Dim sum for lunch makes me happy, very happy indeed.
My Grandad on my Dad’s side hailed from Hong Kong, so certain delicious Chinese delights, such as Char Siu Bao, remind me of my first tastes of dim sum, and offer the same kind of comfort food nourishment to me as macaroni cheese or my favourite, Pie & Mash.
I like to think of dim sum as the Chinese version of ‘afternoon tea’, as I only ever enjoy after 12pm, however traditionally, I believe this is served all day, and of course with the accompaniment of Chinese herbal tea. Not a massive fan of herby teas, I usually wash my dim sum down with a bottle of two of Tsintao, probably the most well known Chinese beer.
Many of the restaurants around Chinatown in Soho get a bad press, but actually there are a few real jewels, and frankly I blame sheer snobbery for people shunning the ‘dutty’ looking venues in favour of more fine dining style Chinese. Dim sum doesn’t need to be gourmet or artisan, so here is a lunch recommendation for one of my favourites, Young Chen on Lisle Street.
Probably the most well known dish, Siu Mai, are the little pork and prawn dumplings topped with bright orange cod roe gems. An odd looking little dish of steamed parcels, there is a reason they are so commonly known, they are absolutely delicious, and the Young Chen varieties always leave you wanting more. The always have a mixed texture inside, minced pork, chopped up pieces of prawn and a flavourful bite from spring onion – they are a must order at any dim sum venue.
One of my favourite dishes, has to be King Prawn Cheung Fun, not least because it includes my surname. Again, this isn’t the most beautiful or inviting plate of food, however the cannelloni-like rice noodle wrappers, filled with deliciously fresh, large meaty prawns and sitting in a pool of sticky, salty soy sauce can bring such a joyful sensation to the mouth. Like many dishes served as dim sum, Cheung Fun has a sweetness to it and for me, it is a truly addictive plate of food.
Ha Gau, the other well-known dumpling, are another favourite – shaped like a sea shell, the original are filled, again with prawns and are quite simply fantastic little bites of joy. But do try other varieties too, such as those with chives.
I cannot order dim sum, no matter how many are in my company, whether one or ten, without ordering one of my favourite things in the world – squid cakes. I don’t know the Chinese name for these sadly, but they are fabulous patties made up of squid, fiery chilly, garlic and ginger and the herb that frankly improves most things to my mind, coriander. I didn’t take a photo on my last visit, despite knowing I would be writing about them, as I literally inhale as soon as they arrive.
If you like Char Siu Bao, or indeed deliciously sweet char siu, or the sweet BBQ pork of Chinese restaurants, then you will probably like what I call Char Siu Pastries. Little mini pies of slightly greasy flaky pastry filled with the delicious barbecued meat and topped with sesame seeds – they are to die for. The element of grease is particularly good if you have been on the sauce the night before too.
These are probably the dishes I most often order and enjoy when having dim sum, but there are tons of others that often make up the selection, such as fried chickens feet (yes really), turnip paste and lots of other dumplings. If I go with a crowd, normally my family, then we might be likely to order Beef Ho Fun – flat, delicious fried noodles topped with tender beef in a black bean sauce, or crispy noodles with seafood to bulk up the order too.
One thing that I must mention, is the simple, but incredibly delicious dessert of dim sum – the egg custard tarts. An alarmingly yellow hued custard centre surrounded by sweet, flaky pastry these are an absolute must if you have a sweet tooth like me.
Dim sum can vary in cost depending on how many of you there are and how hungry you are. But if you go in a two to Young Chen and order 4-5 dishes of the above you could expect change from £40 so it’s a reasonably, yet very enjoyable food experience.