Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dim Sum Primer, Pt 4

Okay, I'm finally finishing up the Dim Sum Primer, with the larger plated items and desserts. You can skip back to the beginning of this series by checking out the Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing post.

Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaves. You could call these Chinese Tamales. Dried lotus leaves wrapped around a bundle of filling and sticky rice, and steamed. The rice is sweet and sticky, and the leaves have a faint tea aroma. The fillings vary. Most of the time, they have some meat -- maybe the drumstick part of a chicken wing and some chinese sausage, maybe some mushroom. Those are usually cone shaped and about the size of a baseball or bigger. The ones you see pictured are a dessert version -- filled with red beans and red banana. You can get the meat version at either Little Panda or Golden Wok. The dessert version is available most days at Oriental Mart -- the Asian grocery on Grand River across from Golden Wok. (They have a lot of dim sum items in the case and freshly made -- including some amazing, and yet greasy springrolls.)

NOTE: The sticky rice in lotus leaves is sometimes called "Sweet Rice with Chicken and Pork" or something like that. It makes it easy to mix up with the "Sweet Rice Dumpling" whch is fried. If you are unclear what you are ordering, ask how it's cooked -- is it deep-fried or wrapped in a lotus leaf?

Greens and oyster sauce. These are a great accompaniment to dim sum, especially if you want to up your vegetable matter. I don't think they have it at Little Panda (though I have never asked), but Golden Wok has it on request (and sometimes on the cart). The greens, which may be a broccholi raab rather than the little bok chois pictured here, come with a little dipping bowl of salty oyster sauce. I've never seen either place in town offer similar platters of meats, but most larger dim sum houses will also have platters of sliced bbq pork or duck as well.

Silver Noodles. There are several kinds of platters of noodles available for dim sum. These silver noodles are hand rolled, fresh rice noodles. They have a nice chewy texture like other rice noodles, but unfortunately look a little like worms. However they taste really good. At Little Panda they serve these stir-fried with some vegetables. Another favorite noodle dish which is available both at dim sum and on the regular menu is Singapore Noodles (or "Fried Vermicelli Singapore Style"). This is a stirfried thin rice noodle, seasoned with curry and served with shrimp and chinese sausage and peapods and other veggies.

Congee, Juk or Joke. Congee is a dim sum tradition -- a brunch food. It's a thick rice soup or gruel, made with chicken broth and often served with a "cruller", or a stick of fried bread to dip in it. It may be plain or with various meats, seafoods, or even a thousand year old egg. The picture here is of my own homemade congee -- which I make with whole grain rice, and corn and greens. What you get in a restaurant will be whiter and creamier. You can get this at Peking Express and other more authentic type Chinese restaurants too. Lamai often serves it with a little toasted garlic, grated ginger and cilantro sprinkled on top.

Sesame Balls. (I don't have a picture of these, but I'll add one when I get one.) These are our favorite dessert at Dim Sum. They are a ball of sticky rice flour dough, filled with either sweet red bean paste or sweet yellow lotus bean paste, coated in sesame seeds and deep fried. (You can often get these at Oriental Mart as well.) We call them Chinese Jelly Donuts. The wrapper is chewy and sticky, and the filling only lightly sweetened.

Mango Pudding. It's not really pudding. It's jello, made with a little milk. Not as sweet as American jello, and pretty refreshing, though we usually skip it because there are other things to fill up on. It comes in a bowl with a maraschino cherry on top. You often have a choice of Almond pudding as well. Sometimes they call this tofu or bean curd rather than pudding -- but that's because jello resembles bean curd to many Asians. (You can buy packs of this at Oriental Mart labelled "Do Fu Delight.")

And then there's Red Bean Pudding, which is also milk jello. At Golden Wok, you get this in big squares. Again, not as sweet, and the red beans add a grittiness to it.

Red Bean Pastry. This is a cool show peice that you don't see often, but may be able to ask for. It's flakey pastry dough, spread with sweet red bean paste, and rolled up, slashed, and baked. Really pretty, and I think it's one of the best ways to eat red bean paste. This you only get at Golden Wok (and that is true of all dishes which require pastry). They also have the little custard tarts -- which are exactly what they look like.

There are many other dishes you may come across. A lot of other dumplings that are similar to those I've already described. I haven't taken pictures of the chicken feet, or the tripe. If you want them, they are available at all dim sum houses. Chicken feet are gelatinous and many people like to suck on the bones. The tripe sometimes comes "red-cooked" or simmered in sweetened soy sauce and spices, and I just might try that sometime.

(NOTE: if you are a more sophisticated dim sum eater, you might notice that there are some dumplings listed on the Golden Wok menu called "Pork Dumplings". The Chinese characters for these list them as xiao long bao -- "little dragon buns" otherwise known as "soup dumplings." They are NOT xiao long bao. They are just pork dumplings. They're good, but they don't spit hot soup at you when you bite into them.)

Happy eating!

Where to find Dim Sum in Lansing
Dim Sum Primer, Part 1
Dim Sum Primer, Part 2
Dim Sum Primer, Part 3
Recommended Reading from

The best book on dim sum, imho is Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch. The recipes are good and they also demystify just what a lot of those dishes ARE for those who just want to eat. (This one is also available at the East Lansing Library, but it's pretty popular and often checked out.

1 comment:

Sara said...

I LOVE sesame balls! I had some in Chinatown in Toronto and haven't found them since (or any good dim sum for that matter!). I'll definitely be checking out Oriental Mart up here for them.