Ever since meeting my now hubbie, Jimmy, I've been eating at very tasty Chinese restaurants which Chinese people (transplants from China and Hong Kong) like to eat at. This has opened a whole new world of Chinese cuisine to me. While Chinese food was never my favorite, it has now moved to the list of "types of food to eat".
My husband (and sometimes I) will go to eat dim sum with his father and his siblings once every weekend. Many other Chinese families meet up and share a dim sum meal together every weekend. It is their weekend ritual to sit together, share a meal, and catch up on their week with each other. The Chinese Cultural Plaza located in Downtown Chinatown is crowded with all the Chinese families, local families, and tourists waiting in a line for their seat inside one of the many Chinese restaurants there.
Inside Royal Garden Restaurant on Mother's Day
Man peering into basket to get a closer look.
Man peering into basket to get a closer look.
As a non-Chinese person, I was brought up going to the local neighborhood Chinese restaurants---which ranges anywhere from "don't go there" to "pretty good". But, when you eat with Chinese people, they will take you to Chinese restaurants that you've never been to and choose dishes that I as a local, born and raised in Hawaii, never tasted before.
During my Pre-husband days (from small kid time 'til then), my family and friends would choose the normal Chinese plates for a meal. These dishes would consist of Chow mein noodles or Chow fun noodles, Beef with Broccolli, Lemon Chicken, sweet and sour spareribs, fried won ton...sound familiar?
Now, when I eat out with my husband's family, we go to Chinese restaurants mainly located in Chinatown. Once in a blue moon, they will venture out farther from Chinatown and go to places like Royal Garden or Panda's Restaurant. When we eat out, they will choose dishes such as these---steamed lobster or crab in black bean sauce or a tasty brown sauce (don't know the name "sorry"), steamed fish, fried tofu, whole roasted chicken with chinese five spice salt on side.
My family has gone to dinner at Chinese restaurants with my husband's family on a couple different occasions and have eaten many different dishes that they've never eaten before. My family now knows what they have been missing. They look forward to eating with my husband's family because they know the meal will be an unforgettable one.
So, this time, my husband's family is not there to choose the dim sum dishes. It is all up to me and my husband. As Jimmy, my husband, talks Chinese to the dim sum cart gal, she opens up various baskets and says what it is. Then, basket after basket is chosen and placed onto our table. Cart after cart come by and Jimmy chooses what we'll eat. An order of cake noodles is ordered with the waiter. Keeping in mind that my mom doesn't eat seafood and my dad doesn't eat meat, he chooses an assortment to satisfy all their palates. My brother Brad and Michelle, his wife, eat whatever is before them.
As the food is chosen, the cart gals stamp the dim sum card which is left on each table. In no time, many little stamps appear on the card. Lots of dim sum baskets cover the table. Chopsticks are clicking away, picking up the delectable dumplings. Little sauce dishes are filled with yellow mustard, red hot sauce, and mixed with shoyu. When I eat, I love to dip my dumplings into this hot sauce mixture. I like my food with an extra punch of heat.
The trick to choosing dim sum from the cart is to ask the cart gal "what's in the basket?" and point to it. She'll then open the cover and say in English what it is. If you don't understand what that is, then just ask. She'll do her best to explain. Sometimes, you just have to be daring and choose something even though you're not sure. You're more likely than not to be pleasantly surprised and think that you've just found you're new fav dim sum...that is until the next basket is opened and the yummies inside revealed.
What's my favs? I love the "bau"---the mini steamed white little buns stuffed with seasoned pork or chicken. Who can resist those tender white fluffy buns? My other fav is "jook" which is rice gruel with chopped green onions (aka scallions) and choice of other toppings such as chicken, pork, preserved egg. You always need to put in an order with the waiter and get a platter of noodles----like chow fun w/beef and black bean sauce, or the thin curried Shanghai noodles, or the good old chicken with cake noodles. I also enjoy the look fun with spareribs which comes in a little black pot and is piping hot and soft and yummy. The fried taro balls which is shaped more like little footballs. My all time fav is "Dragon Buns" or "Shanghai Buns" which is a special order---you have to order it with the waiter not the cart gal. Love the red vinegar and ginger slivers on top of the dragon bun. So delish!
Don't forget to try the seafood dim sums if you love seafood. I'm not really into the seafood dim sum b/c I'm just not a seafood type of gal. But everyone else loves them.
There are sooooo many choices. You just have to be adventuresome and choose something a little out of your comfort zone everytime you go. The cost for a little plate of dim sum is pretty affordable---like $2.50 on up. So if you're eating with a bunch of people, you can try a bunch of different plates and not spend a fortune. What an exciting culinary adventure that you can share together with your family and friends!
When eating Chinese food, remember to drink lots of hot tea to wash the oils down. When your tea pot is out of tea, just take the little tea pot cover and flip it over and leave it this way on top of the pot. This is a sign to the waiter to refill your tea pot. Keep in mind that these restaurants are very very busy during the peak dim sum hours, so you may have to politely waive down a waiter and ask for refill of your tea pot or your glasses of cold water.
During meals with Jimmy's family, drinking hot tea is their beverage of choice. Only the younger crowd will also ask for tall cold glasses of water. The tea pots on the table are refilled several times by the waiters. That's a lot of tea!
Near the end of the meal, you must treat yourself to the little custard tartlets. When you see the cart go by, ask the cart gal for a plate or 2. The best is when they are piping hot right out of the oven. But even cold, this is a good way to end your meal.
Little custard tartlets on left side of photo
At the end of our meal, my mother and father really enjoyed the dim sum meal as they tried new dim sum dishes that they wouldn't have chosen themselves. My whole family had smiles on their faces and full stomachs. Too bad my older brother and s-in-law weren't able to make it as they were on a trip to Oregon. My s-in-law, Sarah, really loves her dim sum. Oh well, maybe next time.
Cabinet of interesting Chinese food items
located in entry way
See Dried Shark fin to extreme left
REAL bird nest for the authentic bird nest soup
Dried Sea Cucumber