Beef Udon ($10)

Green Grotto Tea Room – Markham

Genre: Taiwanese, Chinese

Price Range: $5-15 (Lunch only – hours are 12pm to 5pm)

Rating: 8/10

Green Grotto Tea Room is a great place to catch up with friends or study. I arrived at 12pm on Canada Day and it was still open, though I was the first customer. My guest was 30 minutes late due to traffic so I was thankful there was free wifi and a free bowl of popcorn!

Green Grotto’s newest Markham location is conveniently located within a plaza with T&T and Shoppers Drug Mart nearby. The most noticeable thing when walking in is a tree in the middle of the cafe setting. There are shelves of magazines and dark wood decor, making the inside feel very zen-like. Even their menu looked like a magazine!

Mango Slush ($5)
Mango Slush ($5)

Since Green Grotto is more well-known for their drinks, my friend got a Mango Slush (~$5) and it was pretty good. The mango flavour is quite strong and he couldn’t even finish it.

This place also has Formosa, which I’ve only tried in China because I never saw it here before. I’m not too sure what exactly goes in Formosa (because it varies) but it’s a dessert that has flavored shaved ice, assorted boba, red bean, sometimes peanuts, all mixed in.

I was very impressed with the lunches here. Although I didn’t get the lunch discount (because it was a public holiday), the regular lunch was pretty cheap and the quantities were huge. I think with the regular day discount, for $9, you can get a milk tea with your lunch combo.

Black Pepper Chicken ($9)
Black Pepper Chicken ($9)

I ordered the Black Pepper Chicken ($9) and it was crispy and not too salty. The bowl of rice was huge and it came with a couple of sides which included gai-lan, daikon, bamboo shoots and a triangular tofu. I was stuffed by the end of it.

Beef Udon ($10)
Beef Udon ($11)

My friend ordered the Beef Udon ($11) – according to the menu, this was the most popular lunch menu item. I didn’t try any, but it was big enough that he couldn’t finish it all. The side was some sort of pickled vegetable.

I would definitely come back to this place because of the wide selection of Asian desserts and affordable food. Hopefully I can try some more next time!

- Akira S. Zhou
Green Grotto Tea Room on Urbanspoon

The Med Backpack Unveil!

Amongst all Canadian medical schools (except Ottawa), free backpacks are given out to students every year as a tradition to welcome the incoming class. With last year’s med backpack colour being bright orange, the med backpack tradition is one way to recognize other med students no matter what province you’re from. Not only that, just as Calgary medical students have a “class animal”, the class backpack colour is something that ends up defining that class.

For my year (class of 2018), I found out this morning that it’ll be lime green! I thought it would be turquoise because that was what a lot of people voted for, but I think the colour has grown on me. What do you think?

2018 Med backpack



Genre: Japanese

Price: $15 Lunch (Summerlicious)

Rating: 8/10

Given the chance to try a high-end restaurant at lower prices, my friends and I went to  Momofuku Noodle Bar for Summerlicious. There was a prix fixe menu with appetizers, main course, and dessert. Going with a bigger group, I was able to try more of the items.

Summerlicious menu
Summerlicious menu

Out of the appetizers, my friends got the Salmon Crudo and I got the Inari. These come in small portions – they are appetizers after all – but I enjoyed the Inari more because I felt the Salmon Crudo was basically just raw salmon.

Salmon Crudo: habanero, green papaya, nori
Salmon Crudo: habanero, green papaya, nori

On the other hand, the Inari was a fried tofu skin wrapped around a handful of rice that tasted like kimchi – it was slightly spicy. On the top, there was mayo and urikake, which gave this appetizer a rich flavour.  Having some melted swiss cheese on top was a nice touch.

Inari: urikake, kewpie, swiss
Inari: urikake, kewpie, swiss

We also got the Chunjang Noodle which came with this black bean sauce and egg that you mix together with the noodles. This was probably my favourite item on the menu because the sauce was very savoury and the ingredients were fresh.

Chunjang Noodle: black bean, smoked tofu
Chunjang Noodle: black bean, smoked tofu

I was thirsty so I got the Summer Ramen and I enjoyed the soup with the sweet corn. The flavours weren’t overbearing and I found this ramen refreshing and filling. The noodles were also chewy and I liked the salad on top, it tasted very fresh.

Summer Ramen: sweet corn, sunflower hozon, smoked egg
Summer Ramen: sweet corn, sunflower hozon (the paste to make the soup)

For dessert, there were 3 kinds of truffle: Strawberry Lemon Cake, Birthday Cake, and German Chocolate. The truffle was quite small but I found it tasted pretty good, not too sticky and crumbly. I tried the Birthday Cake, though the Strawberry was popular among my friends.

Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle
Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffle

I would definitely come back here again. I have read a lot of reviews about the portions being too small for the price, but part of what you’re paying for is the beautiful setting and the creativity that goes into the ingredients of your dish.

I have also received a recommendation for the Cereal Milk Ice Cream. I hope to try that next time!

- Akira Stephanie Zhou

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Bhalla Chaat Papri with Pani Puri at back

The Host Fine Indian Cuisine

Genre: Indian

Price: $14.50 lunch buffet

Rating: 8/10

When my grandparents came to visit, my mom suggested we go to The Host after having gone for the dinner buffet before. We went to the Richmond Hill location, conveniently situated in a Sheraton hotel with lots of parking and a shopping centre attached.

