It’s the Year of the Rabbit, and to celebrate we decided to hit Chinatown last weekend for some Dim Sum with friends! We played it by ear, walked around a bit and settled on a sure deal… China Pearl. If you know Chinatown and you like Dim Sum… then you’ve been to China Pearl.
The place was bustling… I think we got there around 11am-ish on Sunday. We were seated immediately and before we could even get settled, the food started coming!
So, what is Dim Sum? According to Wikipedia:
Dim sum is a Cantonese term for a type of Chinese dish that involves small individual portions of food, usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate.
Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baau, dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart. Having a meal in a Chinese teahouse or a dim sum restaurant is known as yum cha (yam cha, 飲茶), literally “drinking tea”, as tea is typically served with dim sum.
Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Because of the small portions, people can try a wide variety of food.
Dim sum dishes can be ordered from a menu or sometimes the food is wheeled around on a trolley by servers. Traditionally, the cost of the meal is calculated based on the number, size, and sometimes color of the dishes left on the patron’s table (more below).
As I mentioned, as soon as we sat down the carts started pulling up to the table. These items are not listed on a menu, so I will do my best to give a basic overview of what they were and I’ll give you best guess on what the formal names MIGHT have been.
This is not a picture from our experience, but this is an example of what the food carts look like:
First we picked a fried seafood dumpling. I’m not sure exactly what these were, but their exterior shell was very much like an Indian Samosa.
These were delicious… Savory, crispy on the outside and delicate yet full of flavor on the inside. They definitely had shrimp in them and obviously some kind of green… but other than that, I couldn’t tell you!
Next up were a type of steamed greens with a soy-based sauce. This was REALLY yummy. The sauce was perfectly salty and the greens were crisp yet fully cooked. The large stems were a bit tough to bite through, but worth the messiness of eating them (remember, no knives and forks).
The carnivores at the table (pretty much everyone but me and the boy!) ordered up some pork next. Looked pretty gross and fatty to me, but according to The Husband, once he peeled the fat off it was quite tasty.
Here is the pork with a pork-filled bun… from what I can venture (using Wikipedia) I think the bun was a baked Cha siu bao:
Cha siu bao, also spelled char siu bao, are Cantonese barbecue pork buns (baozi). The buns are filled with barbecue-flavored cha siu pork.
And a basic definition…
Bau (包 bau or 包子 bao zi): Baked or steamed, these fluffy buns made from wheat flour are filled with food items ranging from meat to vegetables to sweet bean pastes.
According to the carnivores, this was good too. The outside of the bun is washed with sugar, lending a sweet and savory taste.
With more meat coming, I wanted to grab some vegetarian things… so I jumped when the cart-lady said “Taro?” Plus, look how gorgeous and delicate these look! These fried taro dumplings are called Wu Gok.
The inside of these Wu Gok had something in them that I couldn’t put my finger on. Good thing I didn’t know what I was eating at the time…
According to a great a little blog I found (Yum Honey!):
Wu Gok are crispy, tender dumplings made by boiling and mashing purple taro root, and then filling each dumpling with a mixture of pork and mushrooms. The wu gok are then deep fried until light and fluffy. Something about biting through the crunchy outside followed by the savory filling is just delicious.
Hmmm… looks like me, the non-beef and pork eater, ate PIG. Hurl. But yes, I enjoyed them.
This is the duck. It was covered in fat. The meat eaters chose to peel the skin and fat off. Even though I’ll eat foie gras and sometimes duck confit, I passed on this. The consensus was that it was tasty as well.
I think these dumplings are traditional Har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), but they may have been just plain Gao (see below). These were my favorite of the day… Light, delicate, savory and delicious.
According to wikipedia:
Gao / Jiao (餃子 jiao zi): Jiao zi is a standard in most teahouses. They are made of ingredients wrapped in a translucent rice flour or wheat starch skin, and are different from jiaozi found in other parts of China. Though common, steamed rice-flour skins are quite difficult to make. Thus, it is a good demonstration of the chef’s artistry to make these translucent dumplings. There are also dumplings with vegetarian ingredients, such as tofu and pickled cabbage.
The hot chili paste that was served as a condiment for all the dishes. It was pretty damn hot…
These were called vegetarian spring roles and were served with pickled vegetables. These were not like other traditional spring roles I’ve had though. The wrapper was interesting… it almost had a friend egg texture. Upon further research, I THINK these may have been wrapped in “tofu skin”, aka tofu skin rolls — which can be served steamed or fried.
According to wikipedia:
The fried version is known as (腐皮捲, fu pei gyun). The first character “fu” comes from tofu, though a more accurate description is that the skin is made from the ingredient bean curd. Some Cantonese restaurants serve the fried crispy version at night, often with mayonnaise as dipping sauce. Another name is the (豆腐捲, tofu gyun). Some ingredients include bamboo shoot, small carrots, tofu, scallions, sesame oil, bean sprouts.
This definition sounds exactly like what these were. They were quite heavy and very filling… the inside reminded me a bit of an eggroll… but better.
Definitely the grossest looking dish of the day… these were “pork spare ribs”. That’s all we were told. To me, they don’t look like pork OR ribs! They had a small amount of meat on little cut up chunks of bone. They were obviously steamed (based on the gray color). These were eaten, but I don’t think they were a favorite… purely because of presentation.
The final meat dish was steamed pork meatballs. The Husband wasn’t a huge fan. They were too “meaty” if that’s possible.
According to wikipedia:
Steamed meatball is a Cantonese dim sum dish. It is popular in Hong Kong and most overseas Chinatowns. The meatball is made of beef, and usually has a tofu skin layer in the bottom, garnished with some vegetables like scallions. It is served with the standardized non-Chinese worcestershire sauce worldwide. The sauce in Hong Kong is known as kip zap (喼汁; Yale: gip3jap1), and is entirely optional.
I’m pretty sure they told us these were pork… but they very well could have been beef.
And the last dish we got was steamed glutinous rice with chicken in lotus leaf wrap, also known as Lo Mai Gai.
According to Wikipedia:
Lo mai gai is mostly a southern Chinese food. It contains glutinous rice filled with chicken, Chinese mushrooms, Chinese sausage, scallions and sometimes dried shrimp. The ball of rice is then wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and steamed. In North America, banana, lily, or grape leaves may be used instead.
In Malaysia and Singapore, there are two variants of lo mai gai. The first is the original Cantonese version and the other a takeaway style served at coffee shops and speciality local dim sum shops.
Unfortunately, I did not taste this but would have liked to. By this point, all but one person at the table were too full to eat anything else! It looked pretty good though!
We had three boys with us (ages 3, 6 and 7), so of course we had to let them get dessert. We picked one dish for them to share… a layered gelatin. They loved it and ate it all, so it must have been decent!
It looked a bit suspect to me.
Overall, a GREAT first Dim Sum experience (yes, I’m ashamed to admit this was a first for me). The dishes were good, the staff was right on top of things and the price was right. For all 7 of us the bill came to $70 total. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to give this Chinese brunch tradition a try, I definitely recommend heading to China Pearl… it seems to be a pretty safe bet.