Dim Sum: A Small Piece of Heart

Today is Mother’s Day and I wanted to write about Dim Sum.  Dim Sum is a Cantonese cuisine that is typically eaten as weekend brunch.  There are countless varieties of bite sized food that are either sweet or savory and steamed or fried.  Another way to say dim sum in Chinese is “yum cha” which means drink tea.  It’s similar to having English high tea.  To help digest all the food and keep the conversations alive, tables maintain a bottomless pot of tea. 

Dim Sum has changed a lot since my early memories of it.  Middle-aged Chinese women would push food carts around the restaurant stopping at every table to sell their items.   Many of these women would be very pushy.  As a customer, you would have to repeatedly say no.  I always had the silly idea growing up that the “boss” would yell at them if they didn’t sell all their items. 

Some dim sum restaurants have completely rid of food carts.  Now you get a list of dim sum on a piece of paper and you mark which ones you want and how many.  One nice thing about this is that they bring your food selections out which are piping hot which may not always be the case if the food on the carts have been sitting around for a while.  In general, there are definitely less food carts these days, but some restaurants fortunately have kept this tradition alive.  It also keeps you wondering what is coming around the corner in those carts.

As palettes have become much more sophisticated and people have more money, chefs have been given opportunities to be more inventive.  This is true at dim sum restaurants as well.  Chefs will use more delicacies in their dishes and the middle-aged Chinese women walk around carrying trays of Chinese broccoli, noodles with xo sauce, and other interesting Chef specialties. 

There are two categories of dim sum in my eyes– there is the high end dim sum and the inexpensive to midrange dim sum.  I like both.  Depending on how much money I have in my wallet, I can choose accordingly.  The high end restaurants I recommend are the Koi Restaurants (a few around the Bay Area), Yank Sing (SF), and Hong Kong East Ocean (Emeryville).  These restaurants never disappoint in food or service because their employees are educated about customer service.  The inexpensive to midrange restaurants I recommend are East Ocean (Alameda), The Old Place (Oakland), King of King (Oakland).  The food is good and about one half  to one third of the price of the high end restaurants.  As I made my list of recommendations, I realized that none of my recommendations are in a Chinatown and this is not because I don’t go to Chinatown. My theory is that a large population who like dim sum including myself avoid Chinatown for dim sum because it’s a hard place to meet others as parking is usually difficult. 

But whichever category of dim sum I choose, I always go back to the core old school favorites – pork dumplings, egg tarts, chicken feet, pork spareribs, steamed bbq pork buns, and fried taro balls, but a plate of Chinese broccoli always helps to balance out the meal.

Here are some photos of the dim sum that I brought home for my family this mother’s day.  For a holiday, this was a great idea because waiting for a table could cost you over an hour of your time.  I arrived at The Old Place a little before 11am and there was already a wait.  I told the host I wanted some dim sum to go and they told me to go to the back.  They pulled a tray asking me what I wanted out of the cart.  It took about 5 minutes and I was on my merry way.