I don’t eat Indian food that much, so this would probably be the third Indian buffet I’ve been to. I’ll try my best to give a helpful review of this restaurant compared to the others I’ve eaten at.

So, for my first plate…

CCW from the Tandoori Chicken:
CCW from the Tandoori Chicken: Bhindi Amchuri (okra), papadum with mint yogurt sauce, samosa with tamarind sauce, potato wedges with tamarind sauce, Kaju Matar Paneer (looks like tofu), Amritsari Choley (with chickpeas). Back: Rice cakes with lentil sauce


 This restaurant definitely has the most plentiful selection of curries compared to other places I’ve been. This was probably my first time seeing rice cakes and the crispy Papadum at an Indian buffet before.

CW from the butter chicken
CW from the butter chicken/ Murgh Makhni: Lamb Roganjosh, more tamarind sauce, and Dhabe da Meat (goat).

On the website, the Butter Chicken/ Murgh Makhni is considered award winning and I thought it was quite good. The sauce had a strong tomato taste and the chicken wasn’t too dry. I ate this with the Naan, though I thought that the Naan here wasn’t as soft as the kind I tried in Vancouver because it was sitting at the buffet for a while after it was freshly made.

Assorted Salad Platter
Assorted Salad Platter with Rice Pudding and Mumbai Bhel Puri in the back. There is a refreshing cucumber yogurt sauce in the centre.

One thing I would definitely recommend getting seconds is the Rice Pudding. I think they add rose water to it which gives the milk a very distinct, fragrant taste. There are also raisins and pistachios inside. This would be my favourite dessert.

Bhalla Chaat Papri with Pani Puri at back
Bhalla Chaat Papri with Pani Puri at back

Standing in the back corner of the buffet are two cooks who made these appetizers in front of you. This was my first time trying Bhalla Chaat Papri, which tasted like biscuits covered in tamarind, mint, and yogurt sauce. I liked this more than the Pani Puri, which were these thin crispy, hollow bulb-shaped snacks that had beans and chickpeas inside, and were soaked in mint water. The taste was certainly interesting, I’m not quite sure if it was good or bad, but I would definitely recommend you to try these Indian street eats for yourself!

Desserts: Gulab Jamun (the ball), Jalebi (spiral), rice pudding, and mango custard
Desserts: Gulab Jamun (the ball), Jalebi (spiral), rice pudding, and mango custard with fruit inside.

Alongside my second or third bowl of rice pudding, I also ate more than one Gulab Jamun. I’ve tried these popular Indian desserts at other restaurants before and they are really sweet but delicious. Gulab Jamun  is a dumpling made from curdled milk and deep-fried, then soaked in some sweet syrup water.

The Jalebi was prepared on the spot by another chef in the corner and I watched him squeeze batter into spiral shapes in a pan filled with oil. When taken out, he placed them in sugar or honey water. I was surprised to learn that these were an Indian dessert too because my Iranian friend had brought a box of these at the end of Ramadan (they are called Zulbia in Iran). These tasted chewy and really sweet as well.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience very much here. While eating, I had no idea how to pronounce anything and I was trying a lot of things for the first time, so writing this blog post led me to search up what all the menu items were and research their origins. The selection of Indian food offered by The Host was not only gastronomically pleasing, but gave me a lesson on culture as well!

Until next time,

Akira S. Zhou

The Host Fine Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Bulgogi ($9.95)

Niji and Convocation!

Genre: Korean, Japanese

Price Range: $10-20 (lunch)

Rating: 7/10

It was my convocation today and right before the ceremony, my parents and I decided to stop by somewhere within walking distance of Queen’s for lunch. Since it was 11:30, when Niji opened, we were the first ones there.

Convocation Tickets
Convocation Tickets

Niji is located close to Kame, another Japanese restaurant. Personally, I like Kame more because it’s cheaper and the portions are bigger with nicer presentation in these wooden bowls. However, Kame is a smaller restaurant so there isn’t too much space  to sit. Niji has these window booths, giving us more privacy to eat and talk.

The lunch menu has a good selection because many of the items come with miso soup and salad. My mom ordered the Bulgogi ($9.95) and it came on a hot plate with a bowl of rice. This was really well-marinated and was a good individual serving.

Bulgogi ($9.95)
Bulgogi ($9.95)

My dad ordered the Tempura Udon ($9.95) , which came with a basket of tempura yam, shrimp, and asparagus. Other than noodles and panko, the udon didn’t have anything else in it.

Tempura Udon ($9.95)
Tempura Udon ($9.95)

I think that out of everything we ordered, the Sushi and Tempura ($11.95) was the best value. When my bento arrived, there was so much food, I had to give some to my parents because I couldn’t finish it all.

Sushi and Tempura ($11.95)
Sushi and Tempura ($11.95)

Like any typical bento, the sushi and sashimi weren’t spectacular but it was filling. The salmon sashimi were a little warm and the spicy salmon roll wasn’t that fresh since the nori was very chewy instead of crunchy. The sriracha on top looked like it was sitting there for some time. Otherwise, the yam tempura was delicious!

