Time for an SAT-type test: Brunch is to Americans as ______ is to Chinese.
If you answered dim sum, then you’re already in on one of the best meals to be had. For the rest of you, a little explanation might be necessary. Dim sum's origins date back to the Silk Road exotic trade route, which spanned thousands of miles, bringing Asian goods to Europeans. It was customary for travelers to stop at teahouses along the way (sort of a precursor to the roadside diner). Hungry travelers need more than tea, so many of these places began serving dumplings and buns that could be prepared quickly. The tradition evolved into the bustling midday meal popular in southern China, especially Hong Kong.
The dim sum meal consists of seafood, meat or vegetables, sometimes in sauce, often in a dumpling or bun served in individual steamer baskets or on small plates. Typically a plate is enough for 2-3 people to sample each item. To keep up with the number of orders, traditional service involves carts moving throughout the restaurant and diners simply order from each cart, with each plate priced at just a few dollars. In South Florida only a few places offer cart service, most present you with a dim sum menu.
I became addicted to dim sum while I lived with a Chinese family. Here are a few of my favorite places in the area.
Pine Court Chinese Bistro
10101 Sunset Strip, Sunrise
This place gets busy early, so arrive soon after 11 a.m. or you’ll have quite a wait for a table. However, early seating means a longer wait for food, because they don’t really get cart serving going until the place fills up. In the meantime order some soup or a noodle dish from the a la carte menu. By the time you finish your first course, the carts will be plentiful. Service is friendly, although language can be a barrier with the cart pushers. There is a menu listing dishes with descriptions, but no hint on how to say the Chinese name. If you have questions, flag down your waiter to explain each dish. No web site or Facebook page.
4145 NW 88th Ave., Sunrise
Toa Toa's dim sum is offered on a checklist accompanied by a menu with pictures. The dim sum here is among the best I’ve had, and is delivered to your table by your waiter, no cart service. As dim sum dishes are best sampled with a large group, this means a wait between dishes. It’s best to order two or three dishes in multiples so that everyone has a chance to sample the dish at one time. For example, if there are six in your party and an order of dumplings is four, place an order for two servings at once.
Pink Buddha Chinese Restaurant
5949 S. University Dr., Davie
The staff is very friendly and accommodating, and the food is delicious. The dim sum section of the menu is minimal; however, many of the dishes listed as appetizers would be considered dim sum in most restaurants. Round that out with some soup and a couple of a la carte dishes and you’ll be more than satisfied.
China Pavilion Restaurant
10041 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines
This place also gets packed soon after it opens, mostly with Chinese families, so you know the food is good. Service can be haphazard and it is menu service. No web site but it is on Facebook.
Dragon Gourmet Buffet
1091 S University Dr., Plantation
This is a buffet, with a vast selection (its website says that there are 200 different items, I think that be an under-estimate), rather than dim sum service. It is very clean, and the service is friendly. The main reason to go there though, is the fact that it features not only a section devoted to dim sum, but also a sushi buffet (which is not only fresh, but also color coded as to whether it is vegetarian, raw or cooked). It’s reasonably priced, $16 bucks a head, max (depending on day and time). The web address listed is not working, but you can find it on Facebook.
Decoding Dim Sum
While many dim sum dishes, such as bbq ribs, fried rice, steamed vegetables, etc., are easily identifiable, others can be a bit of a mystery. Asking for specific dishes during dim sum cart service can be frustrating, as most of the staff pushing the dim sum carts doesn’t speak English. The following are among the most popular dishes. Say the protein followed by the name of the dish, for example, rice noodles (fun) with shrimp (xi) would be xi fun. These are for Cantonese, rather than Mandarin, and are spelled phonetically.
xi = shrimp, zūr òu = pork, núr òu = beef, ji = chicken, doufu = tofu
har gow – a steamed rice flour dumpling, usually filled with shrimp
shu mai – a drum-shaped wheat-flour noodle dumpling-usually filled with ground pork or beef
bao – buns (either steamed or baked) with a meat or bean paste filling
fun – steamed rice noodles, often folded around meat or shrimp
fun gor – a translucent dumpling made from a mixture of flour and cornstarch, usually with a light filling (chives, spinach, finely chopped meats)
lo mai gai – a lotus leaf (non edible) stuffed with sticky rice and meat or eggs.
yong taofu – fried tofu skin pockets stuffed with finely chopped meat and water chestnuts
tau zi fung zao – chicken feet (you don’t eat the feet so much as suck the teriyaki-like sauce off of them)
lo bak gou – a pan-fried rice-flour cake usually studded with bits of Chinese sausage.
gai lei gok – a fried puff-pastry like dough, usually with a curried meat filling
hom su gok – egg-shaped rice and wheat flour dough packets stuffed with meat and vegetables
wu gok – mashed taro root formed into a ball around ground meat, then deep fried
jewan dwee – sweet rice dough balls filled with sweet bean paste and covered