The Green Onion Cake Man
no website, no phone
no delivery service (take-out counter at the restaurant)
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed Monday and Tuesday)
Green Onion Cakes: 4.5 of 5 Suns
Rest of Food: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
Dinner for two excluding tip, taxes or beverages: Basic, $15; loaded $25
This is not about going to a restaurant.
It’s a pilgrimage to a shrine. Not to the Green Onion Cake Man eatery itself. Heck, it’s only four months away from its first anniversary!!
No, the bricks and mortar are not the attraction. It’s to see, live, in person, flipping those green onion cakes, a human Edmonton shrine … the one and only Green Onion Cake Man himself!
By conventional standards, Siu To should be long retired. After all, he is 78.
He did retire. He and his wife moved to Vancouver. But after three years, Siu was restless and bored. They returned home.
Siu decided to become Edmonton’s “official” Green Onion Cake Man. “My wife doesn’t care where we live,” he says. “She’s always travelling to visit our children and grandchildren. I decided to open this restaurant, to keep making green onion cakes.”
Those green onion cakes: A common northern Chinese staple, Siu started making them ages ago, as a side attraction at his long-standing Happy Garden Restaurant. The onion cakes became the stuff of legends on the festival food circuit. Festival-goers would patiently line up for 20 to 30 minutes at Siu’s food kiosk for his hot-off-the-griddle, made-from-scratch green onion cakes.
Siu opened several more restaurants – Mongolian Food Experience being the best remembered – but green onion cakes were always his calling card. “Once our kids moved away, we didn’t have the staff to make green onion cakes at the festivals, so we left the festival circuit.”
Siu had semi-retired before his move to Vancouver. He still had a small commercial kitchen, making frozen green onion cakes sold in select stores around town. Most of the time he was experimenting with a golf putter of his own invention … which he still swears will turn the golf world on its head.
Meanwhile, green onion cakes took on an Edmonton identity of their own. Other festival vendors started selling them, essentially cashing in on Siu’s reputation. But imitations are imitations, nowhere close in taste, texture and freshness to the Siu version.
A few months after his return, last fall, he decided to take full advantage of his unexpected, but enduring reputation by opening The Green Onion Cake Man restaurant up on 118 Avenue and 93 Street, in a cute little 20-seat restaurant.
Always mischievous with a fine sense of humour, Siu has just had his white hair, always tied back in a small ponytail, green-streaked. If you’re making green onion cakes, he reasons, be the green onion cake.
It’s more of a hobby than a job for Siu, being open five days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. He’s certainly not in it for the money – his pancake-sized signature green onion cakes sell for only $4 each, with an accompanying bowl of sweet ‘n’ sour soup a mere $3. The Green Onion Cake Man has little-if-any social media, no website, no phone, no delivery service – though his take-out counter is always busy.
The onion cakes are definitely THE attraction – hot, steaming, crispy-fried, soft, the green onions sprinkled through the dough providing some kind of magic that only Siu’s green onion cakes have.
The rest of the food offerings are middle-of-the-pack, still representing great value. Siu’s pork dumplings are good but not great, but 20 dumplings for $8 is tough to beat. The hot ‘n’ sour soup is good for the soul and warming on a cool early spring day … but pretty well the same corn-starch thickened base as every other hot ‘n’ sour soup. The spring rolls, not too big, not too small, are good but standard. The Szechuan beef pieces come with a nice saffron-rice variation, but otherwise are routine.
No, it’s the green onion cakes and Siu the Green Onion Cake Man himself who are the attractions here. The onion cakes are great, the rest fair-to-good. It’s the ambience and fun of bantering with Siu that makes a visit to the Green Onion Cake Man a necessity.
As for green onion cakes being the “official food” of Edmonton, it’s a no go. Only Siu has made consistently great green onion cakes. And the official food of Edmonton should be Ukrainian sausage and perogies – with a huge history, many excellent brands, and the famous Uncle Ed’s restaurant 40 blocks east of The Green Onion Cake Man on 118th.