Growing up we had this Saturday morning ritual. We’d pile into the van and my dad would drive us down to Chinatown for our weekly dose of dim sum. Inevitably, there would be a wait and you’d be assigned a number written on a scrawled out post-it note. My brother and I would run up and down the stairs tapping on the glass of the aquarium and we’d pretend to ride the stone dragon statues that guarded the front entrance. If we were feeling nice, we’d let my sister join in.
“Numbah Fir-tee Foh, Numbah Fir-tee Foh! Saam-sup Sei!!!”. Number 34.
Eventually our number would get called, we’d be led to a table covered in a pristine, white disposable plastic and a giant lazy susan. A waiter would come by with two pots of jasmine tea and we would all wait patiently poking holes in the plastic, and drawing on the paper placemats. It was a sad day if we forgot to bring a pen. Excitedly we would perk up when the lady shouting “Ha Gao! Siu Mai!” would come near.
Ha Gao – steamed shrimp dumplings, Char Siu Bao – steamed BBQ pork buns and Daan Taat – Chinese Egg Tarts. This is my essential list of what, for me, makes a successful dim sum trip. Even to this day, I cannot leave a dim sum meal without having these three items – regardless if I’m already full. An informal poll amongst my Chinese friends reveal a similar, though sometimes varying list.
We’ve expanded our Chinese food weekend outings to include Shanghainese Xiao Long Bao joints, not just Cantonese Dim Sum. Directly translated, it means “Little Dragon Packets”. They are steamed soup dumplings (not to be confused with dumpling soup) – filled with either pork or shrimp or some combination of both, and an explosion of hot soup. It can be dangerous and messy. It is also extremely delicious.
These days we don’t get to go as often, and there are no aquariums to disturb or stone statues for my kids to climb on, but there are some things I do hope my kids get to hold on to for tradition’s sake.