Fort Erie — Niagara's Chinatown

Posted Jan 23rd, 2010 in Eating Niagara

Fort Erie — Niagara's Chinatown

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I have a cold.

Ugh.

Sniffles. Sneezes. Nostrils rubbed red from Kleenex and the odd act of desperation — a paper towel.

This is where the young and the hip say TMI. But after the amount of garlic I've eaten in the past couple of days, I should have enough cold-fighting antibacterial properties flowing through me to fend off bugs for the next decade. And I'm certain that if I could smell anything at all, I probably couldn't stand to be around myself.

The reason: my stir-fried broccoli and tofu that I had for supper Thursday night and the leftovers for lunch Friday. The source: Ming Teh, my favourite Chinese restaurant in all of Niagara.

Once a month, I visit with a family friend in Fort Erie and as an occasional treat, I'll have supper at Ming Teh. It was recommended to me about three years ago after I lamented what seemed like a dearth of really good Chinese food in this area.

Turns out, Fort Erie is a hot bed. Who knew? Right along Niagara Boulevard, where Lake Erie takes on the swagger of the Niagara River, there are three palatial Chinese restaurants next door to each other — Ming Teh, Happy Jack's and Ming Wah. Across the street, there are two more. Garrison Road used to have a strip of Chinese dining spots, too, but I've been told with the rise in popularity of Thai food and sushi over the years, it became tough to compete, so they shuttered.

Still, Ming Teh, and I've heard Happy Jack's, are staples. Tried and true. Been there for decades and have a staying power most in the restaurant business would probably envy. The owner and wait staff have remembered me from my first visit three years ago — and there was a good lull between my first time at a Ming Teh table and my followup visit. I'm always asked how life is at the paper and thanked for making the drive from St. Catharines. I'm sure, aside from the food, that's the reason they're still doing what they do.

Over the delicious smells, the Western New York accents waft. A big part of that strip's business comes from just across the Peace Bridge. Ming Teh, it seems, has even been claimed as one of Buffalo's own. The plaque behind the cash register proclaims it best Chinese food in that corner of New York State, according to a reader survey done by one of the local magazines.

Every time I roll up to Ming Teh, I always wonder why — and how — so many Chinese restaurants co-exist together and in Fort Erie of all places. Other than a seedy bar and a strip joint bracketing this micro-Chinatown, there's not much else around and yet, this is the place to come for so many Western New Yorkers. (Even if you don't have another reason to go to Fort Erie, going for the Chinese food is incentive enough to put up with customs or the QEW if you're coming from the other direction).

I asked Thursday and didn't get much insight to my questions. It just is what it is apparently, though Fort Erie has always been an immigrant hub and the first stop for many new Canadians before they are drawn to cities with larger or more diverse ethnic communities, like Hamilton and Toronto.

But as you eat your meal, (I recommend the hot and sour soup and the new pa po chai washed down with a cup of jasmine tea), staring out at the nimble Niagara and the lights of Buffalo, it feels like an escape, like a complete change of scenery for this St. Cathariner.

Too bad I couldn't escape the cold.

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