Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Travelling to Eat: The Great Wall Restaurant & Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (but no lobster…)

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – J.R.R. Tolkien

Photo: KunjanShah, Flickr ccl
A long time ago in a land far away…. Well, not a land far away, but it seems that way. There was a new restaurant close to where I went to Art College called The Great Wall. Chinese food par excellence, and affordable too. But that was the late 1980s...

Mu Shu Pork is great. I should post a recipe for this...
Photo: icefire2005, Flickr ccl
The Great Wall at that time was in an "interesting" place. You had to walk down a long hall which wound its way behind a well frequented "shooter" bar. The restaurant was situated against a wall that was common with that of the bar's band. 

So if you waited too long to go to eat, the music was so loud you couldn't hear yourself think. That happened to us more than once. The band usually went on at 9pm and we often were at College working on assignments until then.

The restaurant had many great dishes: Hot and Sour Soup, Mu Shu Pork, Szechuan Beef (fantastic), and my other favourite, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. 

After awhile the restaurant did end up moving and now is in a much quieter spot close to the Halifax waterfront. I can't remember the name of the bar. I'll let you speculate why…

The Great Wall. 1649 Bedford Row, Halifax, NS
The Great Wall still has among the best Chinese food in the city, but their Szechuan Beef is no longer the same. It was "dry fried" and absolutely amazing. We always ordered the shrimp and beef dishes together.

I think there must have been some sort of falling out with the Chef and he went elsewhere. It was our loss, as his Szechuan Beef recipe appears to have gone with him. 

The proprietor always remembers us, even if we haven't been there for months. I still recommend them strongly if you find yourself in Halifax. They're on Bedford Row in the Historic Properties area. The restaurant web site is http://www.thegreatwall.ca/. They have a great takeout menu (see image for one side of it).

They still serve the same Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. The dish is a Cantonese specialty, and contrary to its name does not contain any lobster. It is in a sauce that is alternatively served WITH lobster. Ergo the name.

As soon as you see a Cantonese section on a menu you should realize that those dishes are not spicy. Szechuan means fiery hot (usually); Cantonese signifies mild, flavourful and usually with a sauce. This dish has garlic, ginger, ground pork and chinese cooking wine for its main flavours. So you can understand it has complexity, not fiery heat of any kind.

I have been making this at home for several years. It's quite easy on the skill level. It is also so close to what we order at the restaurant it is a bit scary. It's a fast and delicious meal, to be sure. 

Some recipes include 1 tbsp of mashed fermented black beans. Feel free to do so. Stir fry them at the same time as you do the ginger and garlic. It adds a nice flavour boost and a little more complexity. 

Also, don't cheap out on your sherry. You don't have to love a glass of it, but if it's not good enough to drink, it's not good enough to cook with.

As in most Chinese cooking, the Lion's share of time is in prep work and the cooking goes very quickly. So have everything chopped and at hand when you start.

Recipe: Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
Prep: 15 mins  |  Cook: 10 mins  |  Serves 4

I didn't have any green onions... You'll have to pretend.
2 tsp corn starch
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp fermented black beans, mashed (optional)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 lb ground pork
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1-1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine (or 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp sherry)
1 egg, beaten
green onions, for garnish

Combine the 2 tsp of cornstarch with the sherry in a bowl. Add the shrimp and toss well to coat. Set aside.

Heat the sesame oil on a wok. When hot add the garlic and ginger (and black beans if using). Fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the pork and stir fry until no longer pink.

Pour the chicken stock into the pan and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Combine the 2 tbsp of cornstarch with the cooking wine.

After 5 minutes, add in the shrimp and toss well. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and mix well. Allow to cook until the shrimp are just pink. Don't overcook.

Slowly pour in the beaten egg in a thin stream, stirring constantly to break up into strands.

Serve immediately with steamed Jasmine rice, with chopped green onions for garnish.


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  1. The bar was called Scoundrels. And I have eatten at The Great Wall and it is consistently excellent and service wonderful(Patric still remembers my whole family as well, even after we moved away in '03) and that is why I continue to go. I have Not noticed a change in the Spicy Ginger Beef in the 20 years I have been going. It, along with the Mu Shu Pork ,is my all time favourite. Patrick gave me his Hot and Sour Soup recipe about 15 years ago and I still love it today. Now I am trying to get my hands on his Mu Shu Pork recipe. This sucks, I live in Saint John now and am craving The Great Wall....grrr.

  2. Actually the dish I'm referring to was called Szechuan Beef, not Spicy Ginger Beef. It's not quite as dry as I remember. But I do agree about the owner, service, et al. He always says hello whenever he sees us, and asks about our dog too.