Looking back, I’ve tConvocationried a lot of restaurants as a student here and this is one of the classic  go-to restaurants for students. It brings back lots of memories to eat in Kingston again but I’m also excited to finally graduate! When we were about to finish eating, I saw a couple of younger friends whom I knew from working in residence. One of my favourite things about going to restaurants near the university is bumping into people you know!

Good bye Kingston!

Akira Steph Zhou

Niji on Urbanspoon

Assorted Sweet Buns ($5.69). Red Bean bun that looks like a peach, Custard/coconut shreads dumpling, egg steamed cake, Taro dessert

Mother’s Dumplings

Genre: Chinese

Price Range: $5-10

Rating: 8/10

I headed to downtown Toronto today to sign my lease and decided to treat my parents to lunch at Mother’s Dumplings after hearing that it was a good place to try. Conveniently located in Chinatown, this place seemed really busy during lunch and we had to line up before getting a table.

The layout of this restaurant is quite eclectic, the front of the restaurant doesn’t match with the back, which resembles a garden sunroom with photographs of flowers crowding the walls. The washroom is also at the back, but there’s always a line because there are only single washrooms. In the middle of the restaurant, you can the chefs making the dumplings by hand.

Much like a dim sum restaurant, you can write your own order on a slip of paper. We mostly ordered the famous dumplings from the front panel of their menu.


The dish we tried from the Boiled Dumplings category was the Chicken and Mushroom ($8.29). This dish I felt tasted the most homemade, since my parents and I make our own dumplings as well. Each dumpling came with a bit of soup inside and tasted very savoury.

Chicken and Mushroom ($8.29)
Chicken and Mushroom ($8.29)

Whenever we make dumplings as a family, my favourite way of cooking them is pan-frying, so I had high expectations of a lightly crispy outside and soft centre. The Pork and Bak Choi Pan Fried Dumping ($7.99) exceeded these expectations. The bottom of the dumpling was crispy and not too oily. I ate this with sriracha and it was delicious.

Shrimp Egg and Chive ($8.69). Background:  Pork and Bak Choi ($7.99)
Shrimp Egg and Chive ($8.69). Background: Pork and Bak Choi ($7.99)

The Shrimp, Egg, and Chive Steamed Dumplings ($8.69) were interesting because the dough was green. The inside had vermicelli, a whole shrimp, and chopped spring onion. I enjoyed this dish because it was so fresh. Usually, when I buy frozen dumplings, I have no idea what they put in the filling and I can’t distinguish the individual ingredients, but for this dish, all the vegetables were bright green and the filling was freshly made. No sketchiness factor here at all – which is quite important to me, especially since I’ve eaten at a lot of sketchy Chinese restaurants before.

If there was anything I wouldn’t recommend, it would be the Assorted Sweet Buns ($5.69). A lot of these buns can be bought relatively cheap – such as 20 custard dumplings with coconut for $1 – at Asian supermarkets. Maybe I’ve eaten these desserts so often, they aren’t that spectacular to me and though Mother’s Dumplings makes their own dumplings, they definitely don’t make this dessert. Out of all of these buns, the best would be the Taro dessert and the worst would be the Egg cake (which tasted kind of like rotten egg and it shouldn’t have that taste).

Assorted Sweet Buns ($5.69). Red Bean bun that looks like a peach, Custard/coconut shreads dumpling, egg steamed cake, Taro dessert
Assorted Sweet Buns ($5.69). Red Bean bun that looks like a peach, Custard/coconut shreads dumpling, egg steamed cake, Taro dessert

Overall, for 3 people, the bill came out to be relatively cheap – about $10 per person. I would definitely come back whenever I’m in Chinatown, and try more of the pan-fried dumplings next time!


Akira S. Zhou
Mother's Dumplings on Urbanspoon


Reflection: Spirited Away and the Canadian Medical Schools Application Process

Recently I’ve received some messages asking me to write a reflection about the overall experience of interviewing at medical schools in Canada. I’ve been thinking about how to write this in an interesting manner for quite some time now, so hopefully you’ll find this fun to read!

*Just as a disclaimer, though having a good GPA and MCAT score is important; for a lot of schools, these factors are minimally considered after an interview. For the purpose of this reflection, I will not be disclosing my grades because I don’t want to perpetuate the belief that ‘high marks=acceptance’ – personality, ability to think and communicate, and how you work with others are all individual factors that can determine whether you get accepted or not, regardless of academic success.

The Beginning: Why am I even doing this?

It was around July-August when I started my application for Canadian medical schools. This was probably one of the most stressful and difficult parts of the process because I was left unsure of myself and whether I deserved to be a doctor. At the time, I worked in a lab with two other medical students, both of whom were highly intelligent and outstanding. Compared to them, I felt inadequate.

"Ohh, your name's Chihiro? What a pretty name! And it belongs to me now!"
“Ohh, your name’s Chihiro? What a pretty name! And it belongs to me now!”

Coming home from work, I never got a chance to relax because I had essays to write and applications to do. Instead of “having a life”, I became applicant 802886.

