September 19, 2009

Dim Sum Lights and Put on a Record

A broken record, that is...because it would appear that dim sum was to be the cuisine destined to repeat itself this weekend. And I'm not complaining! I am lucky to live near New York City's Chinatown, and the food you get there is a far cry from standard takeout fare. Gives me all kinds of nostalgia for my year in China!

Anyway, since I had dim sum for Friday's dinner and today's brunch, I thought I'd put the pictures together in one post to edumacate those of you unfamiliar with this delightful style of dining.

First things first: today's venue. Jing Fong Restaurant (or "Dim Sum on Demand," according to a sign in the window!), located on Elizabeth Street, just south of Canal.

The place is one big banquet hall so big that you take an escalator upstairs to reach your table! A table which may or may not be occupied by a few other diners, depending on the size of your party. I was with three friends: the boyf, our friend Nellie and her sister, so there were a few strangers at our table as well.

Generally speaking, you don't order from a menu when eating dim sum. Waitresses roll carts around, filled with small dishes containing three or four pieces of a given item. Just flag it down if it looks good, eat and repeat! And so on and so forth. The server marks off what you've eaten on a card that stays on your table until you're done, at which point you carry your check to the cashier and pay. You might think of dim sum like Chinese "tapas" insofar as various small plates are shared among your party.

In case you don't believe me, let us consult the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia:

Dim sum (literally meaning "touch the heart") is the name for a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. Yum cha (literally "drinking tea") is the term used to describe the entire dining experience, especially in contemporary Cantonese. It is usually served in the mornings until noon time at Chinese restaurants and at specialty dim sum eateries where typical dishes are available throughout the day. Dishes come in small portions and may include meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. The items are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate. Some Chinese families like to gather for dim sum on special occasions such as Mother’s Day or Chinese New Year. Also, Chinese parents like to bring their children there Sunday mornings to meet and talk with their grandparents. Some people bring newspapers with them and discuss news with their families.

I do recommend visiting the Wikipedia link, actually--you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of food descriptions, many of them dishes common to most dim sum restaurants. I definitely spotted everything we had today on their list.

My pictures aren't great due to hungry haste, but here we have two styles of steamed shrimp dumplings (har gau):

The above dumplings were rolled in a steamed dumpling wrapper-blanket of sorts had a sweet-ish sauce on them, whereas the dumplings below were more self-contained and had a whole shrimp in each one, if I'm not mistaken.

I'm proud to say that I enjoyed both varieties, which is kind of a big deal because I am known for not being crazy about shrimp. It's a food I really want to like, however, so I was pleased to find that the shrimp dumplings tasted really good to me! [Pats self on back.]

Next up is the taro dumpling (wu gok), which has always been one of my favorites. Brace yourself for some deja vu on this one.

Taro is a purple-ish root vegetable. For the dumpling, mashed taro is filled with mushrooms and/or meat, etc. then deep fried until there is the feathery coating on it that you see above. Still a mystery to me as to how they make it look like that!

We also had a bowl full of glass noodles stir-fried with veggies and a bit of meat as well, I think...

...which is always a hit, especially when there's eggplant involved. :) Ok, maybe just a hit with me.

We also had some fried dumplings filled with all manner of green veggies, plus a heaping bowl of tripe!

Tripe would be cow's stomach, and no, I never did work up the cojones to take a bite. Next time, maybe...

Rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), on the other hand, are quite easy to handle.

That's just rice flour dough rolled up with the odd sprinkling of green onion and hoisin sauce. Mushy and delicious, just how I like it.

As for dim sum dessert, I believe the most common dish is egg custard. We were pretty full, though, so we just sampled a coconut gelatin.

You could tell it was made with coconut milk, for sure. Always ok by me!

Our dim sum brunch was great fun today! I'm so glad Nellie's sister introduced me to to Jing Fong, because it felt so authentically Chinese--I needn't feel so distant from the foods I loved so much while living in China!

For a little contrast, I'll share Friday's dinner with you. It was on a much smaller scale, as I was with just two friends at the time (the roomie and our friend, Andrea), plus the venue was more like any other small restaurant in Chinatown. I've been there a number of times--Vegetarian Dim Sum is arguably my favorite Chinatown eatery, to the point where I rarely feel the need to try the food anywhere else!

