My mother introduced me to Indochinese cuisine, often called Hakka, when I was a teenager. She was a kitchen wizard who could try something new in a restaurant and then replicate it at home. After a visit to an Indochinese restaurant in Toronto, she used our family as a taste tester as they worked to conjure up the exact flavors of hot chili chicken and hakka-style noodles.
Indochinese cuisine has its origins in Kolkata, India, where both of my parents are from, so this type of food has always felt personal to us. When Chinese immigrants settled in the Kolkata area hundreds of years ago, they began a long-standing fusion of people, culture, and food.
Fortunately, the days of going to the Greater Toronto Area for Indochinese food are over, as the Waterloo region is now home to many of these restaurants. One of the more recent additions, Kitchen Wall Hakka in Doon Village, opened in January 2021.
After going through the full menu and chatting with a helpful staff member over the phone, I placed a take out order that would allow us to try a variety of flavors and preparations.
Pick up was a snap, the gracious owner told me about their new customer recommended eco-friendly take out boxes made from sugar cane.
Once home, my husband and I got ready to feast. We started with Chicken Lollipops ($ 8.99 for six), the restaurant’s most popular appetizer. These chicken drumsticks, where the meat is gently pushed down to create the appearance of a lollipop, were a delicious mix of sweet and savory with hints of garlic and subtle warmth. Served on a bed of ginger, sautéed cabbage, onions and peppers, it was clear why they were a fan favorite.
“We cook the chicken lollipops directly in the sauce which is usually served on the side for dipping,” said owner Damodar Dhungel.
Dhungel immigrated to Canada from Nepal in 2006, eventually settling in the Waterloo region in 2013 with his wife, Rajita, and their daughter. “After working in a hakka restaurant in Mississauga, I dreamed of opening one in Kitchener-Waterloo.
With a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology, and a former career in community development at a Nepalese non-profit organization, working in the food industry became a new love for Dhungel in Canada.
“I became familiar with this type of cuisine. When opening this restaurant I did a lot of research and wanted to come up with spicy and non-spicy food, with lots of different options.
Options we certainly had. The Spicy Fried Cauliflower ($ 12.49) was next – pleasantly light and crisp, without the thick batter we’d expect from a fried dish.
You could almost immediately feel the heat of the Chili Paneer ($ 13.50) with its chewy pieces of paneer, onions and peppers in a thick sauce, liberally sprinkled with black pepper. The Hot Garlic Shrimp ($ 13.50) featured lightly breaded shrimp with onions in a thick garlic-based sauce. Although tasty, I would have preferred the sauces in both dishes to be a bit thinner in consistency.
Egg Hakka Fried Rice ($ 10.50) helped soak up the sauces of the various other dishes we chose. Mildly flavored, the rice went well with Manchurian chicken with sauce ($ 11.99). In this staple of Indochinese cuisine, the fried pieces of breaded, boneless chicken soak up the sweet, savory and spicy sauce in which they are served. Sprinkled with fresh cilantro, this one was at the top of my list of favorites.
Across our table, my husband focused on the Thai Crispy Chili Beef Dry ($ 15.50). Sweet, smoky, spicy and elegantly paired with crispy peppers and onions, I had little of this one left when it was done.
“We love serving authentic food to customers and hearing their feedback,” Dhungel said. “We encourage people to come and try it. We have vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Our momos (Nepalese dumplings) are very popular. My wife, Rajita, makes them by hand, using a secret recipe that we keep in the family.
Dhungel’s experience as a community builder is clear when he talks about his restaurant and what he and his wife want it to be. “We love this region and we feel lucky to be here. We plan to be here for a long time and can’t wait to see faces to remember names and what they like to eat.
Hope one of those faces and names is mine.
Kitchen wall hakka
601 Doon Village Road, Unit 7, Kitchener
Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday: 11:30 am to 10:30 pm; Sunday and public holidays: 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Payment: Cash, debit, Mastercard, Visa
Getting your food: Takeout, delivery via Skip the Dishes, UberEats and DoorDash. Dinner is available.
The law project: $ 96.57 (taxes included but not tip) for two starters, four main courses and a dish of rice. Lots of leftovers.
Remarks: Free parking available on the square with an accessible common ramp. The main entrance to the restaurant does not have an automatic door. The toilets are accessible. When asked about a take-out tip option, owner Damodar Dhungel explained that coming to try the food was their tip.