'We are simply not the best,' Montreal restaurateur says of his very honest menu
Feigang Fei says honesty is his policy when it comes to describing the food at Aunt Dai
Feigang Fei isn't the type to brag — even when it comes to his own restaurant.
The owner of Aunt Dai in Montreal has been grabbing international headlines for what some observers have dubbed his "brutally honest" menu descriptions.
"I don't want to get people disappointed," Fei told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"A lot of people want to be the best …and we are simply not the best. That's a fact. We just try to be a little bit better every day. And that's how I see it."
Each item on the Aunt Dai menu is accompanied by a description written by Fei himself. Some boast of great flavour, while others are deemed "too dry" or "not THAT good."
Of one dish, he writes: "I don't know why but peanut sauce chicken is liked by a lot of customers."
And if he doesn't know how a dish tastes, he'll be honest about that too. Of the satay sauce beef, he writes: "I still don't have chance to taste it. Looks like I should spend more time eating in my own restaurant."
He says he wrote that one several years ago, when he was working a full-time job in IT on top of running the restaurant.
"So that's a reality," he said. "Some dishes, I even did not have a chance to try myself."
'This one is not THAT good'
Aunt Dai offers a mix of authentic and North American Chinese food. And Fei tries to be very clear about what's what.
"Don't let the name fool you, this one is NOT authentic Chinese food," he warns patrons of his Hēi Jiāo, a.k.a. black pepper stir fry. "True story, one customer got really mad because it's not so Chinese since he visited Sichuan China before."
But that doesn't mean Fei only likes the traditional fare. After some cajoling from his customers, he added General Tao chicken to the menu, with the following description:
"I am no expert on North American Chinese food but I like our General Tao a lot, a lot more than what I would have thought."
He told As It Happens that he'd never tasted General Tao until they put it on the menu.
"Even today, nobody in China has heard of that dish at all," he said. "But after I [tried] it, it's really good."
The orange beef, though? That one's skippable.
"Comparing to our General Tao Chicken, this one is not THAT good," reads the menu. "Anyway, I am not big fan of North American Chinese food and it's your call."
Whenever anyone orders the orange beef, he says he tries to convince them to pick the General Tao chicken instead.
"Some people still insist," he said. "Maybe it's a beef guy, not a chicken guy."
There are some items on his menu that Fei absolutely loves, and makes no bones about it. The braised pork belly with sweet potato noodle is among his favourites, he said.
"I used to, like, eat three bowls of rice with that one dish. That's when you are young, you want to eat more, get more energy," he said. "Right now, I watch my diet."
Then there are the dishes he likes — but just not at his own restaurant. When describing Aunt Dai's sweet and spicy pork chips, he writes: "I am not a huge fan for our version to be honest."
That's because it was his favourite meal when he was going to university near Beijing, he said.
"I always liked that version, and cannot find it anywhere. And unfortunately, our chef cannot cook it that way," he said. "So I cannot ask too much, to be honest."
Fei says he wrote most of these menu descriptions years ago, but they just recently blew up — likely due to a viral tweet by Montrealer Kim Belair.
But even before all the media attention, he says Aunt Dai's was doing a decent job of surviving the pandemic thanks to take-out orders and loyal customers.
"We are super lucky to be alive," he said.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson.