We heart dim sum. If the Sunday tradition of generations before us was the good old roast dinner then for our little family it is most definitely family yum cha. It’s not that I have anything against a roast dinner. The potatoes with bellies full of steam, the slick of gravy, the sweet stick of kumara against your teeth…? Hey, I’m a huge fan! But not on a Sunday when I feel like cooking and cleaning up that enormous oven tray (that never fits in the sink) about as much as I feel like doing my tax returns.
On our Sundays off we toddle, happy as pancakes, to our local yum cha restaurant where fish and lobster bob along in their tanks unaware of their fate; where the noise is palpable – everyone talking at once, waiters singing the names of their dishes: “Steamed pork bun! Prawn rice roll!” and our two girls can smack plastic chopsticks against the table. It’s a relief to be somewhere where my kids aren’t the loudest things in the room and mess is happily tolerated. Going to dim sum reminds me of living in Macau, kiddie-free times,where my husband and I ordered diet cokes with our fried food and discussed the latest pub gossip, work, or details of our (then) upcoming wedding.
One of our favourite picture books is by author Grace Lin, called Dim Sum for Everyone. It’s simple and brightly coloured, a description of each family member’s favourite dim sum dishes including pork buns, prawns and turnip cakes. The inside covers have pictures of different dim sum dishes and paraphenalia like chopsticks and bok choy, with chinese and English translations. It’s about as delightful as dim sum itself and it inspired me, on our most recent dim sum trip, to take some photos of our family favourites.
Here is Daddy’s – salt and pepper squid. Ordering salt and pepper squid can be a little like playing Russian Roulette. Both exalting and relieving if done right, devastating if cold and chewy. The batter needs to be thin and crispy, clinging to the squid in a tight glove, with good amounts of salt and pepper. The squid must be fresh and tender, in pieces small enough to pop straight into your mouth. Tentacles? Yes please. Hot as Hades? Absolutely.
Egg tarts are B1’s non-negotiables. We left yum cha without having egg tarts one time. She was beside herself. Egg tarts are such a staple in Macau that I fear I overdosed on them and can no longer appreciate an egg tart the way B1 does. She uses a spoon to scoop out the warm, buttery, custard. Then she licks the pastry base clean. Caramel-coloured pastry flakes stick to her tiny fingertips. Pastry case goes in the mouth. Lips covered in crumbs. Yum.
Personally, I like dim sum desserts. I want to try them all. I did have a bad experience with durian and cream dumplings once but I’m undeterred. My palate may not be ready for durian but it adores black sesame, coconut jelly and egg custard. One of my favourite dim sum dishes are these hot egg custard bun thingies. I don’t know exactly what they are called and I’m always explaining them inadequately, with lots of “umm?”s and hand gestures, to a poor, confused waiter. The buns must be puffy and light, like angelic little clouds hiding the interior goodness. The custard inside is unlike egg tart custard. It should be molten hot and taste like caramel butter, threaten to run down your chin. This is another one that can be disappointing – once you’ve had a good one it’s very hard to tolerate a bad one, anticipation levels sky high.
There is something about the smells and the noise of yum cha that either make you feel ill or your heart race. Whenever we take someone along with us to yum cha it’s always interesting to see which reaction occurs – the wide eyes of anticipation as the covers come off the steamer baskets or the arms folded across the chest, face full of concern. It’s okay, we don’t judge. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it can take a few tries before you come to enjoy it. If you’re in the “yuck!” camp my only advice is to not give up. Dim sum are a bit like green eggs and ham. Soon enough you’ll be hankering for slippery siu long bao , plates of sweet, pink, bbq pork or the emerald stalks of chinese greens. Soon enough, you’ll have your own favourites, as dear as roast spuds or Mum’s gravy.
Do you love dim sum? Which are your favourites?
HUGS, Hannah x
I want it now’!!!!
Hands down, gai lan. Sautéed in garlic and whatever else they put in that frying pan. You introduced me to gai lan when we went for dim sum in Vancouver and now I buy it all the time to cook at home. Little e loves it too. I think it might be in my top three vegetables. Yum!
I’m told that I grew up on dim sum, favourite of my parents in the 80s. But it wasn’t until good old Ding How that my love grew!! Mmmmmm
Ding how…..YES!! Memorieeeeeeesssss (I’m singing, feel blessed you can’t hear it)
Gai lan is awesome!
I’m feeling partially responsible for the dim sum love affairs of two people. Can I clock that up as major life achievement? I think so….. x