Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dim Sum Primer, part 1

For the uninitiated, "Dim Sum" is a Chinese tradition for brunch -- tea and little plates of delectable and beautiful snacks. The words translate literally as "touch the heart." Or "touch of heart" depending on who you ask.

If you ask me, dim sum is a form of worship. It is as close as a food geek can get to God. (It's SO important, that I think I may start a separate blog just devoted to Dim Sum. But for now I will confine myself to a couple of postings about the wonderful practice of tea lunch.) There are two houses of, two places to get dim sum in town, as mentioned in my previous post.

A traditional dim sum house is usually a large banquet hall. You sit down, you get tea, and the host slaps down a blank bill on your table. Ladies with carts full of food rove around the room, and you point out what you want. They mark on the bill the number of dishes you take.

Of course, smaller places don't have room for the carts, nor the kind of kitchen that can produce hundreds of separate delicacies. So a lot of places have fallen back on a modified version of the bill that acts as a menu. (Kind of like what you see in a lot of sushi places these days.) You mark on the menu what you want, and then they bring you the food later.

In either case -- carts or menu -- it helps to know what you're ordering. Here are a few basic dumplings that are most popular. (I'll follow this up with a more expanded list of common dishes next week.)

Har Gow Dim Sum
Har Gow (Ha Kow, Shrimp Dumplings). These are delicate, tender, richly flavored dumplings that often symbolize dim sum. The translucent wrapper is made of wheat starch with a little tapioca starch to give it body. They are tender and sweet, with richness absorbed from the shrimp inside. Inside you might have pure shrimp, or you might have shrimp with shreds of bamboo shoot, to give it a little extra texture. Unless you hate shrimp, these are a must have.

Char Siu Bao Dim Sum
Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns). Chinese barbequed pork, in a sweet rich sauce, inside a sweet white steamed bun. There are a lot of variations of Bao out there, but when you see these white, ruptured forms, you have that basic bun that pretty much everybody likes. There is also a baked version, which looks like the smooth, brown roll.

Green Onion Pancake Dim Sum
Green Onion Pancake. This is layered dough (usually the chewy boiling-water dough used for homemade potstickers and stretched noodles) rolled with green onions, then pan fried. A lot of places get this frozen, and fry it up in the restaurant. This usually results in an okay, thin crispy pancake. But Little Panda makes their own hearty dough, which makes for good thick crust of bread. This is really good for sopping up the sauces and juice on your plate.

Siu Mai dim sum
Siu Mai (or Shao Mai) are an open topped dumpling with a meatball inside. They're meant to look like overflowing money bags. At a lot of Japanese and Korean places in town you will see an appetizer called Ebi Siu Mai - which is a shrimp version. The common Siu Mai is filled with pork, with a tiny shrimp on the top. At Golden Wok, the cart ladies push these hard on beginners, and with good reason. They are very tasty, and generally friendly to picky eaters. At Little Panda, you have a choice of two varieties, pork or beef. The beef version used to have a sweet orange peel tang. (There was a period when they got pretty plain, but I think they've returned to form. It's worth trying anyway.)

pot sticker dim sum
Pan-fried Dumpling, (Pot-sticker, or "Peking" dumpling, or Kuo Tieh). These are so popular they are usually on the regular menu. A steamed dumpling that has been panfried on the bottom. At Little Panda, they are huge, fat pork filled dumplings, and an order from the regular menu is a meal in itself. They also serve it with this wonderful sweet soy dipping sauce that is almost addictive. Golden Wok doesn't have a dipping sauce, but theirs is filled with a flavorful mixture of pork and shrimp and so just a little plain soy will do.
(NOTE: I didn't have a picture of any in-town pot-stickers right now. I took this picture at a wonderful place called Luscious Dumpling in Alhambra California.)

(I'm sorry this post took so long. I'm using Blogger's "easy" interface, which doesn't make it so easy to figure out how to put multiple pictures in a post.)

Next week, I'll get into the greater variety of dim sum.

Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing
Dim Sum Primer, Part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Dim Sum Primer, Part 4


Sylwia said...

Nice Blog. I really enjoyed finding out where I could find Dim Sum!

Thank you!

The East Side Food Geek said...

You're welcome! I just wish I had more time to post more often. (I am trying to get on a schedule to post a regular review at least on every Thursday, but it doesn't always work out.)

Erich Zechar said...

I appreciate the blog as well - can't wait to try the Little Panda dim sum. I'd never know about these places if it weren't for you, so keep it up!


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Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this and am excited to learn that there is more than one place to have dim sum.

Thanks for this info.