Monday, May 3, 2010

Week #34 Dim Sum

I'm convinced that "dim sum" is Chinese for "mealtime free-for-all." It would certainly seem that way, at least if you do it right. To have dim sum by yourself would be about as pointless as watching Rocky Horror Picture Show at home all alone. Some things are just made to be enjoyed in a group, and dim sum is one of them. The more people at the table the more fun it is, even if you do end up in a chopstick duel over the last dumpling.
They're all goners...tasty, tasty goners...

Frankly, it's difficult to discuss dim sum as a cuisine like you would other cuisines, because its primary distinguishing characteristic is that it's essentially communal small-plate dining, Chinese style. Dim sum originated as a snack in the tea houses of southern China several centuries ago, but it has since evolved into a full blown meal that comprises cooking styles from across this vast country.

Himself and I were among a party a dozen strong that went to East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley to indulge in one of those free-for-alls. Our friends Bob and Grace, who treated us to Chinese hot pot back in the winter, organized this food fest. While Grace is nowhere near grannydom yet, she's already in serious training. This is important, because what's crucial is to find the best dim sum possible for the least amount of money. If you've selected such a place you'll know by the sheer numbers of Chinese grannies you find there. If you don't spot any--particularly if you're there on a Sunday morning--do a rapid U-turn and keep looking. Grace's radar is especially attuned to good seafood, so we were in capable hands for this feast.
This dish, with its abundance of really good lobster and a tiny, tiny price tag, is the main reason she suggested this particular restaurant. But I pushed the lobster aside in favor of the noodles. They were freshly made and divine, flavored with everything that's sitting atop them--noodles bathed in the essence of all that lobster. (Well, okay, I had a couple of bites of lobster, and yes, it was fine stuff, too.)
The eggplant was stuffed with seafood and topped with black beans, peppers, onions and sesame seeds. It's difficult to tell, but there are four servings here. This was a strong contender for "Best Dish of the Meal," even in the face of unfair competition from an obscene amount of lobster.
And this is fried tofu stuffed with seafood. Are we noticing a theme here? Well, yes, it is a seafood restaurant. I've never had both seafood and tofu in the same bite, but it works, it really does.
This small plate looks pretty modest, with a bite of a half-dozen different things. But when you eat it all, and then more comes out and you eat that, and then more comes out and you eat that...you realize at some point that you shouldn't have had that last go-round. But it was all so gooood... By the way, that rather ghostly looking little pink dumpling to the right was filled with the fattest, juiciest shrimp I've ever had. And the pork bun in the foreground would have made a good dessert, with its sweet barbecue sauce. Note those sad little green beans nestled in there, trying to make up for everything else we were eating. They were no match for all that deep-fried, saucy goodness.
This photo doesn't adequately display the onslaught, for as soon as a steamer or plate was emptied, it was quickly whisked away. But you can tell that by this point, we were all starting to slow down and sink deeper into our seats.
Bringing order out of chaos: SOMEBODY'S gotta do it! (I did finally eat those green beans, by the way.)

"Dim sum" more or less translates as "touch the heart," which originally had to do with the business of having a light snack to tide you over. But I prefer to think of the heart touching aspect of sitting down to eat with a group, with the conviviality, abundance and happy confusion involved in spinning the lazy susan and trying to grab a bite of something before it goes whizzing past. Of gloating over having scored that final piece. And of sharing a bite of it with someone else who was after it, too.

By the end of the meal Himself and I were almost in a coma, thick of head and slow of gait. As we staggered toward our car, we agreed: Too much dim sum will make you dim and then some. But in a good way. ;)

1 comment:

Grace said...

Carol, your pictures made me hungry all over again and although I am far far away from being a grandmother, That was quite astute of you and so true .... (about the chinese grandma), I was brought there by my great aunt and my aunt, two chinese woman who take pride in their ability to always get the best deal! there's no better way to choose a restaurant!