Asian Legend owner Michael Wang grew up in the restaurant business. “I never had the experience of eating at home in my own kitchen,” he says. "Growing up, my house was a restaurant. We lived upstairs because in Taiwan the home and the restaurant were always one piece.”
Michael's parents owned a restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, but after immigrating to Toronto in 1987, they realized there weren't a lot of Chinese food options in the city at the time, especially not the authentic northern Chinese cuisine the Wangs specialized in. “We served fried dumplings, chopped beef noodle soup and soup-filled dumplings, and at the time, most Chinese food in Toronto was cantonese-style – sweet and sour pork, vegetables in oyster sauce, stewed beef. But in Northern China it snows, just like in Canada, so there are a lot of good resources already here used to make Northern Chinese dim sum,” says Michael.
So, in 1988, the Wangs opened a small take-out place on the second floor at 526 Dundas Street West called Wey Shiang Tsuen, but this was hard for Canadians to pronounce. “Wey Siang sounds Asian and we serve authentic cuisine that we keep traditional, so it's a legend – an 'Asian Legend.'”
Since Michael took over from his parents in 1998, that legend has grown. Not only has Asian Legend expanded to eight locations across Ontario, but Michael says word-of-mouth means it's the first place family members take new arrivals from Hong Kong as soon as they leave the airport. “Our Asian customers like us because our flavours are always consistent and don't go up and down like a roller coaster,” says Michael.
He is very proud because those same standards for cleanliness, service and taste that his father instilled in him as he grew up and learned the business are still there after 30 years. “My parents made sure I mastered their techniques and skills," says Michael. "I've been cooking most of my life and I still make appearances in the kitchen to this day because you need to keep practising and maintaining. You can't just walk away - that will fail.”
These days Toronto has many more restaurants specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine as more and more talented chefs have immigrated to the city, so Asian Legend is always looking for ways to remain cutting edge. “I go to Taiwan and China at least once a year,” says Michael. “I make sure our cuisine isn't so far away from them. We're far away from a lot of the ingredients they have, but Toronto is a very advanced city, so we always see if we can do something similar.”
Michael's latest innovation is a way for his customers to bring Asian Legend home with them: their soup dumplings are available frozen at Toronto's T &T Supermarket. “I like to eat," says Michael, "so I was thinking I could bring our good food to customers in a different way – not just in the restaurant, but one day if they're busy they can buy it in a grocery store, stick it in the microwave and have almost the same dining experience as they would at our restaurants.” And, if it's the restaurant experience you're itching for, you can stop by the Dundas Street location and have that too.