There was many a time when I felt like I was one applicant out of many – all who wanted to go into medicine for the same reason of “helping others.” However, I think that doing all these essays, though dreadful, helped me really reflect upon why I enjoyed helping others. The process itself also brought me closer to A, one of the medical students in my lab who helped make the process less stressful for me by sharing his expertise. One thing I truly admire about the medical profession is the collegiality and willingness to help one another, which made me want to be a part of it even more.

"Don't be afraid, I just want to help you"
“Don’t be afraid, I just want to help you”
The Post-Application Wait  Extra Work

Fast forward to September-October, I had submitted my application for UBC already and pressed ‘submit application’ on OMSAS (Ontario Medical Schools Application Service) when I got my first post-application scare. One annoying thing about OMSAS is that you don’t know whether your reference letter writers submitted their letters yet until you’ve made the final payment and clicked submit. It was already the deadline date when I submitted everything, yet next to the name of one of my referees, the letter was listed as ‘Not Received’.

spiritedaway stink spirit
Yikes! Does that mean my entire application is voided?!

Luckily, Ontario schools are pretty understanding of the incompetence unreliability of some letter writers and Canada Post, so the written deadline was a soft deadline. My referee did end up re-mailing his letter and it was received 3 days ‘late’, but don’t worry premeds – it will not affect your application at all :)

With OMSAS complete, I was done the bulk of my Canadian school applications. I then moved on to my Calgary and Alberta applications during October and November. These applications were quite similar to UBC, so I copied and pasted a lot of it. One thing that was annoying though were the word limits on autobiographical sketches – OMSAS only gave ~100-140 characters , UBC gave 300 words, Alberta and Calgary gave 150-300 words (I can’t quite remember anymore). I didn’t apply to Eastern Canada and Quebec schools, but I’m sure with so many applications, these little technical requirements are a pain in the neck. Protip: make a massive excel spreadsheet.

Ugghh now I gotta go and do this CASPer
Ugghh now I gotta go and do this CASPer

Oh – and even when everything’s submitted, McMaster makes you do CASPer – it’s like an online Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) but with technical difficulties. For one of my CASPer ‘stations’, the video played and I had no questions appear (commence mini-heart attack).

This stage was probably the longest part of the application process, but I guess I kind of brought it upon myself by applying to WAY too many schools, now that I look back at it.

Interview Invites

I was fortunate to receive interviews quite early because I applied to US schools, so they interviewed me in December. But since we’re on the topic of Canadian interviews, you can read about my US experience here. UBC notified me quite early, maybe in November if I recall correctly, U of T,  McMaster, and Calgary in January, and a bunch of other Ontario schools collectively gave premeds everywhere a heart attack on January 31st. Alberta came the latest, during Reading Week in February.

I remember sitting in class and looking at the front-row keeners constantly checking their emails on January 31st but I guess the good thing about applying to many schools was that I didn’t feel so nervous that day. I already had my U of T interview by then (since they use a rolling interview system and I had the first interview date on January 25th) and Mac, Calgary, and UBC interviews lined up.

Sure there were bouts of anxiety, but for the most part, I was excited. Now I had an excuse to go on a massive roadtrip and try ALL the food each place had to offer!

So many places to go, so much food to try! #foodie#100happydays
So many places to go, so much food to try! #foodie#100happydays
The Interviews
"I get to give Sen one final test"
“I get to give Sen one final test”

With an interview almost every weekend, I felt physically and mentally tired at times – my Circadian rhythms were messed up because of the time zones and my stress levels in a month could be plotted like a sine wave, with the peaks being every weekend. Though I was nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before my first interview, as I experienced every type of interview there is – MPI, MMI, Panel, and MMI+Panel, I became a “seasoned interview veteran,” to quote one of my friends.

Without revealing any interview questions (“Remember Confidentiality!” signs were literally posted everywhere at UBC), I can comment a bit about each interview type and my opinions of them.

MMI: Doors…So Many Doors
Applicant: “So when the bell rings, do I still have to go in even if I’m not ready?” Dr Walker: “Well you can stay outside, but eventually you have to enter…”

MMI was used by the majority of schools I interviewed at and it can get EXTREMELY tiring if it’s like Calgary’s interview – 12 stations with no rest station. A lot of the times, I lost track of which station I was on.

For those that don’t know, how it works is that applicants would stand either back to the door or facing a question that is covered up. When the bell (or for Queen’s – a harp sound) rings, you start reading the prompt and think of what to say. Another bell will ring and you enter the room whether you’re ready or not (because nobody still stands outside). Present your answer to the interviewer and they might ask you prompting questions to gauge your thoughts on particular aspects of the question. 7-8 minutes later, you walk out and repeat the cycle.

Each station can be different – Ethics, Acting, Situational, Group work with other applicants, and WTF stations – like picture interpretation or puzzle solving. Personally, my favourites are Ethics (because it’s pretty easy when you know your Autonomy, Beneficence, and Justice) and Acting (because you can just wing it).

Every premed has their own “MMI Horror Stories” and the best that I heard came from Calgary where an applicant bent down at one of the stations to pick up his water bottle off the floor and his pants ripped at the seams. Since “once you’re in the cycle, you can’t get out of the cycle”, as they say at Calgary, this poor guy had to continue his MMI while med volunteers duct taped his pants together as he read the prompts. Luckily for me, I wore a skirt, but the night before my McMaster interview, I got an eye infection and my eyes were terribly red and puffy, so I went through my interview looking like I had a massive cry the night before.

