Dim Sum Anyone?

The cultural and culinary mix of food options in the United States makes it impossible to characterize in one type of cuisine. From Chinese to Italian and Mexican to Thai, we enjoy a wide array of cuisines to choose from. In taking advantage of these diverse cuisines, I decided to go eat Dim Sum which is newly offered at Chinatown (3407 Greystone Dr (512-343-9307) ‎. It had been a couple of years since my last Dim Sum experience and I was very eager to see and enjoy the diversity that is Chinese cuisine. For those of you not aware of Dim Sum, it essentially is the name for Chinese cuisine that involves a wide array of small and large dishes served alongside Chinese tea. In other words, it can be thought of the Chinese version of a Spanish Tapas restaurant. The dishes include meats, seafood, vegetables, as well as fruit and desserts. Once again the culture’s culinary history teaches us the importance of food and how it can be a great history lesson. The history of Dim Sum started on the Silk Road which is a series of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent. These routes connected Eastern and Western Asia by linking traders and merchants during various periods of time throughout history. It was here where rural farmers taking a break in the afternoon would like to have a cup of tea. Once understanding that tea aids in digestion, they began to create small plates of food much like the small plates you see today in Dim Sum restaurants across the country.

In just the last several years, Austin has transformed itself from a limited to a diverse and multi-ethnic cuisine scene. As more ethnic groups have arrived so have the restaurants. This trend is very evident when experiencing a Dim Sum meal at Chinatown. For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to experience a Dim Sum feast and find yourself lost please read below and take notes of the many diverse and appetizing plates you will encounter on your next Dim Sum adventure…

Dumplings (Jiaozi) – Beautifully hand made dough (made of flour and water) twisted at top to maintain a juicy filling which explodes in your mouth with an unbelievable depth of flavor – the dumplings can be filled with meat and/or vegetables.

Pot Stickers – These mouthwatering pot stickers are dumplings filled with pork and veggies which are steamed and then pan fried. For those of you Dim Sum experts, please note that although potstickers are sometimes served in dim sum restaurants, they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum.

Sticky rice – These bamboo steamer baskets contain a ball of sticky rice that is filled with fresh vegetables and pork. Lotus leafs are wrapped around the sticky rice so that it steams perfectly maintaining the flavor and moisture of the rice and filling.

Cha siu baau – These scrumptious pork sticky buns are made of soft airy bread that is then filled with a tasty barbecued pork filling, For those of you who like pork sliders, this is the plate you will fall in love with.

Chicken feet – My adventurous side wanted to try something new and different and boy was it – the flavor was phenomenal, the texture not so much. I personally found it too gelatinous and filled with too many small bones to fully enjoy.

Shrimp paste on sugar cane – These little morsels were one of my favorite things throughout the entire meal. Sweet and juicy sugar canes (which I gnawed on throughout the meal) are used as skewers holding together a sort of shrimp mousse which is deep fried. The combination of sweet and savory is divine and one you will not want to miss.

Coffee glazed pork ribs – I am not exactly sure how these are prepared but my oh my…talk about good! My guess is that the ribs are first braised in some sort of stock. Then while being grilled or roasted, they mop on a coffee based glaze on the ribs. What is more appealing is that they serve them in a coffee cup with the glaze just drizzled all over the ribs. This small appetizer was also one of my favorites.

Vegetables – For those wondering where the greens are, Dim Sum at Chinatown also serves up some delectable and fresh steamed asparagus and spinach.

Egg Tart (dan tat) – These sweet egg custard tarts are to die for! The flaky puff pastry type dough is formed into mini tart shells and filled with a rich egg custard filling.

Another charming aspect about the Dim Sum experience is the environment and the process. The interior of the restaurant is a mixture of historical and sleek Asian architecture. The staff looks sharp and is very helpful and eager to describe each plate to those who look confused or interested in learning more. When you notice you are one of the few non-Asian customers in the restaurant, you quickly realize this place is good and authentic. Additionally, if your drink of choice is tea (as it is for me) you can take part in the custom of pouring tea for others before filling your own cup.

The fun begins when you start to see all the amazing food being wheeled around on red trolleys by servers. The food just keeps coming and coming giving you the opportuntity to ask for a plate one minute and then politley decline another. The plates are all different  in terms of size, color, and ingredients thus establishing their prices. All plates ordered are recorded on a bill at the table which is then tallied up at the end to get your total amount. I have read that the literal translation of the word Dim Sum means, “close to the heart” or “a little bit of heart.” Either way, please take a culinary adventure with your loved one(s) and visit the heart of the Dim Sum movement at Chinatown soon!