Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Chapter on Dim Sum

I promised a "chapter on dim sum" a while ago and never quite got around to it. But I've been seriously needing a fix since Wing Shing closed (yes, it is still shuttered). So, here finally is the good, the bad, and the ugly dim sum experiences that I've had over the last few years.

The Good - My tops include the shrimp and snow pea shoot dumplings (picture at right) that I had in San Francisco at Great Eastern. The buttery tender shrimp and fresh pea shoots seasoned with garlic was a marriage made in heaven. In Hong Kong, Luk Yu Tea House served top notch perfectly steamed classics and was one of the most satisfying dims I've summed - especially the steamed pork buns. And the place has ambiance.

Shrimp paste 'fish' in broth

The Bad - Is there really such a thing? Well, maybe. Any dim sum served at a breakfast buffet in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau. And probably most other places. It just isn't good. I strongly suspect that this variety of dim sum comes from the freezer. Blech.

The Ugly - Phineas has a nose for finding truly local gems wherever we travel. This is normally fantastic, but it backfired one afternoon in Hong Kong. It turns out that, although I was ready for the local cuisine, I was inadequately prepared for the local manners... or hygiene... or lack there of.... You get the point. I fled, giving thanks all the way to the door that I had recently had all my shots updated.
My favorite - bean curd rolls
My observations:
  • Dim sum doesn't vary all that much from place to place. And there is good dim sum to be had around the world - even Hong Kong doesn't have a monopoly.
  • Ordering from a check-off menu trumps the carts. This is heresy to some, I know. The carts are fun and can add to the experience, especially for the uninitiated. But all of the best dim sum I have eaten was ordered from a menu and it arrived steaming hot and perfectly fresh, unlike what you often get off the carts.
  • Cost is not an indicator of quality. The dim sum I had in Toronto was $$$, and it was beautiful to look at, but woefully under-seasoned and rather spottily done (some came fresh and hot, other items seemed like they were sitting around).
  • In general, if you aren't somewhere that pays the bills by serving dim sum, just skip it. Resist the urge to try it at the breakfast buffet.
  • Dim sum is enjoyable by yourself, as a couple or with a group. With a group you get to try more things, but by yourself it is still so perfectly portioned that one or two items makes a great meal.
Ducky dumplings (duck and foie gras) at Lah Wah Heen in Toronto.

No comments: