MONTREAL – Feigang Fei doesn’t like to boast about the orange meat at his restaurant in downtown Montreal. In fact, he doesn’t like it very much.
“Compared to our General Tao Chicken, this is not so good,” says the description on the online menu of his restaurant Cuisine AuntDai under a glossy photo of the fried beef. “Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of North American Chinese food and it’s your call.”
He is no longer enthusiastic about the braised pork belly. “This is a very popular dish with customers who don’t care about fat,” says the menu.
And Mr. Fei warns against ordering a cold dish called Delicious Chicken, which is made with diced chicken, vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn sauce. “We’re not 100% satisfied with the taste now and it will get better very soon,” advises the menu before quickly adding: “PS: I’m surprised that some customers still order this plate.”
In the past, Mr. Fei’s relentless openness has got him into trouble. When he worked in information technology and told his colleagues that their computer networks were not that good, he was advised to be more diplomatic.
But since an admiring customer posted AuntDai’s menu on Twitter on Jan. 10 and praised its “extremely honest” owner, he’s been barely keeping up with the demand for his take-away meals.
Most recently, the tweet had more than 75,000 “likes” while Mr. Fei, who immigrated to Montreal from China 14 years ago, has conducted print and video interviews with media outlets in the UK, Germany, Israel and Australia, as well as Canada and the United States States.
“If I’m asked about something I’m ashamed of, I will avoid answering instead of lying,” said 42-year-old Fei on a FaceTime call from his humble restaurant, often peppering his sentences with “ump” To tell you the truth “. ”
Kim Belair, a Montreal video game writer who posted the original tweet, said Mr. Fei’s self-deprecating menu had resonated with people who were stuck in the pandemic at home and felt inadequate.
“It’s so refreshing when we all have problems and Fei’s menu says,” Hey, we do our best, we try and sometimes we don’t, “she said.” A lot of us feel that way these days. “TanteDais Paprika with beef was a must take away for her and her friend, a cook.
Before its menu became known, TanteDai, like many restaurants around the world, was bleeding money. Montreal is closed and eating on site is prohibited. Even before the pandemic, Mr. Fei recalled, he worked 16-hour days and juggled two jobs to support his wife Ying and their 11-year-old daughter Allison. He owned three restaurants in Montreal, the first of which was destroyed by fire. He was fired from his IT job after the coronavirus hit Canada last year.
However, takeaway orders have been so brisk since the big tweet that Mr. Fei, who isn’t particularly fond of cooking, spends his days helping AuntDai’s chef cut vegetables when he’s not monitoring his busy Twitter feed. “I’ve overcome a lot,” he said.
In addition to his disarming openness, Mr. Fei’s menu tells the story of his life.
The beef and potato stew was “one of my favorites at the university,” he explains in the description – although he added over the phone that he “honestly isn’t that big of a fan of the restaurant version” and preferred the rendition spotted in the Tianjin cafeteria University when he was a college student dating his future wife.
Mr. Fei grew up in an impoverished family in a rural area of Jiangsu Province where his parents are farmers. He was the first in his village to go to university, an event that the community celebrated with fireworks.
“I grew up happy with very little,” he said. “So I don’t feel like exaggerating or showing off,” he said.
The menu description of AuntDai’s humble house salad poses identity problems. “The Chinese name of this dish is” tiger vegetables, “” they say. “I don’t know why it’s called that. Many Chinese know this dish, but I don’t. Maybe I’m not that Chinese. “
One of the main themes on the menu is Mr. Fei’s skepticism about North American-style Chinese food, which he finds tasty and excessive when roasted. But he admitted that North American fast food is one of his guilty joys, including poutine, the Quebec-based French fry, curd, and gravy dish.
The directness of the menu, he said, should appeal to the squeamish, spice-phobic palates of some Canadians. The description of the hot and sour soup warns: “Spicy and tasty, no meat, drink slowly to avoid hiccups.”
Mr Fei said he put the menu together a few years ago out of frustration with customers who returned dishes because they were too spicy or “not what they expected”.
He named the restaurant after a friend’s mother, a 60-year-old housewife who taught him how to make Thousand Layer Bo Bing, which he called “a type of Chinese pancake.” “I couldn’t believe how good it was,” he said, “and she taught me that it is better to do something good and simple.” Show stoppers like Peking Duck, he said, are intentionally missing from his menu.
He may have learned some diplomacy along the way. When asked why he doesn’t remove menu items he doesn’t like, he said he didn’t want to offend his chef, Jianqi Gao. “I try to make improvements over time so he doesn’t snap,” said Fei.
Mr. Gao’s English is limited and he hasn’t read the online menu, but he said, “It’s good to be honest. Nobody should be boastful. “
When Mr. Fei compliments a dish, customers notice.
“You almost want to smell the delicious, hot air over this beautiful dish,” he writes with rare breathlessness about the braised pork belly with sweet potato, one of his bestsellers. “It’s very fat,” he hurried to add on the phone.
Customers often ask Mr. Fei what to order, a question that can surprise a man with a natural tendency to under-sell. Just don’t ask him about the beef with satay sauce.
“I still haven’t got a chance to try it,” he writes on the menu. “Looks like I should spend more time in my own restaurant.”