DaiLo’s Nick Liu brings nostalgia to new Asian cuisine for Chinese New Year

For Chef Nick Liu, this has been an emotional week. He celebrated the indoor dining revival and Chinese New Year in a single evening – greeting the occasion with crispy pastrami spring rolls and tom yum custard.

“I’m a little speechless about this,” said Liu, the owner of DaiLo at College and Bathurst streets.

These mature emotions are at the forefront of his approach to cooking. When Liu set out to create his New Year’s menu for February 1, he extracted and infused his dishes with childhood memories.

Growing up in Scarborough, Liu’s parents – his mother, Chinese-South African and his father, Chinese-Indian – steamed fortune cakes and dipped them in salted butter at this time of year.

Now these cakes are a Chinese New Year dessert at DaiLo.

Although Liu’s approach is slightly higher and involves spraying the batter into muffin tins before steaming the cakes and topping them with a haskap glaze with salted brown butter, the essence of flat remains.

“At DaiLo, the whole menu is based on a dish I had when I was a kid,” Liu said.

Dai LoThe restaurant’s daily menu is also built on nostalgia. While some customers expect DaiLo’s new Asian cuisine to be all the rage, Liu said when they tasted his crispy octopus tacos – as a kid he only ate braised red pork belly and rice for years – or his fried watermelon – inspired by an uncle that’s since passed – they realize that his dishes are deeply traditional.

“You can create emotions through food,” Liu said. “That’s one of the most important things.”

No dish embodies this feeling better than her family’s dumplings, which Liu learned to make at her grandparents’ house when she was four years old.

Upstairs, he filled dumplings while watching “The Young and the Restless” with his grandmother. Downstairs, he made dough with his grandfather, who automated their rolling pin by attaching a lawnmower to it.

Back then, making dumplings was like doing homework for Liu. “I didn’t expect them to be anything special,” he said. But decades later, he continues to fill and roll the dough.

“I think when you’re doing all these things at such a young age, you don’t really realize what kind of impact they’re going to have,” Liu said.

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