Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hey Toronto! Lets Celebrate Chinese Spring Festival!

Hey folks, I’m celebrating Spring a third time! Yup! I will be celebrating on Sunday April 5th, 2015 with Qing Ming Festival, a little-known Chinese Spring food festival in Toronto, yet it is widely celebrated in China. Did you know that Qing Ming takes place exactly 106 days after the WInter Solstice? This is just one of several ways I celebrate the beginning of the new season. 

Don’t you love the many exciting ways of celebrating Spring in Toronto in 2015?
My early childhood spring celebrations were quite different growing up in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite becoming the token Chinese family in the Annex neighbourhood upon my parents’ decision to move there from the old Cabbagetown area in the mid-1960s, our young family observed this festival with very traditional practices that made our family stand out. 

Like many fellow Canadians, my childhood springs were marked by March Break, or Spring Break, followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday with one big hollow chocolate Easter bunny shared with my siblings. Qing Ming Festival falls between these two holidays and it made us “unique” because of the food my mom would make, and items my dad would pick-up from the Chinese BBQ shop with all those funny meats in the window display! 

Qing Ming is a little-known Chinese Spring festival. It’s not yet as appealing as Harvest Moon Festival, nor as commercial and mainstream like Chinese Lunar New Year. In the Cantonese dialect, Qing Ming literally mean ‘pure’ and ‘clean’. Many of the early Toronto settlers from 1878-1970s, who had ancestors connected with building the Canadian railroad, were buried either in Mount Pleasant Cemetery or somewhere back in the old country called Southern China. Traditionally, it is spring cleaning of your deceased relatives’ graves in the countryside of China. We have descendants on both side of the family, and they are all buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. If you’ve ever tried traipsing through this cemetery after the winter thaw, it is mucky challenge, especially when you have three kids in tow and bags of cooked food and drinks as offerings. So my parents made a pact:  mom makes the white-cut chicken and use it as an offering at home in April, and then we visit the cemetery in the summer once the ground is dry. It’s the very traditional food practices that made us cringe. Imagine a boiled white chicken with its head and feet intact, cooled off, and placed on a platter in the open doorway of your home door. Placement is important. The chicken should face inward. Yes, any bystanders strolling by, will see the chicken’s butt. My siblings (and of course I was not exempt) must slowly bow from the hip three times as a sign of respect, with our hands clasped together with burning intense sticks. One consolation: we get to eat this #nomnom chicken AND a white sticky rice cake from the bakery! This is Act I, followed by Act II which I will share on Sunday April 5th, 2015 Chinatown food tour as we celebrate Qing Ming, all its quirky rituals, superstition and traditions. 
Our family’s tradition are very similar to the Mexican holiday between October 28-November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead in Spanish. It is just as celebratory in terms of families bringing food and offerings to the cemeteries for the departed relatives and friends. If you love Chinese roasted pork, char siu, chicken, steamed buns, and wicked food history... this is a fabulous way to greet Spring!  

As a long-time resident who has travelled but still lives in Toronto, I am now witnessing Toronto live up to its First Nation reference as Toronto, the meeting place...a meeting place of festivities! We now see different cultures embracing each others’ food history and food practices and we’re witnessing growing curiosity to try new fascinating foods plus the willingness to share. So on Sunday April 5th, 2015 exactly 106 days after the long winter solstice, I am going to share the wonders of the special treats my dad would get from the Chinese BBQ shop, and bakery. I can guarantee you that you’ll come away with new pair of eyes, palate and mind. Join us on by booking your spot(s) on this intimate food tour with Chinese brunch of hosted dim sum and tastings along the way at the various  via Facebook A Taste of the World ! Tour capacity is 11 spots to keep it an intimately fun event. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Butting Heads over which Chinese New Year Hashtag to use? #YearOfTheGoat #YearOfTheRam #YearOfTheSheep

Happy Asian New Year!

Gung Hei Fatt Choi.... in Cantonese!
Gong Xi Fa Cai.... in Mandarin!
Chuc Mung Nam Moi.... in Vietnamese! 

It's Wednesday February 18th, 2015 and it is the final  day of the Year of the Wood Horse in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. So tonight is the Lunar New Year's Eve, whether you're Chinese or Vietnamese, and hopefully, it's a big family dinner gathering, if all of your family members are in the same city and province of Canada. On Thursday February 19th, 2015 we welcome the Lunar NewYear. The Year of the Wood Goat. Or the Ram. Or the Sheep. 

