3A 3602 Taylor St. E.
It’s one thing for a city to have authentic Chinese restaurants in their “Chinatown” area, but a city isn’t really on the road to being cosmopolitan until those authentic places are scattered throughout the city.
When I discovered Summer Palace in the far reaches of the suburbs (Taylor and McKercher), I began to believe that maybe Saskatoon is closer to arriving than I previously suspected.
This place is the real deal, complete with exotic ingredients and liberal use of organ meats. There’s also a large selection of Szechuan dishes, which is exciting, since our only other Szechuan restaurant (Chewan) closed a couple of years ago.
These people also know their audience: they’ve provided two completely different menus — the familiar, Canadianized menu, and the Chinese menu. So you can go in and order your standard dinner for four, for example, and get exactly what you’re expecting: wonton soup, deep-fried shrimp, house special fried rice, moo goo gai pan, beef lo mein and sweet and sour pork.
But ifyou know me at all, you know I didn’t go that route. Instead, I shocked the servers by ordering entirely off the Chinese menu (which also has English translations, so it’s not really as adventurous as it sounds). I can’t say that I ordered the most obscure items, but I definitely went outside my comfort zone, and learned a few things about Szechuan cuisine.
First, I’ve never experienced cold Chinese dishes before. They’d be amazing in the summer, and they were delicious even in the early winter (although I was on my own enjoying them, because they were too spicy for my kids and cold food on a cold day didn’t appeal to my husband). I couldn’t resist ordering chicken gizzards — strangely enough, they’re a childhood comfort food for me. (My dad is a huge fan of chicken gizzards and chicken feet.) I’d never had them cold and marinated before — spicy and garlicky little morsels.
Also on the cold menu is boiled salted duck of Jin Ling (whole), beef short ribs in soy sauce, spiced pig’s ear, marinated chicken feet, shredded tripe or bean curd in chili oil, dried lily flower in scallion oil, sliced kelp in chili sauce and much more. These are nice little appetizer dishes — all easily under $10, and kind of refreshing and snacky. I’ve since tasted the dried lily flower in scallion oil (amazing) and the tripe in chili oil, which was also quite good.
After my first visit — and a tempting glimpse of the potentially exotic meal I could enjoy if I didn’t have to cater to limited palates — I ditched the kids and picked up an adventurous friend for my next visit.
We sampled several dishes from most of the areas of the menu. From the chef’s specialty section, we opted for sliced pork and bean sprout with garlic sauce, and ma po tofu (which isn’t called that on the menu — it’s listed as stir-fried bean curd in chili sauce). We passed over a series of “water-boiled” and “griddle-cooked” meats (beef, pork, kidneys, chicken giblets, chicken, shrimp, squid, intestine), at least for this time around.
I wasn’t quite sure what the “ShiGuo” section of the menu was, so I ordered the eggplant in garlic sauce. (This seemed to me to be a safer option than the botched — I hope — translation of one of the dishes in this section: “ShiGuo sand tea fatty intestine fans.” What? I had trouble imagining what that might possibly be, and while I was all over the tripe and the gizzards, I couldn’t quite bring myself to order it. I’m sure the people who read Chinese know exactly what it is and order it regularly.)
We also ordered squid with spiced salt, and I tried to go for the fried green beans (one of my favourite Szechuan dishes), but was saddened to hear that while it’s on the menu, they don’t carry it right now. I’m hoping this has to do with the lack of fresh green beans, and that they’ll bring it back in the spring.
It turns out that ShiGuo is a sizzling stone bowl, filled with saucy stewed goodness. The eggplant ShiGuo had amazing flavour; we couldn’t get enough of it. The tofu was equally delicious, another one of those dishes that’s warm and comforting, and holds its heat in a way that warms your belly.
The pork slices with sprouts was another cold dish — again with amazing flavour, but also with an unexpected presentation. Imagine a cold slice of steamed pork belly, wrapped around cucumbers (there weren’t any bean sprouts), rolled tightly, stacked like wood and drizzled with an intensely flavoured spicy garlic sauce. Amazing texture contrasts: the creamy, fatty pork against crunchy cool vegetables, with amazing zing from the sauce. Delicious, but since we were eating almost pure pork fat, we didn’t feel up to having too many. As an appetizer for a group of six or eight, it would’ve been perfect.
We were far more enamoured with the ma po tofu and the ShiGuo eggplant than we were the squid with spiced salt. It had a nice salty crunch to it, and it was a generous portion, but I was hoping for some more heat, possibly from jalapenos or other chilies. It was served on green peppers, so it wasn’t as spicy as other Szechuan spiced salt dishes I’ve enjoyed.
Along with what we ordered, there were a few things that we had to pass on this time but which I’d love to go back and try — like the “Teppanyaki” section, which offers up hot plates of sizzling food right to your table. I love the drama of these dishes, and they’re available with squid, beef, pork kidney, tofu or pig’s intestine. Some of the “homestyle fried dishes” looked good too, like onions with chicken giblets or homestyle bean curd.
There are several tofu and vegetable dishes, but vegetarians beware: both the eggplant and tofu dishes that we ordered were seasoned with pork. This made them absolutely delicious for those of us who embrace pork, but for those who don’t, it’d be wise to ask — or to order specifically from the vegetable menu to be safe.
We were the only English-speaking people in the joint, which to me is a sign that the place is truly authentic. I recommend it — Summer Palace has everything you need for baby steps into unknown dining territory, with a familiar menu so you can order your old favourites, but also new frontiers for Saskatoon diners to earn their cosmopolitan claims.