Panel/ MMI+Panel: So you want to be a doctor?
"I'm not leaving until you give me a job!"
Chihiro: “I’m not leaving until you give me a job!”

Western and uOttawa still use the Panel (or standard) interview format, and Queen’s uses a combined MMI and Panel interview. I personally enjoyed the combined type more because it allowed my personality to show as an applicant, while still assessing my problem-solving skills. All of my panel interviewers were very nice people who cracked jokes with me …if they are mean, they’re probably doing it on purpose to see how you react under pressure ;)

MPI – Multiple Personal Interviews

This was the interview format used solely by U of T, but honestly, it’s exactly like a MMI but with 12 minutes to talk and no prompts taped outside the door.

Though my interview experience is “excessive” to say the least, it was the most incredible journey I have taken in my life. At times, it can be very lonely, travelling to all these places alone and arranging logistics/transportation by yourself with nobody to talk to about your interview (because who wants to talk about a nerve-wracking interview anyways…), being alone in an airport at 2 a.m. waiting for your next flight or in a hotel room far away from your loved ones and support – this, I felt was the biggest emotional toll that interviews had on me.

Where are you, Haku?
Where are you, Haku?

Irrespective of the loneliness, I gained a greater sense of independence and met lots of new people along the way. Sometimes, people with multiple interviews recognized me from a previous interview and approached me. As a foodie, I was delighted to go dining with local med students and my fellow applicants. As I interviewed more, I no longer felt like I was facing a test, but rather an exciting adventure with great food, new friends, and self-growth!

chihiro on train
Sen, No-Face, and Boh travel to see Zeniba
The End

Spirited Away

Since I’ve already written a post about the pre-results wait, I would like to say that though it seems like this whole process was done independently, I had a lot of help getting to where I am today. I would like to thank my parents, and the Haku, Lin, Kamaji, Zeniba, No Face in my life who helped me (you know who you all are).


A. S. Zhou

P.S.: If you haven’t watched Spirited Away or any of Hayao Miyazaki’s films before, you should – they’re amazing :)

Spirited Away






Serendipity & Med Schools Results Day

I just got back from work and I am exhausted but as a scientist, I’m going to write a detailed account of results day so I can remember what the experience was like.

May 13th was the day that decided the rest of my life. For all the premeds who interviewed at Ontario medical schools, this was the day that all the medical schools decided on to give us the results of our hard work. It was a very important day and I was a nervous wreck the night before…

May 12 – 8:00 pm

I was eating dinner with my mom but I didn’t have any appetite. My mom was also giving me the silent treatment because she was upset that I came home late from work. So many things were going through my head – I was thinking about schools in Canada vs. the States, what happens if I got in somewhere I didn’t want to go…etc etc. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anyone just sitting there staring blankly at nothing and then start crying for ‘no apparent reason’, well…this was what happened to me. I was just so overwhelmed with pressure.

May 12 – 9:00-11:00 pm

I didn’t want to do anything work related, so I went on the internet and bought stuff. Then I browsed premed101 for an hour, which actually helped because everybody was nervous. In fact, there were a lot of ‘Is anybody pulling an all-nighter?’ and ‘constantly checking for outstanding fees on SOLUS’ (since Queen’s will display outstanding fees if you get accepted) comments. Then I went on Imgur, I was trying to distract myself so much at the moment!

Right before going to sleep, my friend, A, a medical student at U of T had replied to something I asked him yesterday and we talked for quite a long time. I felt this helped a lot because he offered good viewpoints about practicing in the States. Even though speaking to a med student the night before sounds nonconducive to my anxiety, I really benefited from speaking to someone with experience.

If I didn’t have work the next day, I would have waited until 12am to see if Queen’s SOLUS updated my outstanding fees, but I decided to sleep instead.

May 13 – 7:15 am

After a sleepless night of waking up periodically, I got up at at 7:15 am for work the next day. Checking my email on my phone, there was nothing yet.

May 13 – 8:43 am

My mindlessness this morning made my morning routine slower than usual and I made my mom late for work as she was driving me to the bus station. I felt the day was off to a bad start since my mom was chiding me for making her late. Not to mention, it was cloudy and gloomy.

While busing to work, I read Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I really recommend reading this when you’re anxious about an upcoming test or result day. Chris Hadfield’s work ethic and outlook on approaching challenges is very inspirational.

May 13 – 9:21 / 9:30 am

Arrived at work and sat down at my desk. I wanted to log onto SOLUS but it was blocked at my workplace so I just decided to open my gmail. The first thing I saw was Toronto MD Program – Hard Copy to Follow. I thought wait…hard copy – does this mean I got accepted? Opening the email, I didn’t even have time to read it properly, all I saw was ‘pleased to extend’, ‘offer of admission’, and ‘$1000′. At this very moment, I felt such a wave of relief wash over me. I didn’t even feel happiness or excitement…just an absence of nervousness.