Did you know that the Chinese character for the upcoming year is "yang", which can refer to any member of the caprine subfamily aka ruminant horned animal?  

Over the last few years, we have witness increasing debates and interchangeable use of the word goat, ram and sheep. So which of these hoofed creatures should be used in the lunar New Year mythology? 

Folklorists from the Nanjing Museum say that beginning tomorrow, the Chinese Lunar New Year is NOT the Year of the Ram nor Sheep, but the Year of the Goat! Are there differences between these adorable hoofed creatures? 

According to Wang Tao,  a folklorist from Nanjing Museum, based on records and cultural relics, the goat appeared more often than a sheer or ram. 

Xu Longmei, an associate researcher from Nanjing Museum says that the Chinese Zodiac originated from the Han culture. The Han group lived in the central region where goats were taken as common livestock. Meanwhile, sheep were mostly found in mountains, tundra and desert, where other ethnic group reside. 

Talk to Fang Binggui, a folklorist based in southeast China's Fuzhou City, the image of the Zodiac Yang is open to regional interpretation. Often sheep is depicted in the north while goats in the south. 

Here's a bit of food for thought. According to Wikipedia the adult female Sheep is called an Ewe, meanwhile intact male sheep is a Ram. 

So how will I settle this without butting heads as we have this food-for-thought discussion at our 8th annual 12-course Chinese New Year banquet on February 20th, 2015?  Well, I had Ontario goat milk on my homemade granola for breakfast, I might treat myself to a curried goat patty over lunch, and then savour lamb chop with a salad sprinkled with sheep milk cheese at dinner.  By the way, the goat/sheep milks and the goat/lamb meats are all #Ontario raised ;-) 

***   Breaking News for Fans of Metro Morning on CBC Radio   ***

Tune your radio to 99.1FM on Thursday February 19th, 2015 at 7:25 AM EST ! 
 I'm scheduled to be interviewed by Metro Morning host, Matt Galloway !!! 

Bon appetit and Happy Lunar Asian New Year! 

#AsianNewYear #ChineseNewYear #TĂȘt #YearOfTheGoat #YearOfTheRam #YearOfTheSheep #LunarNewYear 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2015 Chinese New Year's Sights & Sounds

Pssst! Can you hear it? What’s that racket? 

Click here to hear 6 seconds of exciting Chinese New Year
sights & sounds captured on Instagram
(Note: click same image and then click PLAY button)
Isn't it exciting to hear these wonderful sounds and view some of the dazzling sights that are signs of the fast approaching 15-day Chinese New Year’s festivities?

Happy New Year!

Gung Hei Fatt Choi  in Cantonese or ....
Gong Xi Fa Cai  in Mandarin or ....
Chuc Mung Nam Mui  in Vietnamese!

Each of these Asian New Year’s greetings are some more unique signs of the fast approaching 15-day festival to end all festivals. If you count the preparatory week prior, it gets even more  exciting and gives more reasons to rejoice!  Celebrate the Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep with Culinary Historian, Guide & Founder, Shirley Lum of A Taste of the World while peeling back the layers of history in Toronto’s second Chinatown on intimate food tours and/or hosted multi-course banquet. You will experience equal portions of food-for-thought, palate and full-sensory experiences as Shirley shares old and new customs, traditions, and superstitions behind the festive food and drinks!  We can’t wait to share these amazing rich experiences with long-time locals, newcomers and visitors who have three exciting weeks to immerse themselves in this festival. 

Folks who love the thrill of going behind-the-scenes to better understand the food preparations and decorations for the festivities,  will absolutely want to join us on the Prep Tour scheduled for February 15th, 2015. People who want to see the curtains go up, will love the Lion Dance Celebrations the weekend on February 21st & 22nd; and then there’s the grand finale, the Lantern Festival, on February 28th, 2015.  If you’ve done our tours, you’ll want to come back for our 8th annual 12-course banquet. This year is even more special, as one lucky person’s spot will be sponsored by Karim Bhaloo of Dominion Lending Centres - Edge Financial! 

The Asian and/or Chinese New Year’s Eve will be on Wednesday February 18th, 2015. I can’t believe how fast the Year of the Horse has galloped by, and the Year of the Wooden Goat/Ram/Sheep is about to trot in on Thursday February 19th, 2015! 

 Can you smell the heady aromas of festive pastries at the bakeries and grocery stores? Are your eyes getting blinded by the array of red and gold trinkets? 

Here are more details to get you excited! 

