Ok. Dim sum doesn't really translate to yum yum. Apparently it means something like, "a bit of heart" or "touch the heart", but don't tell my stomach that. To my belly it means yum...plain and simple.
My husband and I watch travel shows like they're going out of style. Ok. Maybe I watch them like they're going out of style and my wonderful husband humors me with a smile and a "yes sweetie...we will go there some day" as I bounce up and down on the couch pointing and squeaking like a child who had just spotted the latest and greatest toy. In these shows they go to the ends of the earth and back to experience, see, understand and eat all that the region has to offer. And in most, if not all of the shows featuring the hosts trying new and exciting cuisine in places like southern China, the shows are sure to include a bit on dim sum and the infamous boiled chicken foot. Some may look at this part of the show with disgust. The hubby and I, on the other hand, look at it wide eyed and drooling. When something as gross to us as a chicken foot is so common place for folks in another culture we can't help but wonder why, and so, we almost always set out in search of that exotic taste and hopefully a look into another culture. This weekend we we got lucky and not only were able to experience a bit of the tradition surrounding dim sum...but also got a chance to taste that new and exciting dish....chicken foot.
Dim sum originated in southern China and was, and still is, focused around drinking tea and sharing small plates as a sort of snack. It is also meant to be eaten as a late breakfast or lunch, and many restaurants(like this one) stop serving Dim Sum after 3pm. It's funny to me that this was traditionally supposed to be a snack, sort of like you would eat for "tea time". If you sat in that room filled with cart after cart of rolling deliciousness you would find it hard to simply "snack" and instead fight to keep your inner piggy from jumping out and eating every plate that comes your way.
When we arrived at Ocean Harbor, a very traditional dim sum restaurant/dining hall(this place was huge) in Philadelphia's China Town for Saturday's lunch, we found ourselves surrounded by large groups of families and friends all sharing in a sort of "brunch". It was loud. Bustling. A bit intimidating, truth be told. But we took our number and went with the flow. When it was finally our turn to be seated we were asked if we would mind sitting at a table with a few other people. Of course we didn't mind at all and were seated with a nice and quiet older Asian couple (please forgive my broad use of the word Asian here...we didn't ask their place of origin...they didn't speak any English...I'm sure you understand the point I'm trying to get across with such a politically correct failure). I have heard a few accounts of a sort of prejudice at Ocean Harbor, where tables of non-Asian (forgive me once again) folks were treated somewhat curtly and the servers wouldn't even bother to offer the table certain dishes such as chicken feet or jellyfish. My husband and I didn't experience this at all during our visit, but he was quick to point out that we WERE sitting with this other couple so they would be more inclined to come to our table to offer up these more unusual delicacies. I'm sure none of this is done out of malice and more done out of seeing westerner's pass on these seemingly unsavory items over and over again. I can't say any of this for sure but I can say that we were treated very nicely on our visit.
Now for the most important part....the food! I would venture to guess that at any given time there were upwards of 100 different types of dishes being wheeled or carried around the restaurant for your choosing. You would simply catch the server's eye, point to the dish you wanted then she would place it on the table for you (sometimes dress it with a condiment first) and mark your little dim sum punch card in the appropriate place: $3, $5, $7 (in this picture you can see the small punch card next to my husband's tea cup and his anxious chopstick wielding hands as he stares down the passing food cart). With eyes as big as saucers and the bellies to match we pretty much said yes to everything that passed our way in the first 10 mins of sitting down.
We were lucky and got some delicious chicken feet, boiled and then probably fried and coated with a sweet and hot sauce (top left of picture...red in color). I thought they were amazing and the hubby agreed. Being chicken foot virgins we were happy to get the ones covered in sauce. They were difficult to eat. You had to pretty much suck the "meat" (more like fatty chicken skin) off the toes and such but it was worth it for that unique and honestly delicious flavor they offered up. **please forgive these pictures...like I said...the place can be intimidating and, well, I was hungry to boot**
We also pointed at what looked like a plate of squid (bottom left of picture) with sauce but ended up being a sort of noodle-ish thing. At the time we had no idea what it was. We loved the dipping sauce and the flavor and texture that the noodles had...hint of sesame and a bit of a crunch. Hours later when we researched it we found it to be this paper thin type of rice noodle/wrapper that they use to wrap all sorts of dim sum delights like shrimp, pork, veggies, etc. We got sesame rolls and shrimp filled rolls.
Then came the dumplings. These were my favorite (3 in picture right). Filled with some sort of green vegetable(almost like a southern green), garlic and other delightful things. The dumpling itself had the most wonderful texture on this one. I really, really enjoyed it. And you would never imagine how many different types of dumpling wrappers and doughs there are out there. Every single dumpling we had was made with a different shell. I was in dumpling heaven!
This was my husband's favorite (two in picture left). It's filled with pork and chicken and the dumpling shell is made of, well, my best description of it would be a savory-sponge-cake-biscuit. I wasn't the biggest fan of the texture but the hubby loved it.
We also got some seafood dumplings. Pretty standard in terms of flavor, but as with everything else we had, perfectly executed. And this is no small feat considering the amount of dumplings that are made in that kitchen daily.
By this point we were hurting. With eyes still as big as saucers but stomachs nearing their capacity we decided to grab dessert and call it a day. Behold....black sesame roll. This thing was awesome. It was like a black sesame jello log that almost had a sort of meaty taste (and not meaty like hearty...meaty like pork). It was tough to grab with the chopsticks and I'm sure I looked like a fool eating it...but it was worth it. You must try this if you go.
When all was said and done our meal came out to $19.25......$19.25!!! And we ate 'till we could eat no more. I can't wait until our next trip where I'll try a half dozen new, exciting and all around delicious dishes. Talk about a one of a kind experience AND a one of a kind deal.