As I’ve charted my way across the continent, and briefly puddle-jumped to Europe, one to do has proclaimed importance in my heart of hearts. Look for a dim sum restaurant, and devour its contents as quickly as possible.
The dim sum dining experience is unique. Of Cantonese origin, what started out as humble afternoon snack time has now morphed into full-scale restaurant war between hordes of hungry Sunday morning patrons and food trolley-wielding waiters. It’s like an automat on wheels, and it’s spunky fun for the whole family.
Interested in the shrimp har gow, or pork siumai, or duck egg and pork porridge (congee) that you see sailing past you? You can have it all. All you have to do is fight your neighbor for the waiter’s attention.
My love affair with dim sum began at a young age, when my overtly-white family stumbled across the threshold of the now-defunct My Le Hoa, a curious restaurant located in a somewhat seedy strip mall. Given my inability to resist dishes made of noodles or dough, I was hooked from the first bite. Every dim sum meal since has felt like an epicurean victory.
When young, summer trips west with the family meant opportunities to hunt for dumplings. In Victoria, on the island of Vancouver, we experienced dim sum city-style, climbing an impossibly long flight of steps to enter the restaurant. This was also the scene of my family’s favorite inside joke, featuring stained clothing, the sauce that accompanies cheung fan, and dejected men eyeing each other in a bathroom.
A visit to San Francisco began with a speedy meal at a small dim sum cafe; I feasted whilst simultaneously watching a massive funeral service unfold across the street. Trips to Paris weren’t complete without visits to the many Traiteurs Asiatiques lining the city’s streets, who offer up dumplings by the piece. And most recently, I got to experience dim sum New York-style, by ascending a long escalator to dine with hundreds of hungry companions at Jing Fong Restaurant.
With only a fixed-length lens, I was unable to capture the size of the place, or the sheer number of patrons. I did notice, perhaps coincidentally, that all Caucasians were seated on the periphery of the restaurant. For instance, a boisterous gang of Aussies – such that I can only label them as a gang – were at a table behind us.
Along with the Aussies, we had been led to a raised stage of sorts, and thus lorded over the restaurant while downing pot after pot of tea. Despite the stage impediment, we still received food speedily.
A friendly part of the experience is that your tab is kept on a bill with stamps indicating that ordered dishes are either small, medium, large, or special item. This way, you keep ordering until you have to roll your way out of the place, blissfully unaware for a few extra minutes that you’ve just burned a large hole in your wallet. Except, quite surprisingly, the bill for three of us at Jing Fong was under $50. Score for New York.
Now, I’m no chump when it comes to eating smartly at dim sum. When looking to maximize your item intake, it only makes sense to steer clear of the overly doughy Steamed Pork Buns (dàbāo), also known more generally as baozi. But as I like to say, “dim sum begets dim sum.”
In effect, this is true. A day after feasting in New York City, my boyfriend and I downed a second meal at a dim sum cafe in Boston. And now, a few weeks removed from high-rolling city life, I’ve made a batch of the satiating dàbāo to be enjoyed at home.
Steamed Pork Buns
Recipe adapted from a D&D Gold Product ‘Mixed Flour’ package, labeled Bôt Làm Bánh Bao Sàigòn. I have no idea how to pronounce all those accents.
Ingredients for the dough:
1 package (16 oz) ‘Mixed Flour’ (sold at Chinese markets), with 2 tbsp reserved
1 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Ingredients for the filling:
1/2 lb ground pork
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tsp sugar
3 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp ground ginger
3 hardboiled eggs, cut into quarters
In a large bowl, mix the dough ingredients together for 10 – 15 minutes. I used a stand mixer set on low, and let it do its thing. Hand mixing would work equally well. Let dough rest for 10-15 minutes, then mix for an additional five minutes.
Combine all filling ingredients except eggs, and mix well.
Cut out 12 squares of parchment or wax paper, approximately 3 inches square. With additional 2 tbsp flour, roll out dough into a cylinder, and cut into 12 equal pieces. Place each piece on a square of paper, and flatten into a large circle of dough.
Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water, cover with a bamboo steamer, and bring to a boil.
Divide meat filling equally across pieces of dough. Top each with an egg quarter. With floured hands, bring sides of dough up to center, working your way around the edge. Crimp top with fingers so that it is sealed.
Cook in steamer for 20-25 minutes. Serve with rice (if needed, this dish is filling on its own) and sauce of choice – I like sweet chili sauce.
20 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10013
Opens at 9h30 – get there early, or you will have to wait in line.