18th Annual Chinese Lunar New Year Food Tours (3 unique periods/ways to immerse oneself):

(A) Preparations for Chinese New Year’s Eve Tour:
 Sunday February 15, 2015 10:00 am - 1:00pm 

Enjoy equal portions of food for thought and palate over hosted dim sum aka Cantonese brunch! Culinary historian Shirley will review chopsticks & tea pouring etiquettes over Chinese horoscope book for Year of the Goat and sampling dishes of varying flavour, aromas and textures. Bring along eco-bags for anticipated shopping as you enjoy the Asian grocery store, bakery and  to pick-up ingredients to prep in cooking/decorating restaurant supply store for essential decorations & replenish pantry; bakery for symbolic pastries) 
Fees (include food + non-alcoholic drinks; $CAD): Adult $50.00 SR/ST (ID)$45.00 Child (3-12yrs old) $35.00 

(B) Lion Dance Celebration of the Year of the Goat Food Tours

Saturday & Sunday February 21, 22, 2015  10:00 am -1:00 pm

 Over hosted dim sum aka Chinese brunch, culinary historian Shirley Lum will share the interesting history and uses of the Lion Dances and give pointers for fabulous photographs on the streets.  Bring along eco-shopping bags for anticipated shopping as we taste along Asian grocery store tour to pick-up ingredients to cook/decorate/to be gifted; and enjoy bakery tastings of symbolic pastries.  
NOTE: Do NOT eat prior to the tour.  
Tour Capacity:  11 spots per tour
Fees (incl food + non-alcoholic drinks; $CAD): Adult $50.00 SR/ST (ID)$45.00 Child (3-12yrs old) $35.00 

(C) Lantern Festival Food Tour aka Grand finale of 15-day CNY festivities

Saturday February 28, 2015 10:00 am - 1:00pm 

Over hosted dim sum aka Chinese brunch, culinary historian Shirley Lum will share the interesting history and uses
of all those pretty lanterns as the 15-day festivities wraps up. Find out what the Year of Goat/Ram/Sheep will bring for your Chinese animal sign over a delicious yet healthy brunch. Bring along an eco-bag for anticipated shopping as we pop into an Asian grocery store, bakery and BBQ shops along the tour to pick up ingredients to cook/decorate for the Lantern Festival.  NOTE: Do NOT eat prior to the tour.  

Tour Capacity:  11 spots per tour
Fees (incl food + non-alcoholic drinks; $CAD): Adult $50.00 SR/ST (ID)$45.00 Child (3-12 yrs old) $35.00 

8th Annual Chinese New Year Banquet (12-course)
Friday February 20th, 2015  6:00- 8:00pm  
Location: Taste of China Seafood Restaurant, Toronto
Fees: $60.00 per person (4 spots left as of February 14th)

Pre-Registration  or call (416) 923-6813

  ~  MENU ~ 
* Crab Meat & Fish Soup
* Sauteed Jumbo Shrimps on a lush bed of lettuce
* Phoenix Nest with Seafood Medley & Vegetables 
* Whole Crispy Chicken with flavoured Salt/pepper + Crunchy Shrimp Chips 
* Pork Chops with House BBQ sauce on Sizzling Platter
* Four Treasure Braised Vegetables
* Double Lobsters with Ginger, Garlic & Green Onion & Garlic
* Whole Steamed Fish 
* E-Mein Longevity Noodles
* Yeungchow Fried Rice 
* Sweet Dessert Soup
* Chocolate creation by Shirley aka @SChocolateMagic

Thank you Karim Bhaloo of Dominion Lending Centres - Edge Financial 
for generously sponsoring one lucky guest's dinner spot ! 

Join us in welcoming in the Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep 

Savouring the unique flavours of Chinese New Year! 

Pre-Register Your Spot(s) Now 
(416) 923-6813

Friday, May 9, 2014

April Showers Bring May Flowers, Mother's Day, Asian Heritage Month...

April showers bring May flowers... 
and Mother's Day.... 
and Asian Heritage Month...
and 30x30 Challenge! 

I love the month of May. Who doesn't love the lush spring colours  thanks to the vibrant green shoots and tender buds, and then there are the splashes of white, creamy shades of yellow, different hues of indigo, and various shades of blushing pink in the guise of crocus, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, paper whites and more! Yes, it seems like Earth is wakening after a long wintry slumber. It's fascinating to see the spring flowers bloom just in time to celebrate new life and how much better than by celebrating all mothers, and saying thanks for their years of mothering us!  Is it a coincidence that Mother's Day is in May and not June? 