Opening the following emails were so much easier after that. Seeing that I had gotten accepted to all the schools I interviewed at, this was when I began to feel joy. I had practiced for all my interviews as if I was studying for an exam. I went into all my interviews without a ‘top choice school’ in mind because each school was a ‘top choice school’. Sometimes I even neglected my coursework to practice (I even ended up getting a 51 on a midterm because I was preparing for UBC’s interview weekend).

At that moment, I felt proud that I had studied hard and the hard work paid off. I called my dad at home and posted a new status on facebook. I had a meeting at 10 but couldn’t concentrate.

Results day also came with many technical difficulties that I’m sure scared a lot of people. U of T’s original email to me was actually a whole string of letters addressed to different people, and their addresses were included too (breach of confidentiality much?) I actually got nervous again when I re-read my letter and it began with ‘Dear Mason…’ (yeah that’s definitely not my name). Luckily they corrected that and the rightfully addressed acceptance letter was emailed out within 15 minutes. McMaster also had difficulties where I think they sent out acceptances to people who shouldn’t have received acceptances and anyone who received an email after 10:30am did not get the right email. My email was timestamped 8:37 am so I evaded that scare. Western sent their acceptances in the afternoon and their email didn’t have the formal letter attached.

May 13 – 2pm-now

During lunch, I took some time to read and respond to facebook and email messages. I would have to say that there is no better feeling than what I felt today because it’s the feeling of closure. Finally, after years of studying, working late, and improving after failure, I can go to sleep knowing that at least this part of my life is set.

Good night!

Akira S. Zhou

In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts.

- Chris Hadfield

Front to back: Rainbow Roll, Mango Roll, Sunshine Roll

Mother’s Day at Matsuda Japanese Cuisine

Genre: Japanese, All-You-Can-Eat

Price Range: Lunch : $13.99 (adult: Mon-Fri) | $15.99 (adult: Sat/Sun) | $17.99 (adult: Public Holidays) Dinner: $22.99 (Mon-Thurs) | $24.99 (Fri-Sun, Holidays)

Rating: 8/10

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I took my mom out to all-you-can-eat sushi at Matsuda Japanese Cuisine for lunch. Walking in, my mom was very impressed by the restaurant decor. On the outside, the restaurant didn’t look spectacular, it was right beside a walk-in clinic, but inside, it was spacious and modern. MatsudaWhen we arrived at around 11:30am, the restaurant wasn’t too crowded and we managed to get a seat. Around 12pm-1:30pm, there was a line-up forming at the entrance.

We ordered a lot of items, in three batches. To write this review, I’ll try to categorize the pictures based on the subtitles on the menu.

Appetizers & Sushi

Out of the Appetizers, we tried the Miso Soup  and Wasabi Mussels. The menu was also translated to Chinese, so my parents were able to contribute to the selection as well, it was also helpful because sometimes the Chinese names were more descriptive than the English titles.

The Miso Soup was slightly lighter coloured than the Miso Soup I’ve tried but good nonetheless, very savoury. The Wasabi Mussels are a unique menu item that I have not tried at an AYCE sushi place before and would recommend.

Top: Wasabi Mussels Middle: White Tuna, Tobiko, Mackerel Bottom: Surf Clam, Spicy Salmon, Chopped Ika
Top: Wasabi Mussels
Middle: White Tuna (L), Tobiko (R), Mackerel (M)
Bottom: Surf Clam (L), Spicy Salmon (R), Chopped Ika (M)

As for the sushi, I felt the fish to be quite small but my mom’s favourite was the Spicy Salmon, she especially liked the panko sprinkled on top. My favourite is usually mackerel, but I didn’t like the mackerel here because the slice was quite small and thin, I couldn’t really taste it too much at all.

Chef’s Recommendation

I read a lot of good reviews about the Mango Roll so I was eager to try it. This roll does not have mango inside but rather there is mango sauce generously poured over this roll. I personally liked the mango chunks inside the roll better, but with imitation crab and avocado instead, I agreed with other reviewers – this roll was very refreshing.

Front to back: Rainbow Roll, Mango Roll, Sunshine Roll
Front to back: Rainbow Roll, Mango Roll, Sunshine Roll

The Rainbow Roll and Sunshine Roll were pretty average, I’ve tried these types of rolls before at other AYCE places. I found the Rainbow Roll had very thin slices of fish on top and the Sunshine Roll had mildly spicy mayonnaise, which overshadowed the taste of the ingredients inside.

Volcano Roll
Volcano Roll

My parents’ best pick would be the Volcano Roll because they didn’t like rice and this roll was filled entirely with salmon and a bit of avocado. The deep-fried seaweed was also crispy, so it tasted like eating deep-fried fish.

One thing to note was that this dish arrived rather late, while in our second batch of orders, so at first we didn’t think it was ours. A lot of photos I took at the beginning were single shots since each plate came one at a time with maybe 3-5 minutes of waiting in between.


