Around the Dim Sum Table
the flakiest egg tarts at Empire Seafood
One of the fondest memories I have growing up in Richmond B.C. is sitting around the dim sum table with my family every week. The noise and excitement of it all was enough to make any child dizzy. My siblings and I would watch wide-eyed as the ladies in their notched, Mandarin-collar shirts yelled out names of tempting dishes as they pushed the steaming carts past our table. We were always on the lookout for our favorites: ha gao (shrimp dumplings), wo gok (crispy taro pastries filled with minced pork), or zeen duy (fried sesame-covered orbs filled with lotus seed or red bean paste). The instant gratification of having your chosen dish ready to eat as soon as the ladies stamped your ordering ticket was just a bonus.
my favorite congee: razor clam and geoduck
The dim sum experience was not just a delicious belly-filler, but full of learning lessons, too. My parents were born in China, and held onto a number of traditions from the old country. As my siblings and I grew up, we were expected to pour tea for my parents as a sign of respect. Failure of expectations would result in silent disapproval. Other objectionable actions included: taking the last morsel of food before offering it at least once or twice to everyone seated; placing your used chopsticks directly on the table; scooping food from the side of the plate not nearest to you; picking through the dish to find the “choice bits” for yourself, and so forth…
pan-fried file fish
egg tofu with crab sauce
And though this set of behavioral rules may seem rather strict to the casual observer, dim sum was always a joyous occasion. During these weekly excursions, I became exposed to the more unusual foods I now eat with gusto. It was here that I had spicy steamed tripe for the first time—a dish that remains one of my must-order dishes to this day. It was here that I watched my aunt pick up a chicken foot, deftly chewed the skin off each toe, and spit the tiny bones onto her plate. Plink! Plink! Plink!
(Soon, after I got over the visual, I was enjoying chicken feet, too.)
shu mai with shrimp and scallop
At dim sum is where I think I learned how to critique food as I do. My parents kept a running commentary throughout these meals; they’d debating the flakiness of the egg tarts, the evenness of the pleats in the bao, the crispness of the spring rolls, the lightness of the salted egg yolk buns, the fineness of the slivered ginger that sat in the tiny dishes of black dipping vinegar. I learned not just to stuff my mouth with food, but to appreciate the entire experience. I learned how to be more discerning, to note the delicate interplay of textures and seasonings. I learned how to savor really good food.
cold chicken and jellyfish salad with sesame
Last night, my family and I celebrated my mom’s 58th birthday. We went to a nearby Cantonese restaurant, and my mom ordered one of their set banquet meals. As I stood and divided portions of marinaded jellyfish and slices of cold pork terrine onto each person’s plate, my mom laughed and said: “Oh, I see Lorna has taken over my job now!”
I guess she taught me well.
red bean and condensed milk shaved ice
Someday, my husband and I hope to instill the same sense of tradition and appreciation for food in our own children. Until then, we’re content just to escape up to Richmond every three weeks or so to fill out mouths with the flakiest egg tarts, and our souls with the feeling that only eating dim sum with family can bring.
Posted: August 6th, 2010 under Uncategorized.