And here's another reason for rejoicing when it's May. Heard of David Suzuki Foundation's 30x30 Challenge? I found out about it last year, and I was fortunate to be able to take my parents to the Kick-off last year before my dad had his second and major stroke, which landed him in the hospital and eventually a wonderful nursing home. Life is short. Make it count. Take your beloved mom and dad out for a stroll together as a family. You never know when is the last time you'll be able to do so as a family. 

And here's another reason to rejoice over the month of May. Over the last 12 years Toronto has been celebrating Asian Heritage Month. As a local culinary historian who happens to be born and bred in Toronto, I am fascinated by the continual demographic changes and shifts in Toronto's Lost First Chinatown and even its more well-known Second Chinatown (Dundas/Spadina area). How much is this latter area changing? Well, I'm seriously dubbing the Second Chinatown Foodies Tour as Asian Town Food Tour as it's slowly changing to reflect who we are, what we savour, how we eat, and where we congregate! 

So how many ways are we celebrating the month of May at A Taste of the World? Lets see... Food tours, and a LitWalk for all those LM Montgomery fans out there,  and even a hands-on workshop near the end of the month in preparations for the popular Dragon Boats Festival! Read on and book your spots now! 


* Kensington Foodies Roots Tour: Multi-Ethnic Spring Bounty & Mother's Day Fest
 Saturday May 10th, 2014  9:30 am - 1:00 pm
Meet: Red Art Pole with Black Cat at 350 Spadina Ave/St Andrew St (1 bl N of Dundas St W)

* Second Chinatown Foodies Tour: Mother's Day Then and Now

   Sunday May 11th, 2014  10:00 am - 1:30pm
   Meet: Lucky Moose Statue, 393 Dundas St W/Beverley St by Lucky Moose Mart
 Note: 11 spots at the hosted dim sum table, a memorable experience complete with chopsticks etiquette reviews, Chinese horoscope book


* Lost First Chinatown Foodies Tour 
   Saturday May 17th, 2014  10:00 am - 1:30 pm
   Meet: Old City Hall, front steps 
   NOTES:  *Eat breakfast before this tour as eating takes place at near the end
      * Wear comfortable walking shoes as this tour involves good distance as we trace where seeds of 1st Chinatown were planted and uprooted several times before arriving at Spadina/Dundas area
  * We end with food & non-alcoholic drinks at the latter part of the tour

* Swansea & Lucy Maud Montgomery LitWalk
   Saturday May 17th, 2014  3:00 - 5:30 pm
   Meet:  Runnymede Stn *** Runnymede exit by phones ***

To reserve your spot(s) on any of these Foodies or Literary Detective walking tours:

Call for limited spots at (416) 923-6813 or


We are wrapping up Asian Heritage Month by celebrating once again with Lillian H. Smith Library on Saturday May 31st, 2014 from 11:00 am -12 Noon with a FREE hands-on Dragon Boat Festival Demonstration  & Tasting of Sticky Rice Dumplings!  
Space is limited. It sold out last year. 

Please register in the Lillian H. Smith Branch or by calling the branch (416) 393-7746 or via Library's website

Enjoy the month of May! 
Just get out there and enjoy it! 
Don't forget to grab mom and treat her to a wee bit of fresh air, sun and fun! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Come & Share Toronto's diverse Spring Celebrations: Persian New Year, Qing Ming, Passover, Easter & Spring Equinox!

"Live in each season as it passes; 
breathe the air, 
drink the drink, 
taste the fruit." 
~Henry David Thoreau 

 @SOMAChocolate 's
Easter Egg is a sign of spring
Magnolia tree blossoms:
a true sign of spring
Hey Toronto, it's spring! Well, if you went according to the calendar, spring started as of March 21st, though you wouldn't know judging by the flip flopping back and forth between Old Man Winter and Spring!  When I'm not tempering a bowl of dark chocolate as @SChocolateMagic, or leading one of my theme Foodie/LitWalks/GhostWalks as @ATasteOfWorld, I go off-the-beaten-paths in various Toronto neighbourhoods on long, relaxing strolls, to savour the unique four seasons with my hubby.

I'm always thrilled when I spy my first signs of spring: the red breast robins hopping around in search of fat, juicy worms... the tender buds starting to grow on tree branches... and of course, the kaleidescope of spring flowers and herbs popping up out of the soil.  It's spring!  The earth is finally waking up from its long wintry slumber.  I don't know about you, but this year, more than ever, I'm truly relishing the beautiful unfolding of spring's lush bounty.

