March 9, 2009
NYC Food Guy’s first dim sum experience is complete and what an eating extravaganza it was! I’ll preview each of the 24 different dishes I tasted (in one sitting) and I’ll also provide you with some essential information to ensure you get the most out of your dim sum experience. If you’ve never eaten dim sum before pay close attention to the information I offer or you will be overwhelmed.
If you’ve never eaten Dim Sum, you MUST read this….
If you have eaten dim sum before, in an authentic Cantonese dim sum house, skip ahead and just enjoy the food porn. In the following sections preceding the food I will try to prepare you for the unique cultural experience you will soon undertake.
There’s one thing you can do to GUARANTEE a thorough and authentic experience: bring one person with you who speaks Cantonese. It’s the language of the dim sum house and having someone with you who has mastered it will make the meal.
“Dim Sum” does not mean “dumplings.” It refers to the entire range of dishes offered at the dim sum house. Dim sum is served from breakfast through late afternoon every day but it draws big crowds on weekends. If you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday, get there early, preferably before noon, because there will most likely be a wait and they sometimes run out of certain dishes.
Jing Fong is a massive dim sum house, so much so that you have to take a very steep escalator up to the vast banquet hall.
The Order Card & Pricing
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be unceremoniously ushered to a table and handed an order card (ask for two order cards, if possible, I’ll explain why later). This card is your key to food. Every time you take a steam basket or plate, this card is stamped. You can’t receive food without it. Don’t lose it and try not to spill on it. In case you still don’t comprehend the gravity of this card’s purpose, I’m going to borrow some lines from the film “Full Metal Jacket”:
“This is my order card! There are many like it, but this one is mine! My order card is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, like I master my life. Without me, my order cared is useless. Without my order card, I am useless.”
The size of the dish determines price and where it’s stamped. During the week, every plate at Jing Fong, no matter the size , is $2.95. On weekends, prices vary depending on size from $2.95 to $3.95 to $4.95.
Seizing Your Food
Now the culinary onslaught begins. Carts filled with steam baskets and plates of food will be wheeled quickly past you by mainly Cantonese-speaking women who have little to no patience describing what they’re offering. This is where the “seizing” comes into play. Be adventurous, get out of your seat, card in hand, and take a peek at what’s on the cart. Don’t worry about price, nothing will break the bank, if it looks decent, hand over your card in exchange for some food.
The stream of carts moves very quickly and in turn so must you, as the carts pass you by, continue the card/food exchange until you have a nice base of dishes to work through on your table. Don’t stop investigating passing carts or you may miss some of the best dishes. My two favorite dishes didn’t roll past our table until the very end of the meal. Carts, however, are not the only place to get food.
Steam Table Food & Double Order Card Strategy
Here’s where the double order card strategy comes into play. The photo below depicts just the right half of the Jing Fong dining room when you first enter. At the left of the photo, in front of the stained glass wall and orange-clad employees, are the steam tables. Having a second card provides a major advantage because one person at can acquire food from the steam table area while someone else remains at the table acquiring food from the carts. Dumplings are cooked up fresh next to the steam tables, this is an area not to be overlooked.
Let’s Eat, starting with the favorites…
Char siu sou – Puff pastries filled, topped with honey and filled with sweet and savory roast pork. My favorite item of the entire meal was also the last to arrive at our table showing you how important it is to keep an eye out for the items you’re hoping to try.
Chive & Shrimp Dumplings – These are some of the freshest and tastiest dumplings I’ve ever had, mainly due to the fact that they traveled directly from the frying pan to our plate over at the steam table section.
Deep fried taro dumplings – Beneath the delicate fried taro exterior lies a core of boiled and mashed taro mixed with slightly spicy ground pork. Delicious, it reminded me of a crispy, greasy knish.
Bacon wrapped shrimp – Not as tasty as it could have been because it wasn’t as fresh as I had hoped. The bacon was crisp and dry, the shrimp was juicy and meaty.
