CLOSED: Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant 法海素食軒 (Markham)

Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 7131 Kennedy Road, Unit 8 (located in Market Village)
Type of Meal: Dinner

Sometimes vegetarian cuisine can be sort of bland and too heavily weighted with vegetables and tasteless tofu. Enter East Asian Buddhist cuisine which is packed with flavour and has even evolved to offer a variety of mock meats. These imitations are sometimes made from bean curd sheets but more often wheat gluten. Its texture resembles meat closer as it can be made to become chewy and even stringy to rip apart. Once flavoured with sauces, seasoning or artificial tastes, they can look and sometimes even taste fairly close to the real thing.

Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant has been around for many years and one of the better East Asian Buddhist restaurants in the GTA. Their menu offers the traditional items as well as everything else in between. One tried and true favourite is the assorted gluten platter ($7 for small and $11 for medium; medium pictured below). Graceful’s has so many things! Aside from the typical curry flavoured and sweet & sour flavoured oil fried gluten, there’s also mock BBQ pork, fried tofu, mock intestine (essentially a deep fried tube of soy bean sheets),kao fu (a baked spongy gluten which is soaked in a sweet soy mixture) and some other items. If you want to try all that flavours and textures that gluten can offer this is the dish for you.

The pan fried bean curd sheet rolls ($3.50 for small and $6.50 for medium; two mediums pictured) is one of the must have dishes when visiting. A great alternative to spring rolls, the filling is comprised of chopped vegetables, mushrooms and water chestnuts all wrapped in bean curd sheets and pan fried until they are crispy on the outside and piping hot inside. Served with Worcestershire sauce, to cool it down and enrich its flavour, they can be sometimes be found during dim sum but freshly made ones at vegetarian restaurants are so much better.

Although they are a bit oily for my tastes, the deep fried wonton with sweet & sour sauce ($9.50) can be a crowd favourite – especially amongst children. Unlike the soup based wontons, there is no shrimp or pork filling inside; rather they are simply deep fried wrappers. Served with a side of sweet & sour sauce, Graceful’s contains wedges of pineapple, bell peppers and slices of mock chicken and squid.

A healthier option is the steamed soya sheet wrapped chopped vegetables ($16.99). The thin tender soy bean sheet cocoons finely chopped vegetables creating a cushion, which is then topped with fat choy (a dried Chinese desert vegetable which is rehydrated and cooked in an oyster sauce) and sits on boiled broccoli. The dish has a nice combination of textures and flavours and certainly provides an adequate serving of vegetables.

The assorted low-han style vegetables ($11.99) is a popular dish that could also be called Buddha’s delight. Essentially a mix of items, every restaurant customizes their ingredients with Graceful’s having yu choy, bean sprouts, baby corn, black & white fungus, water chestnuts, carrots and assorted mushrooms. Cooked in a thick soy sauce it’s a simple but decent dish.

Next came the deep fried taro fish with sweet and sour sauce ($10.99). Inside the light crispy crust is a thick taro (root vegetable) which has been molded into the shape of fish. By itself it can taste pretty bland, but with the addition of sweet and sour sauce it becomes more flavourable. As a warning, this dish should be ordered amongst large groups as even a small piece can be quite heavy and filling.

The spicy eggplant with mock minced beef in hot pot ($10.99) is a great combination of spicy, sweet and sour flavours … a bit like a thick sweet and sour soup broth. Asian eggplants, which are less seedy and not as spongy as the regular variety, is quickly fried and then stewed in this spicy savoury sauce.

Last to arrive were the rice and noodle dishes. So, if you prefer to eat your carbs with other dishes than consider asking the waiter to change the cooking order. The Fukin mushroom egg fried rice ($15.99) may sound like a swear word but is actually a city in China. Although not as popular as the Yueng Chow fried rice, it is nonetheless offered at many places. The base is a simple egg fried rice, but then a thick savoury sauce is added on top and filled with various ingredients. Another one of my favourites, Graceful’s doesn’t disappointment containing mock sausage which actually tasted extremely close to BBQ pork.

Another popular but oily dish is the Cantonese style egg crispy noodle ($14.99); it’s the one to order to taste and see mock meats in their entirety. Containing chicken, BBQ pork, squid and shrimp (along with black mushroom and vegetables) there’s almost all the imitation items you can think of. Esthetically, it looks much like what is found at non-vegetarian restaurants, although the toppings have a softer texture compared to the real thing.

The braised vermicelli and bean thread noodle in satay sauce ($12.99) has a great aroma from the sauce. Even though it’s a relatively simple dish, with some finely chopped peppers and bean sprouts, it’s tasty and flavourful. I enjoyed the addition of the bean thread noodles (which has an almost elastic texture) mixed with the softer vermicelli that soaks up the liquid. Despite being described as “braised” the noodles are actually dry and not saucy at all.

Lastly, came the fried rice noodle with mock beef in XO hot sauce ($12.99), which was very delicious and my favourite carb dishes for the night. The noodles are stir fried quickly so they retain an al dante bite, but still soft and chewy. Admittedly, the sauce doesn’t have the richness of real XO sauce (typically contains dried scallops and shrimp) but is a good substitute and has a nice amount of heat to it.

After reading this, I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and be vegetarian for a meal. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sacrifice taste and choices; as you can see East Asian Buddhist cuisine has many delicious items to offer.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!