Plate 1: Sake Salmon (L), Futomaki Plate 2: Salmon Teriyaki Maki (L), Spicy Salmon
Plate 1: Sake Salmon (L), Futomaki
Plate 2: Salmon Teriyaki Maki (L), Spicy Salmon

These were part of our second batch of orders and by then we were getting full. Out of all of these, I enjoyed the Futomaki the most because it was the most flavourful. I liked the sweet taste of the Tamago, Shitaki mushroom, and tofu skin rolled together. Compared to the others in the photo, I found the other rolls to be very generic, similar to what I could buy at the supermarket. The Salmon Teriyaki Maki also needed more teriyaki sauce since the salmon pieces were small and it tasted like I was just eating with cucumber.

Tempura / Grill / Golden Fried

I decided to combine these three sections because by then, the backlog of our orders started to come all at once and I didn’t get to take individual photos anymore.

My parents really like Shrimp Tempura and we got a huge plate. I didn’t like it very much because it was clear the shrimp came from one of those shrimp rings you can buy at the supermarket – maybe I’m just really sensitive to taste, but for an AYCE place, I didn’t expect much.

The Sanma Fish/ Grilled Pacific Saury  was also another parents’ selection. I really enjoyed this because it wasn’t too burnt and the lemon and vinegar on the side helped get rid of any fishy or burnt taste.

Front to back: Shrimp Tempura, Sanma Fish, Grilled Chicken Skin
Front to back: Shrimp Tempura, Sanma Fish, Grilled Chicken Skin

Lastly, we got the Grilled Chicken Skin only becuase none of us had tried anything like this before, nor knew what it was. It looked like batter-dipped, deep fried chicken skin and was very crispy. As expected, this was quite oily and I would have gotten Fried Chicken Wing or Grilled Chicken Skewer instead.

Top: Scallop Cutlets (L), Deep Fried Banana (R) Bottom: Agedashi Tofu, Grilled Beef Skewer
Top: Scallop Cutlets (L), Deep Fried Banana (R)
Bottom: Agedashi Tofu, Grilled Beef Skewer

When the Scallop Cutlet arrived, my parents thought it was the Deep Fried Banana because when you bit into the cutlet, it was light yellow and had the consistency of a banana – except it was salty. I thought this was a great snack item and the wasabi mayonnaise they gave made this taste very good. It wasn’t too oily and had the right amount of crispiness.

I also enjoyed the Agedashi Tofu because it was lightly fried and sharable between the three of us. The Grilled Beef Skewer was also good because of the sauce, which tasted like a better version of the teriyaki sauce I’m used to. The only issue was that the beef was slightly too chewy.

I would not recommend the Deep Fried Banana because of the lack of sauce, making it taste dry. This might sound strange, but I don’t like the deep-fried flavour so masking it with Matsuda’s mango sauce or more chocolate sauce would have made this better.

I didn’t take a picture of the Matsuda Golden Shrimp because I didn’t think it was ours, but it was because we lost track. If you were as full as we were by now, seeing this dish was very exhausting because it gives ~8 big shrimp pan fried in their spicy salmon mayonnaise (they seem to use that everywhere!)


By now we were all so full, the only thing we got from this section was the Sirloin Roll. Other reviewers have said the Sirloin Steak was dry, so we got this instead.

Sirloin Roll
Sirloin Roll

Presentation-wise, let’s just say this didn’t look as “appetizing” as the other items on the menu. Rolled inside are scallions, mushrooms, and garlic. I felt the scallions and garlic taste was very strong. If I had to order again, I wouldn’t have selected this.


Almost to the end of this >100 item menu. My dad really wanted to try the Seafood Udon, so we ordered it. There wasn’t a lot of udon noodles – maybe 6 strands – and it was mostly broth. I would recommend this over the generic miso soup because it was quite savoury.

Seafood Udon
Seafood Udon


Finally at the end, my family finished with a huge order of desserts. Since none of us wanted the generic ice creams, we tried most of the mousse.

Top Row: Tiramisu, Durian Mousse Middle: Mango Yogurt, Lychee Mousse Bottom: Blueberry, Taro mousse
Top Row: Tiramisu, Durian Mousse
Middle: Mango Yogurt, Lychee Mousse
Bottom: Blueberry, Taro mousse

My mom admired the little glasses these desserts came in and her favourite was the Tiramisu, which was a tiramisu mousse with cocoa powder and a tiny sponge cake soaked in coffee liqueur in the centre. I liked the Mango Yogurt because it actually was refreshing and I noticed a lot of other people at nearby tables getting the same item. The mango sauce is the same as the one they used on the Mango Sushi and I would recommend stirring this a bit since the ‘yogurt’ at the bottom was actually a Caramel Creme that didn’t taste like mango at all, so stirring would give it some flavour.

As for all of the mousse, each of their flavours are quite strong but I liked the Taro Mousse  the most since it was unique and the flavour didn’t taste too ‘artificial’.

Overall, I would recommend this restaurant if you’re going with a crowd of >10 since this restaurant can actually seat a lot of people. Not only that, there is a lot of parking available since it’s close to a supermarket. Making a reservation would be a good idea because Matsuda gets busy at lunch. Of note, there is a bar at the back with Japanese drinks and they also have Hakutsuru Plum Wine and Sake (my favourites!) I also liked how the 10% tip was automatically calculated into my bill, which is less than I normally tip (I usually tip whatever I paid for tax).

The only downside would be the random order that our dishes came in and the waitress was very eager to get us to order as soon as we sat down but haven’t decided what to get yet.

