289primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3387160289 WordPress.com MP roy commented: “I now live in Laval, but like you I was shocked to find out that as a kid eating Montreal Chineese food was not authentic. I had moved to Arizona and was looking for a good plate of Almond Chicken, Chicken Chow mein or some dry garlic spare ribs… to n” | |

  12. I was born in Montreal 1964.
    My dad’s fav restaurant. I now live in San Diego lots of Asian food my fav is Thailand and Vietnamese. I love those ribs and his sauce has been in my memories.. The funniest one being after you closed my dad spent the rest of his life asking foe chicken. Soo guy even asked for it here many times in San Diego. My dad has since past thnx for reminding me.

      • We never found it.
        Anywhere. Always funny because we knew he had to ask everytime we went out for Chinese food.
        I hope to go back to Montreal soon must have find that chicken soo guy. I Like everything he did lol

  13. So excited to try this recipe. My ribs are cut and waiting to start the dish but wanted to leave you a note. I grew up in the neighborhood too and the only restaurant we ever went to was your family’s! Otherwise we ate at home every night. Your restaurant was exotic and special. Thank you for the recipe!

    • Hi Lili, it’s so nice of you to write. Putting the recipe online is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I didn’t think anyone would remember Lee’s Garden, but I’ve heard from so many lovely people like yourself who’ve written to share their memories. I hope you like the ribs.

  14. I just came on this post so hopefully you are still reading the responses. This was my father’s favorite restaurant. We used to come every Sunday for lunch. My uncle owned the flower shop next doormany years prior to the restaurant opening..not sure if you remember…and that’s where my father’s original business was before they opened a wholesale flower shop on Monkland. Such fond memories and your parents were just amazing, kind people.

  15. Miam I will definitely try it. I knew it was not real chinese food because everytime we go to a chinese restaurant wherever the cooks and staff never ate something from the menu. I will try making this at home.

  16. I’m sorry I never went to your parents restaurant but I didn’t live near there. The ribs sound amazing. I grew up in Snowden and our go-to Chinese restaurant was House of Wong just because it was in the neighborhood. It was pretty good and they had similar spare ribs. One thing they had that I loved was egg rolls with burnt ends. Did they have those at your parents restaurant. I think Yangtze also had them as well as Hong Kong House on St Catherine in Westmount. All these places no longer exist but does anyone know if there are any Montreal restaurants that still make them? They were also available in cocktail size that I loved. I no longer live in Montreal but go often and would love to find out if these spare ribs or egg rolls still exist.

    • Hi Susan, i think most Chinese restaurants still serve dry spare ribs but I haven’t seen the egg rolls with the burnt ends. Nowadays it’s Imperial egg rolls and the traditional egg rolls. Jan Wong talks about the egg rolls with the burnt ends in my documentary.

  17. I hope I am correct in assuming that i
    i have made contact with the same Paul Lee, whom i played with every day as a child. As i recall you have a younger sister named Nona. My family lived in an apartment at 5060 Park Av.
    until 1954. Situated directly below our unit lived the Lee family they owned Lee’s Garden a
    chinese restaurant across the street. I have so many fond memories of those years. I even have photos of us on our communal back balcony. I wonder whether you have any recollection of me and my family.

  18. We moved to Toronto from Montreal with our two young children over 25 years ago and I still miss so much of Montreal’s food. Our usual Chinese restaurant when I was growing up was House of Wong on Queen Mary Rd. and I still have cravings for their food, particularly their special egg rolls with burnt ends and their dry garlic spare ribs, neither of which can be found in Toronto. The choice here is what’s called “dry garlic spare ribs,” which are not cooked in sauce, or “honey garlic spare ribs,” the sauce on which is usually very watery and tasteless. I’m so happy I found your recipe for your parents’ Montreal-style dry garlic spare ribs. I made the recipe for dinner tonight and it was wonderful; brought back many great memories. Thank you!

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