Egg Rolls – The crispy and greasy exterior was light and embodied a slightly sweet flavor that was almost dessert-like on its own. Much smaller than your typical egg roll.
Items that were tasty but not terrific…
Steamed Vegetable Dumpling – One of the first items to arrive on our table, the skin was a little gummy but the vegetable filling was fresh and crisp.
Shrimp Har Gow – Har gow refers to wrappers that are steamed until you can see through them. When done right, they’re stickier and a tad chewier than regular dumplings. The shrimp filling was unimpressive.
Siu Mai - Also called “shu mai”, a dish many people have had before at sushi or Chinese restaurants. The wrapper is a lot thinner than the standard dumpling or the har gow, making it easier to one-bite these. Due to the speed at which the siu mai was served and devoured, I can’t recall if there’s meat encased alongside the vegetable filling.
Chicken feet in black bean sauce – Despite being an unlikely source of sustenance, these chicken feet were actually quite tasty, covered in a sauce reminiscent of a sweet General Tso’s sauce. The tiny bit of meat on the feet was surrounded by fat or cartilage.
Whole skin-on shrimp – As Yao Ming says in the T-Mobile Fave 5 commercial, “Eat the head.” You can eat this shrimp in its entirety, eyes, head, skin and tail but I wouldn’t recommend it. Peel the shrimp and save the trouble of working at the crispy skin. They weren’t very hot upon arrival and really didn’t have much flavor.
Fried soft shell crab – I’d rather return to East Buffet in Huntington, Long Island if I’m going to eat a plate of crab. These crispy soft shell crabs were dry, fishy and not very meaty.
Rice noodle roll stuffed with fried dough topped with sweetened soy sauce – The fried dough within the rice noodle was flavorless and cool. The sweetened soy sauce provided the only detectable flavor. If you have a chance to eat these steaming hot, however, go for it.
Soup dumplings – I was all prepared with my soup dumpling spoon as I punctured the thick, gummy skin and readied myself for the outpouring of soup to come. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much soup inside. If it did exist in these dumplings, soup would have been the defining and most memorable flavor.
Pan fried pork dumplings – Picked from the steam table section, these dumplings were just a mediocre version of the typical pork dumpling.
Rice noodle roll stuffed with shrimp – Like their fried dough-filled family, these shrimp-stuffed rice noodles were equally mundane and lacked any real textural diversity.
Turnip Cake – This pan fried, sweet cake is best when dipped in the accompanying sauce. The crisp outer edges gives way to a firm but slightly mushy interior.
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf – Peel back the lotus leaf warpper to reveal a mushy concoction of rice and pork. I was unimpressed by the flavor and would not seek this dish out next time.
Chinese Broccoli – Head to the steam table for an order of watery and lightly-flavored Chinese broccoli.
Curry meatballs – A strong curry flavor overtook these tough and tightly packed meatballs.
Chinese sausage in steamed buns - How bad could this be right? Wrong. The sausages were a little tough and lacked any redeeming flavor. The steamed buns are similar to those of the char siu bauu.
Shrimp and vegetable har gow – A return to the translucent har gow dumpling was not very rewarding, the “pouch-like” construction forced most of the filling to fall out of the dumpling upon first bite.
Fried smelt – Sticking with my goal of being adventurous, we bravely pulled this plate to our table and then proceeded to bite into maybe two of the entire plate’s worth of fish. These arrived crispy on the outside, tender and fishy on the inside, but unfortunately devoid of any heat.
Dishes I didn’t get a chance to try…
Fish balls – After missing out on the first order of fish balls, I balked at the chance to try them again and was greeted with a smile. Apparently, this dish is an acquired taste.
Spare ribs in black beans sauce over rice noodle rolls – Just like the fish balls, I didn’t taste this dish because after trying it himself, King Of Ketchup was unimpressed. Fatty pork meets mushy rice noodles amidst a bland sauce.