A Chinese-Jamaican Culinary Connection: Patois Toronto

Words by Sandi L.

Toronto is the epicenter of multiculturalism in Canada with a plethora of culturally-diverse restaurants at its disposal. That is one of the best parts of living in such a multicultural city, as it gives one access to an endless array of different cuisine. Without Toronto’s diverse community, I would not have had the opportunity to experience Jamaican-Chinese cooking from Patois. Patois is a small yet vibrant restaurant on Dundas West serving up a mix of Jamaican-Chinese dishes. The restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Craig Wong, a Chinese-Jamaican whose family lived in Jamaica for three generations before immigrating to Canada.

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Jamaican-Chinese cuisine may be new to Torontonians. However, it has been integrated into Jamaican culture since the mid-19th century when an influx of Chinese migrants made Jamaica their home.

The two cultures actually infuse perfectly, as there are many ingredients, cooking methods, flavours and spices that are commonly used between the two cultures. The menu at Patois features items such as the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Chowmein, Dirty Fried Rice, and Chinese “Pineapple” Bun Burger, which combines, and complements the two cultures.

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Most of the items that I tried were well executed in terms of bold flavors like the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Chowmein, which is a hybrid dish that mixes crispy chowmein with well-spiced jerk chicken. One of my favorite dishes of the night was the staple and popular Jamaican Patty Double Down, as I liked the flakiness of the beef patties. However, I found the Chinese “Pineapple” Bun Burger to be an acquired taste as it offers both a sweet and savory flavour profile, which may please some people while being unsettling for others. The use of certain spices is a central component of many of the dishes found at Patois. Many of Wong’s dishes incorporate plenty of different ingredients and sauces to create a perfect blend of flavor. Additionally, the menu isn’t solely focused on Jamaican-Chinese cuisine. He also integrates several Asian flavors into some of the dishes such as the Kimchi Potstickers “Pierogi” Style ($12), and O.G. Fried Cauliflower & Watermelon Pickle ($15).

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Besides the food, the restaurant interior also draws on Wong’s roots, as it emulates a Caribbean-style beach house with a mixture of Asian influences. The walls are adorned with Jamaican tropical prints and imageries, while the light fixtures reminscent of Chinese lanterns. Overall, the décor shows a combination of the two cultures. There is a delicate balance of both Chinese and Jamaican influences, and everything is carefully well thought out in terms of the placement of the decor in the restaurant.

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While Toronto is known as a multicultural city, it also holds the stigma of being a cultural melting pot. This may make it difficult for people to express their cultural identity and tradition. Therefore, many people use food as a means of sharing their culture with the rest of the world. I find that food and culture pretty much go hand- in-hand as the ingredients or even the cooking methods, can be used to showcase the chef’s roots and history. With that being said, Craig Wong’s restaurant gives people the opportunity to experience his culture firsthand, and provide patrons with a more fundamental understanding of the history behind the Chinese-Jamaican connection.

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Patois is open Tuesday to Sunday 5-11pm (closed Monday) at 794 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1V1.