Here's a picture of me and my mom!
Here’s a picture of me and my mom!

Happy Mother’s Day,

Akira S. Zhou

For the TL; DR: Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu

Matsuda Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Rev. Joe Elkerton instructing  our youth organization about logistics.

Volunteering at Project 417

I first became involved with Project 417 when I was in second year of university. It was during my winter break when I returned to Toronto and decided to spend a day doing a Sandwich Run with my youth organization. It was my first time doing a Sandwich Run and I thought it was a very eye-opening and educational experience.

Even though sandwich runs typically take place at night, our youth organization’s annual Christmas party was that evening, so we had to schedule our sandwich run during the afternoon. For the whole morning, we busily prepared 90 sandwich bags and baked over 250 cookies.

Only a fraction of our sandwich bags
Only a fraction of our sandwich bags

We had split up into a sandwich-making group and a cookie-baking group. I was part of the latter, but for the sandwiches, we had to use non-perishable ingredients (the specifications could be found on the Project 417 website).

Cookies in preparation
Cookies in preparation – we made them from scratch!

Project 417

We ended up making more cookies than we needed, so we donated two big pans to Yonge Street Mission, a soup kitchen I had previously worked with.

When we were finally done, we drove to Project 417’s downtown location where we were greeted by Reverend Joe Elkerton and his wife. They gave a brief talk about what they do and how to give the sandwich bags to people with dignity and respect, and how to answer questions recipients might have about the contents of the bags.

From this point on, I did not photo-document our beneficiaries, in order to preserve their privacy.

Rev. Joe Elkerton instructing  our youth organization about logistics.
Rev. Joe Elkerton instructing our youth organization about logistics at the Project 417 soup kitchen.

I was part of the group that went with Joe’s wife and I got to spend a lot of time speaking with her. She knew many of the beneficiaries on a first-name basis and we were able to hand out some bags very quickly. A lot of the individuals who needed a lunch were eagerly awaiting our crowd of volunteers as we made our way through the inner-city projects. Some people asked us for money, which we were instructed not to give, since it could be used to buy drugs or alcohol.

As we walked through the urban areas of downtown Toronto – Nathan Phillips Square, Yonge Street and the Eaton’s Centre areas – I was able to see downtown from a completely new perspective. Ms. Elkerton pointed out to me a drug exchange between a modelesque girl who looked to be in her 20s, and these older, scruffier-looking men. As I scurried past her, trying not to breathe in the smoke emitting from her cigarette, she asked “Hey you, can I get one of those?” and I quickly handed her a paper bag.

Project 417 is also heavily involved with countering human trafficking and supporting women involved in sex work. Some of the women Ms. Elkerton talked to were former sex workers. She explained to me that a lot of the sex workers in strip clubs were immigrants looking for a quick job but they are now stuck in their jobs because their bosses had asked for their passports as identification, but never gave it back. I learned that Joe and Project 417 are very involved with the police, doing undercover reporting on massage parlors, hair salons, and strip clubs that are suspected of human trafficking. This summer, Ms. Elkerton will be organizing a trip to Mexico, to help abused women and those at risk of HIV/AIDS.

Passing by the bustling modernity of Eaton’s Centre and the Yonge-Dundas square, we reached Filmore’s Hotel. I had seen it many times in passing and knew it was a strip club in a bad area, but Ms. Elkerton pointed out the barbed wire fence across the street and said that beyond that fence was an elementary school. We also stopped by a Thai restaurant (I can’t seem to remember the name) that looked very high-end on the outside, but behind a securely gated fence next to the front entrance, I learned that the restaurant owners were also involved in a prostitution business in the back.

We ended the sandwich run on a more optimistic note when we were led to these new condominiums that were being built as part of a plan to create more affordable housing in an area interspersed with dilapidated townhouses and run-down apartments.

Project 417 logo
Project 417 logo

At some point, I had asked Ms. Elkerton about Reverend Joe and how he got involved in Project 417. She said that his motivation came from a childhood of being abandoned by parents who were alcoholics. Unable to feed Joe and his siblings, his parents would leave them near the trash cans of a church so they could pick through the leftovers. A Salvation Army worker took them in and helped Joe find spiritual closure. As a Native American, Joe now runs a ‘Native ministry’, the Project 417 logo combines a Christian cross with an Aboriginal medicine wheel.

Though this trip only lasted ~2 hours, it really made me rethink how well I knew my own city. Since I am mostly affiliated with Scott Mission, I had only served meals in a warm and safe environment before. Going to the frontlines of where the homeless youth and adults reside made me feel a sense of unease. For many of these individuals, living in poverty will continue to be a part of their daily lives, I felt immensely grateful to have a home and a supportive youth group who took the time to come and broaden their experiences today.

Group shot of Power Unit Youth Organization with Rev. Elkerton
Group photo of Power Unit Youth Organization with Rev. Elkerton

If you are looking to get involved on a sandwich run, it only costs $10. I highly recommend this experience to learn about inner-city poverty and homelessness. I have included Reverend Elkerton’s business card here and a video, if you are interested in learning more.

Contact information
Contact information

Hope this reflection was of help,

Akira Stephanie Zhou

A blog about food, art, and philanthropy


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