Delicate Dim Sum
One of the things I miss from my San Francisco days are the long dim sum lunches. By observing those lifelong dim sum lovers, I was able to figure out a bit of the proper protocol, and the rituals of the meal.
Don’t order any food until the tea arrives. Use the tea to “clean” the plates, cups, chopsticks, and table. Pull out some reading material. Bide your time, sipping tea and reading, until something appealing comes along. Linger over that one plate, enjoying every last morsel a bite at a time, with plenty of reading and tea in between bites. Find another delicious dish, and repeat.
The great dim sum parlors were more like neighborhood community centers than restaurants. Grandparents might hold down a table for the morning. Kids and grandkids would come and go. Other people would drop by. Friends and family would kibbitz. And at the end, there would be fisticuffs to pay for the check.
I’d usually bring some work reading, and hide out at the dim sum parlor for a good hour and a half. At least a couple times per week.
What is kind of interesting, is that this approach helps to highlight certain dishes that might otherwise be overlooked.
I mention this because I’ve got dim sum on the mind. Saturday, I went with a bunch of Yelp friends to Rain for a massive dim sum feast. And we ate American-style. By that I mean, we went down the dim sum menu, ordered everything that looked appealing, and had it arrive in wave after wave of plates, all being passed around in a flurry, and all being wolfed down to make room for the next round of delicacies to come.
There’s certainly something fun about all that frenetic energy, and all those small bites bouncing back and forth between steamed buns, pan fried cakes, boiled dumplings, deep fried taro puffs, crisp shrimp, tender pork, and bright greens.
But one of my favorite dishes of the day just didn’t seem to register with most people. And that was the congee with fish filet.
Wow, was this a delicate dish. It’s really simply a white rice porridge. And I remember hating it the first time I tried the stuff. Somehow, over time, it has grown on me. Now I find it deeply comforting, and I enjoy the subtle flavors. This version was punctuated with strands of fresh ginger, which brightened up the bowl quite a bit. The fish filet was equally ethereal: a flaky, white, and tender piece of protein that tasted like the open ocean.
It would be wrong to call this bland. It was anything but. However, in juxtaposition to the intense flavors of dumplings, congee has a way of getting washed out.
I haven’t seen it on a dim sum menu around town, but the same thing holds true for the tofu pudding with ginger syrup. It’s one of my favorite dim sum dishes, and I’ll almost always order it when I see it. But at my favorite place out west, it would come around in a giant rice steamer. Large curds of silken tofu were scooped out, layered in a glass bowl, and slathered with a ginger infused sugar syrup.
The closest thing I can compare it to is french toast. It has that same warm, savory custard thing, drizzled with sweetness.
Man, that’s good stuff. But so are deep fried shrimp dumplings with sweetened mayonnaise
Still though, it’s the simple things that rock my world. You know, like those giant rice noodle rolls that get folded around a variety of fillings, often shrimp or ground beef, aka cheung fun. Young Master Fussy enjoys them most when the noodle is wrapped around an unsweetened deep-fried cruller. And that’s delicious, to be sure.
But my favorite is when the rice noodle is simply combined with a bit of greenery and rolled up, brightening the rice noodle just a bit to make it interesting.
There’s definitely a pattern here. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a great baked barbecue pork bun every now and again. How about you? What are your favorites when going out for dim sum, either here or elsewhere in the world?