From about age 10 to 12 I harboured a secret fantasy about dim sum carts.
I wanted to hijack one.
Not to serve people, don’t be ridiculous. Obviously to ride one around the Chinese restaurant, flitting past the round tables laden with ceramic bowls and golden colored table cloths, even push it down an alley of the modestly sized Chinatown of Calgary to see what would happen.
At that age I only had one Chinese friend (in a predominantly Caucasian town as Calgary, this equates to a high number) and we use to plot about racing carts down the street of a quiet, suburban neighbourhood, to rankle homeowners who preened over their lawns with those high powered mowers and refinished the exterior in white siding, so blinding it hurt your eyes to glance at it.
Clearly my rebellious spirit had very early roots.
My first dim sum cart was at age six, when my dad took us on a Sunday morning for a brunch of har gow, black bean ribs and egg custard tarts.
I was hooked, for life really, so it must have been fate that brought me and dim sum together in Hong Kong.
I had just filled my tummy with turnip cake and was a little lost, wandering the sedate side streets of Mong Kok, far from brightly lit Argyle Street.
Passing by a cafe with ducks hanging in the window, I nearly ignored a nondescript restaurant next to it, but then stumbled upon an odd sign.
A huge claim to make, I thought, so inside I went to test if this was true. It was only right, I am a certified dim sum expert after all, having tasted those small plates of joy since age six, before I ever kissed a boy.
When I entered, I noticed the place throbbing with locals, not a foreign face to be spotted, isn’t there some rule that if locals are overcrowding a restaurant it’s worth a try? Damn straight.
Then how was my accidental meal at the Dim Sum Speciality Store?
Sadly, the days of ordering off steaming carts is dwindling and many restaurants have a different system of obtaining that much desired dim sum.
My rating: the dim sum carts are ritual to me, they roll towards your table as the tentacles of anticipation dig into your hunger, and when a stack of bamboo steamers is opened, the gasp of surprise is always there, never wavering. Given the small size of the Dim Sum Specialty Store, the no cart rule is forgivable. And really, only grand sized restaurants can do carts anymore.
2. The instruments
Any decent dim sum outing must have the proper utensils.
My rating: the chili oil was fresh, no complaints here. Tea was on tap, a customary bowl and spoon (including chopsticks) were present. All systems go.
2. Har Gow (Shrimp Steamed Dumplings)
The first dish I ordered is my number one favorite dim sum dish, har gow. I’m consistently boring with dim sum and always, without fail, order this. Har gow is rice flour dough filled with shrimps and then steamed in a bamboo steamer.
My rating: chewy, without tasting fishy and infused with bits of water chestnut. Heaven!
3. Vegetarian Rice Rolls (Chee Cheong Fun) with Mock Pork Floss
Chee cheong translates to pig intestine, because a rice roll resembles one, but don’t let that fool you, rice rolls come in a variety of tantalizing choices, but the most popular fillings are pork, beef or shrimp, and dried shrimps with green onions. I opted to try the 2013 version, filled with veggies and fake pork floss (some kind of shredded tofu).
My rating: the rice roll kept falling apart and it wasn’t as flavorful as it looked. I should have stuck with a classic.
4. Red Bean Coconut Custard
I had to order this dessert. Typical dim sum desserts are usually egg custard tarts, sweet buns or deep fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste, but my desperate love of coconut won out.
My rating: The x-rated version? Orgasm on a plate. The PG version — the custard was surprisingly rich and creamy, while the red beans were subtly sweet. I only ate one and saved the other two for the next day, that’s how good it was.
Overall, I’d say the Dim Sum Speciality Store can be added to my archives of dim sum experiences and Newsweek may be onto something here.
Female travelers are educated to be cautious, warned that deviating off course might put you in a vulnerable situation, but I say bunk that. Shedding those navigation skills once in a while can expose you to a brilliant discovery.
My education tip: take a business card for your hostel or hotel, know the transportation options and get lost. You never know what you’ll find.
Restaurant: DimDimSum Dim Sum Speciality Store (I call it the Dim Sum Specialty Store — easy to remember!)
Location in Mong Kok: 112 Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon (Tel: 23092300).
Honorable mention: if you want to salivate over a real dim sum cart experience, read Heather’s account at the Jade Garden Restaurant on Ferreting Out the Fun, that’s my next stop when I hit my second homeland again!