Gourmet Secrets: Little plates of savoury delight
Well-made Chinese dim sum could almost transport you to heavenbrunch Updated: Jan 21, 2018 16:25 IST
Dim sum is something I love. They are delicious Cantonese morsels which can be a snack or a full-fledged meal, eaten traditionally between mid morning and late afternoon and usually as a light inexpensive lunch.
Many dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong especially are enormous, consisting of a number of cavernous rooms which are jam-packed at lunch time as family and friends meet to gossip or discuss business. The noise can be deafening. In many restaurants, no menu is presented. Diners are provided with a pot of tea, cups, small plates and chopsticks. Waiters and waitresses, often old timers who have been doing this for years, circulate around the huge rooms pushing trolleys containing various dim sum. Diners stop the trolleys and select whatever appeals to them, sometimes accumulating as many as three dozen different small dishes. Tea is drunk throughout the meal, which is why dim sum is sometimes referred to as yum cha – the Cantonese words for drinking tea. At the end of the meal, the bill is calculated by counting the number of small plates or steamers on the table. It is all great fun.
Difficult to choose
Dim sum come in many savoury flavours and can be hot, sour, sweet or spicy. What they all have in common is that they are mouthfuls of deliciousness. They are prepared in many different ways, fried, baked and steamed. Some of the most popular are steamed and served in little round bamboo steamers which are then transported in stacks on dim sum trolleys. Some of the most popular dim sum snacks are spring roll - the familiar deep fried pastry filled with vegetables and meat; barbecued pork bun – steamed or baked buns filled with delicious pieces of sweet roasted por; pork dumplings - filled with minced pork and steamed; spare ribs – cut into small pieces and steamed with black bean sauce; delicate shrimp dumplings with a translucent wrapper made from tapioca and wheat flour and steamed; fried taro dumplings made from mashed taro root filled with pork and deep fried
Hong Kong is bursting at the seams with great dim sum experiences. At the top of the ladder you have Sing Yin at the fashionable W hotel where exquisite pu-er tea accompanies the individual dim sum platters (not baskets of four); at Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental, I order the wagyu puff and the lobster dumpling while gazing across at the South China seas… Then you have Alvin Leung, the maverick genius of Cantonese cuisine, whose Shanghai dumpling rubs shoulders with deftly executed molecular soils and foams and playful edible condoms.
On the more humble level, my favourite dim sum haunts are Luk Yu, an old tea house on Stanley Street in Central, serving a staggering 40 dim sums every day, and Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain, where hygiene is the name of the game (can’t say that of other smaller establishments in HK) and the menu thankfully is written in English too.
A dash of sophistication
Consistently good Dim Sum is not so easy to find in India. On a recent stay at the JW Marriott Juhu Mumbai, we went down to their smart Asian restaurant Dashanzi one evening only to find that it has metamorphosed from a whacky, off the wall kind of place to a more serious restaurant serving a quality driven classic menu with some delightful Cantonese specialties. The menu is easy to understand with an enormous Dim Sum section ranging from the traditional translucent hargow to the eclectic mushroom with kaffir lime pesto.
I was a little taken aback by the sophistication of presentation and the perfection of each dim sum. Things can go terribly wrong if the wrappers are too thick or the filling over cooked and dry. This does sometimes happen in the best of dim sum restaurants. It didn’t at Dashanzi.
The experience starts with spectacular cocktails and Dashanzi still houses the widest selection of gins in the city. The Asian inspired G&T is a good way forward – Jasmine tea infused gin with honey and tonic. A classic G&T with orange oil and extract made with aromatic Monkey 47 Gin from Germany goes exceedingly well with Dim Sum. There’s also the Oolong fizz and a delicious Dashanzi sour with home-made lemon grass syrup, egg white and gin. Although tea is the traditional accompaniment to dim sum, I must say the cocktail menu at Dashanzi is converting me. It’s so well thought out to complement the food.
I was stunned by the dumpling presentation. Really, what can you do to make a dumpling look more appetising? Well, they do at Dashanzi. They play around with shapes and colours and garnishes. The vegetarian ones especially are extraordinarily creative: mushroom and kaffir lime pesto, shitake and lotus root, edamame and truffle. In Hong Kong, you rarely find creative vegetarian options. Neither do you find the spicy element which creeps in very subtly here; spicy pak choi and vegetable, celery and water chestnut, the light flaky puffs.
My favourite, however, remains the xiao ling bao, commonly known as the Shanghai soup dumpling, which bursts into an explosion of hot superior stock (aspic before it is filled) and tender pork as you put the whole thing into your mouth. At Dashanzi, they serve it with chicken. Here is the recipe, if you are brave enough to try.
Xiao Ling Bao
Ingredients (for filling)
600 g chicken mince
8 g salt
40 g ginger juice
20 g sugar
40 g oyster sauce
20 g kikkoman soy
40 ml shao shing Chinese wine
20 g potato starch
4 tbsp sesame oil
Ingredients (for the jelly)
1300 ml veg stock
10 g salt
30 g sugar
80 g gelatin powder
5 g broth powder
Ingredients (for the skin)
300 g Hong Kong Flour
150 g wheat flour
250 g water
3 egg whites
1.Knead the dough for skin and keep aside for 1 hour.
2.Make small balls and roll into round sheets.
3.Mix equal quantities of filling and jelly and stuff inside the sheet to form a small dumpling.
4.Seal at the ends and steam in a steamer.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on February 4.
From HT Brunch, January 21, 2018
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First Published: Jan 20, 2018 22:19 IST