One big foodie perk of living in Los Angeles is the close proximity to an assortment of dim sum restaurants. The Cute Gardener and I are usually such delicate eaters but when it comes to our occasional dim sum mornings, all bets are off. We will typically hook dim sum onto a trip out of town or a holiday morning with visiting relatives as a way to give ourselves permission to indulge. Then we will land at a table at one of the various joints and pile it full with aluminum steamer bowls and little plates heaped high with food from the incessantly passed carts, only halting our chew for a quick sip of water or boiling green tea every once in a while. We know the trick to eating dim sum lies in a rapid pace; otherwise we will fill up our bellies too quickly to finish all the delights we still have yet to taste.
I find it interesting that upon research I discovered that dim sum began as a way for people to engage in yum cha, or tea tasting. In fact, in Cantonese, going to dim sum means going to drink tea. In America, it seems the opposite – dim sum is known almost as an Asian form of tapas, the tea being secondary or non-existent on the table at all. It almost seems strange to my Caucasian palate to drink a hot brewed beverage with various hot dishes. Regardless of the bastardization my mouth creates while engaging in this ancient mealtime, it is one of the true highlights of my life.
My favorite dim sum dishes are as follows:
1. Pork bao buns, which are baked, doughnut like glistening rounds stuffed with sweet barbecued pork. There are also steamed buns, white and fluffy with the same type of pork filling, which are equally prized. You can find these freshly made in Chinese grocery stores or to-go at dim sum joints take-away counters for under a dollar apiece. We always have a few in our freezer at home for convenient lunches.
2. Shumai, a small, dense, steamed dumpling with pork or shrimp shriveled into a thin, wheat flour skin.
3. Xiao long bao (XLB), or soup dumplings, which are closed, doughy pockets enveloping hot zesty broth that you poke a chopstick hole into and sip out over a wide spoon.
4. Har gow, which consists of shrimp chunks wrapped in a translucent wheat starch dumpling. It can also be made with tender bits of scallop instead and we are always delighted to encounter that version.
5. Teochew-style dumplings, which are a zesty mixture of diced up pork, peanuts, garlic, chives, dried shrimp, and Chinese mushrooms in glutinous rice wraps just begging to be dipped into a swish of slick chili oil.
6. Guotie, or potstickers, dumplings that are stuffed with meat and cabbage, steamed and then fried so that they deliver a crunchy texture to counteract the mushy middle. Perfect with a dark mushroom soy.
7. Rice noodle rolls, which are wide, flat noodles that are steamed and rolled around meats and sprinkled with sesame seeds or accentuated by greens—shrimp being our usual preference.
8. Egg tarts for dessert, which are miniature little baked pastry cups filled with egg custard.
But this is only a small list from an enormity of choice from buns stuffed with sweet bean paste, fried chicken feet, steamed meatballs, spare ribs, glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf and richly sweet, spring rolls to turnip, taro and water chestnut cakes, congee, fried sugarcane shrimp balls, sliced roasted duck and pork, and a myriad of vibrant vegetables like bok choy, spinach, broccoli and other lesser known Asian greens. For some reason, we never seem to make it to the green stuff because we are too busy stuffing our faces with all the steamed and fried foods that we don’t normally find ourselves able to procure.
Dim sum can be dangerous, both on the heart and on the hips if indulged in too frequently. In that respect, it is also dangerously cheap (between .75 to $2.50 for most dishes) so it’s probably best that most of the greatest dim sum restaurants are still a bit of a car drive away from us in L.A.’s historic Chinatown or the San Gabriel Valley.