Everyone loves fried chicken. And everyone loves Chinese food. Taiwanese-born Montreal chef Helena Han Lin realized those things and in November she opened a new restaurant in Pointe-Saint-Charles where she’s serving up Asian comfort food, pandemic be damned.
“Our idea was to provide something familiar but also to have fun and be creative with the kind of food that we cook,” she said.
As the city’s restaurant industry faces the worst times in living memory, Lin is banking on our cravings for high-quality comfort food with La Canting, her new restaurant on rue Saint-Patrick.
Its menu is full of items from Lin’s childhood, including her take on Nashville hot chicken.
What's the most popular dish at La Canting?
Heat seekers take note: La Canting’s Sichuan hot chicken is a super spicy creation that has been taking diners by storm, said Lin.
“It’s a bit of a play on Nashville hot chicken as well as a Sichuan dish called laziji, which is basically a stir-fried chicken dish with a lot of dried chillis, peppercorns, ginger, and green onions,” she said.
“The idea of the dish was to take the aspect of Nashville hot chicken, which is traditionally served with a lot of cayenne-forward chilli oil, but to use Sichuan chilli oil instead,” she said.
“It’s definitely our most popular dish.”
What else is on the menu?
On the menu, patrons will also find lu rou fan ("braised pork belly, minced pork sauce, shallots, pickled mustard greens, soft boiled egg, rice"), a classic Taiwanese comfort food.
“That’s a pretty popular Taiwanese dish,” said Lin. “And it’s something my mum cooked a lot for me growing up.”
There's also Taiwanese beef noodle soup and Singapore-style squid. For dessert, it’s offering kaya doughnuts stuffed with a coconut and pandan compote.
Much of the menu is based on family recipes Lin learned from her mother and grandmother growing up in Taiwan, China, and Malaysia.
“A lot of my childhood was definitely spent sitting on the dining room table doing homework and watching my mom cook and helping her as well,” she said.
“Some of the dishes are definitely inspired by the food that my mum would cook growing up.”
What it’s like to open a new restaurant during a pandemic?
Many Montreal eateries have succumbed to the economic ravages of the coronavirus.
And while one might think that the pandemic would have discouraged the entrepreneurs from opening the new restaurant, Lin and co-owner Benjamin Serapins are adapting to COVID-19.
They’ve installed extra hand-washing stations, delayed purchasing their dining room chairs and tables, and pivoted their business model.
“Instead of waiting for dining rooms to be open we decided to take our concept and change it to do takeout,” said Serapins.
“Just to get our name out there and get a little publicity so that when the dining rooms open, people know who we are and what we do.”
Serapins said protecting employees and making customers feel safe is now as important as serving good food for restaurants.
“Beforehand, your food has to be good, your service had to be quick, and your table service has to be on point,” he said.
“Now on top of those three, we’ve added making customers feel comfortable and safe enough to when dining rooms open again, that they want to come and eat.”