Saturday, October 13, 2012

I hum, you hum, we all hum for Dim Sum!!

One of the best parts of learning about a new culture has got to be trying out the food.  While Marisa and I are mere beginners in the art of Asian cuisine, we have been exposed to Thai and now Cantonese food.  We don't know too much about Chinese food, but from what we've heard, we're not exactly in the best part of the country for food.  However, that doesn't mean that Hong Kong doesn't have much to offer our unrefined palate.  Allow me to introduce you to dim sum...

Since many of the dishes are steamed, they're served in these little wooden containers.  It looks cool when you've got your table looking like a warehouse.

     Dim sum is a feast of small servings of steamed or fried dumplings that usually goes down around breakfast or brunch time - unless you're a Westerner, in which case you stroll in for lunch or early dinner.  All of the dim sum restaurants seem to be huge banquet halls with gaudy chandeliers and nice decorations, but the food and service feels much more family style.  You sit at large tables with lazy susans in the middle while you fill out your Bingo-card-looking menu of how many of each item you want.  The first thing to do is to start pouring the tea - there's usually at least two varieties at the table (all-you-can-drink) and that will be the only thing you can expect to drink at this meal.  I usually bring a bottle of water just in case, but I'm starting to get used to the warm tea.

Admittedly, it makes zero sense to me to only serve hot tea at a meal like this.  It also gets a bit messy because tea pots that don't leak when you pour don't exist here - seriously.  Reportedly, the thought is that if you drink warm drinks during the meal it will help break down the fatty foods that you've just consumed.  After a few sittings, I'm actually starting to grow accustomed to the tea drinking.  I mean, it's better than the alternative......

....I'm sorry, but who really wants to drink something called "sweat"?  Tea please!

Marisa has had a great time figuring out how to use chopsticks.  It's been working muscles she never thought she had.  We've heard that some families train their kids to be able to pick up marbles with them - I think that earns you a first degree black belt in chopsticks.

     If there's a pattern to the order in which you receive your food, then I haven't picked up on it, besides the dessert coming at the end.  I suppose it's sort of like tapas, so they come in whatever order they come out of the kitchen.  It usually seems that you eat a bunch of meat first, and then some rice comes out towards the end - which really doesn't make much sense to me.  What I do know is that there are dozens of fantastic little dishes that are served up at a typical dim sum meal.  I'll share pictures of some of the popular ones...

"(ng)ow yook chong fun" - Beef rice roll 
(it's got a translucent wrapping and you douse it with soy sauce)

"cha siu bao" - Barbecue pork bun.  
This is definitely the MVP on my list.  The bun is soft and a bit sticky and the filling is really nice.

 "yu peen jook" - Fish congee.  
This is in a different class of dim sum dishes.  Congee is a rice-based version of porridge.  They like to mix different items in though, such as:  preserved duck egg, beef, fish, pig's blood, etc.

The lazy susan helps to pass dishes around to everyone.

"foong jow" - Chicken feet
The Chinese like to eat meat on bones.  I've been told that this is because they want to eat "active" meat which was used a lot during the life of the animal.  I suppose it doesn't get much more active than eating a part that steps in its own poo all day.  Westerners don't get it because there's not much meat on these things, but the Chinese really love them.

 I had to give them a shot once.  I suppose you could crunch through and eat the whole thing, but I was mostly eating skin and cartilage.  Never knew there were so many damn tarsals and metatarsals!  This was my first, and last chicken foot I'm afraid.

not sure of the name, but it's just beef and carrots.

this is a dessert with some sort of flower petals inside.  interesting taste - kind of like rose jelly if you've had that.

     The sad thing is that I don't know why I never tried this stuff (or even heard of it) before.  My knowledge of Chinese food was limited to fried rice, Mongolian beef, Sweet & Sour pork, Sesame chicken, and some General's chicken.  It now makes me wonder if there are such establishments in the U.S. - I just haven't been looking for them.  It's definitely a fun meal to share with friends and family.  The problem is that the menus are typically in Cantonese and the staff typically won't speak much English.  However, that problem can easily be solved with the purchase of a Dim Sum Guide....

came across this gem in a random bookstore

Two other popular dishes are shown - shrimp dumplings ("ha gow") and pork dumplings ("siu my")

Each page gives you a lovely picture, the Cantonese writing (so that you can find it on the pictureless menus), the English pronunciation, and a description in English.  What a great idea!

If you haven't partaken in dim sum then I strongly encourage you to give it a shot.  Enjoy!

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