We ordered just four dishes to share among the three of us, including the vegetarian version of the taro dumpling you saw earlier. I actually took a picture of the inside so you can get an idea of what it's like to bite into one of these "treasure boxes" (as they are called at Vegetarian Dim Sum).

Of course, the filling you see here does not include meat, but rather a sweet/savory blob of mushrooms and perhaps soy protein. I'm not entirely sure, and I'm not entirely sure I care! I order taro dumplings every time I go to this restaurant, without fail--they are that good.

Our other dishes were (clockwise from upper left) steamed turnip cakes (served with the sauce in the background), napa rolls and half-moon pockets.

I actually had steamed turnip cakes at Jing Fong today too, but didn't get a picture of them. This is another essential dim sum dish for me, made of grated turnips and daikon radish, plus other bits (mushrooms in this case, meat/seafood likely at Jing Fong). Difficult to eat with chopsticks (even with my mad skizzles), but worth it!

The napa rolls were a new one for me, but very delicious. It was almost like sweet and sour chicken, in that they were breaded and served in kind of a syrupy sweet sauce, but the filling was cabbage and mushrooms. Decadent for sure, and the kind of food that makes you glad all the portions are so tiny! A little goes a long way.

As for the half moon pockets, they were indeed the steamed vegetable dumplings they appear to be. Simple and delicious!

That's it for my dim sum photo essay, but I hope it gave you an idea of how fun and diverse Chinese food can be when eaten this way. And of course, the more people dining with you, the merrier, mostly because you have an excuse to try dozens of different tastes in a single meal!

Also, it would be neglectful for me not to mention how very affordable it is, especially in this economy (not to mention in New York City!). Including tip, brunch today came to just $10 per person--and we didn't even finish everything we ordered! We did even better at Vegetarian Dim Sum--our dinner Friday night came to just $5 per person! Can't beat that with a stick.

Have you ever eaten dim sum? What's your favorite Chinese food?


Gena said...

I hate most Chinese food, I'll admit it. Blech. Mostly nasty childhood memories.

But I DO love steamed dumplings! And I do love taro. And I do love reasonable prices for large portions of food!!

And I do love Diana essays.

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) said...

I'm with Gena, I'm not into Chinese food due to bad childhood memories of bad buffets. Yikes! But I can totally tell you scored with a $5 per person, that's a venti latte at S'Bucks give or take. Thank you for the informative nature of this post...I admit, due to me not vibing on Chinese food, it's one of those food genres I really dont know too much about or ever pay much attention so thanks for enlightening me a bit!

lesley living life said...

I don't live near any "good" Chinese. It's just all cheap, greasy and gross. Soo ... as you may have guessed, ha, I haven't ever had dim sum but I would love to try it!

Rosey Rebecca said...

I love Dim Sum! So good! I miss China Town!

Anonymous said...

I've never had dim sum before and I had no idea that it meant, "touch the heart." You learn something new everyday. :) I'm actually not a big fan of Chinese food either, but I'm willing to give this a try. You give great reviews!

K from ksgoodeats said...

I've never had dim sum but I appreciate this post! It sounds like a fun dining experience :)

katherine said...

Yay for Dim Sum and yay for suggesting Wikipedia to learn more about each of the dishes! I'm ashamed to say such resources never occured to me and I used to go to Dim Sum once a month in Boston with friends! We always resorted to pointing at random dishes and then daring each other to try something first and confirming it was meant for human consumption. Thankfully, I was very rarely disappointed! :)

melissa said...

yum thanks for all the info on dim sum. and the restaurant info.

Jenny said...

this place looks crayzaaaay. My chinese food fare is limited to Panda Express, it's unfortunate!

p.s. had to tell you, my word verification for this comment is "sucks" is your blog trying to provoke me to make TWSS comments?

Marissa said...

Shrimp har gow and rice noodles with shrimp are my FAVORITES. I just rarely trust the places not to put pork fat in them :-(

but I adore Dim Sum!