As a Toronto-born and -bred,  culinary historian, I love how Spring comes in many guises and it is increasingly celebrated in many diverse ways in Toronto, from March 21st to end with Summer Solstice!   March 21st gets a nod from most folks, but for Toronto Persians, this same date marks the first day of the Persian New Year, and the beginning of a new agricultural season. It's a week long of festivities surrounded by family, friends, and lots of good food.  The Chinese community then gets a turn at celebrating spring with the Qing Ming Festival, which means 'pure and clean'.  It takes place 106 days after the Winter Solstice.  Traditionally, it is spring cleaning for your deceased relatives' grave sites, and celebrating their lives with food and drink offerings around April 5th (April 6th if Leap Year). 
Easter cookies

Next, you have Passover which begins April 14th and then ends April 21st, so you'll see this being observed by Torontonians of the Jewish faith. Following on the heel of Passover, we have Easter Sunday. Then we have the Spring Equinox on May 1st, if you're practicing Wiccans. Each of these spring festivals include a common denominator - food, food, food! Does Toronto, the Meeting Place live up to its namesake? I think Toronto does, and for that reason, we figured that it's much more fun to celebrate as many of these spring festivities as possible on our Foodies, LitWalks and even, surprisingly on the Ghost Walks as well! 

On our food tours I get excited about taking advantage of seasonal Ontario produce and intense fresh flavours. Since April is National Poetry Month, we'll definitely recite the late Canadian poet, Irving Layton's poem "Ode to the Olives" and then savour the wickedly delicious black Moroccan olives along our Kensington Foodies Roots tours. If you always wondered about the Chinese BBQ treats, you'll savour the connections with the Chinese food festival called Qing Ming!

On the two Literary Detective walks, we get to see Toronto through the eyes of British author, Charles Dickens during his brief visit in 1842, and beloved Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery while living in Toronto between 1935-1942. The existing and lost landmarks come alive as your tour guide uses old diaries, letters, excerpts from books and maps. Did I mention that along the Swansea & LM Montgomery walks I bring along Aunt Maud's Recipe Book? Ever tried her Boston Cookies? 

On the four unique ghost walks, we share with you the unique energy on the evenings before/after Spring Equinox, when the veil between light and darkness is the thinnest, thus making it easier to contact beloved dead ones. Since our ghost walks are limited to 13 lucky guests, the experience is intimately spookier!  Bring along your digital cameras, as you'll have a higher chance of a ghostly bonus!

"Walking is man's best medicine." ~Hippocrates


* Second Chinatown Foodies Tour with Qing Ming Festival *

    Friday April 18th, 2014 10:00 am - 1:30 pm

    Sunday April 27th, May 11 (Mother's Day) 2014 10:00 am -1:30 pm

* Kensington Spring/Easter Foodies Roots Tours *
   Saturday April 19th,  May 10th, 2014 

* Lost First Chinatown Foodies Tour * 

    Sunday May 4th, 2014  10:00 am - 1:30 pm

** Asian Heritage Month Workshop with Toronto Public Library **

    Chinese Cooking with Shirley Lum in Preparations for the Dragon Boat Festival
     Saturday May 31st, 2014 11:00 am - 12 Noon 
FREE Hands-on Demo & Tasting of Sticky Rice Dumplings of various regions
Space is limited
Register: in person at Lillian H Smith Branch or calling branch (416) 393-7746

Sticky Rice Dumpling with Contemporary Filling 


Do you think Dickens or Montgomery knocked on this door?

* In the Footsteps of Charles Dickens: Toronto 1842 *
    Saturday May 3rd, 2014  3:00 - 5:30pm

* Swansea Village & Lucy Maud Montgomery * 
    Saturday April 19, May 17,  3:00 - 5:30 pm


* Ghosts, Greasepaint & Gallows * 
   Friday April 25th & May 2nd, 2014 6:30 - 9:00 pm

* Haunted Yorkville, U of T & Queen's Park *
   Tuesday April 29th, 2014 6:30 - 9:00 pm

* Phantoms, Players & Pundits *
  Wednesday April 30th, 2014 6:30-9:00 pm

* Haunted Kensington, Chinatown & The Grange * 
   Thursday May 1st, 2014 6:30-9:00 pm

Pre-Registration is necessary to ensure your spots and treats are reserved under your name. You can call to reserve at (416) 923-6813 or e-mail or  RSVP on our Facebook page  for A Taste of the World 

I hope you're all enjoying the warmer weather, longer days, and brighter sunny days! See you on one of our unique repertoire of off-the-beaten-path theme walks!

"Walk and be happy. 
Walk and be healthy." 
~Charles Dickens