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How to Eat Like an Asian

Dim Sum Part Deux

By Mark Liao

features columnist

There is a certain nostalgic feeling I get each time I go to dim sum. As a kid, you just point and food magically appears. You don’t need to know what it’s called; they show it to you before you decide whether you want it. However, as with most things, the older I got, the harder things became. For example, I wouldn’t be writing this article had it not have been for a certain next door neighbor who we shall call “Nameless.”

This guy is the most Asian white boy you’ll ever meet. He pledged an “Asian frat,” he listens to techno, and he does the best impression of ordering from Quan’s Kitchen ever. (“Ooooooh we have many different types of chi-kan. We have sweet sour chi-kan, sesame chi-kan, General Gau’s chi-kan.”)

So I expected him to be fine at dim sum. And of course, I was completely wrong. He whined and griped about everything and anything. “Ew, what’s that? I don’t eat pork. Is this supposed to be sweet or salty?”

When we finally found him a piece of chicken, he wouldn’t eat it because, “it doesn’t look like chicken.” Taking the swim team to dim sum wasn’t that successful either. Well, more accurately, taking the gay Jewish guy from the swim team to dim sum wasn’t successful. So I dedicate this article to anyone who has ever felt like dim sum was not for them.

I have made a list of dishes that the more hardcore dim sum-ers do. Actually, these are definitely just as standard as the dishes from last week, it’s just I find that it’s harder to get people like Nameless to go for them. The following are the english names in bold, followed by the Mandarin and Cantonese translations.

Turnip Cake (Lor baak go/ Luo buo gao) -- The only reason I put this here is because the term “turnip” tends to scare people. In reality it’s not a turnip, but a daikon radish. Think of a carrot and a radish getting together, doing the horizontal polka, and nine months later, out pops a daikon radish. These tiny squares are a mixture of daikon puree, bits of meat, and dried mushrooms that are steamed, then pan fried and served with a thick soy sauce. Again this is relatively tame, and definitely standard.

Steamed Chicken Feet (Fong Jiao/ Fon Tswa) -- Mmm, steamed chicken feet. By feet, I mean what they cut off the drumstick. It is kind of weird thinking you’re eating the skin and tendons and not necessarily meat, but trust me, people, this is very tasty. Be adventurous, go for it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I know there are people out there who love eating the skin of a chicken breast, well it’s the same skin, only on feet. (It tastes like...feet!) Okay, I give up. It sounds gross, but I’ve been eating this since I was young enough to enjoy Fraggle Rock.

Fried Tarot Dumplings (Woo Kwok/ Oui toe gyau) -- Tarot root: it’s found in poi, a Hawaiian dish so please, white people, don’t be afraid. I guess people are thrown off by its purple color, but in all reality it’s almost exactly like a potato or a cassava root (yes, the stuff they make boba out of). So this dish is tiny pieces of pork and splinters of bamboo encased in tarot root and then deep fried. It’s best served when hot. And if there’s some “special” one with a huge crab claw jutting out of it, don’t bother, it’ll cost you a buck more and won’t really taste that much better.

Preserved Duck Egg Congee (pei dan sau yok joke/ pe dan sau yau tso) -- Congee is basically fine porridge. For those of you unfamiliar with porridge, it’s basically a soupy way to serve rice. With two cups of rice, instead of filling the rice cooker up to the two cup line, fill it up to the five cup line. What is a bit dangerous about this dish is the preserved duck egg. I don’t really want to go through the process of how they preserve a duck egg, and I’ll admit, its obsidian color is very unappealing. But quite frankly, it’s really good. The dish also contains slices of pork and should be garnished with slices of green onion. Sometimes there might be ginger in it (ew), but on the flip side, you must sprinkle on some white pepper. Oh, and to humor some of the white folk, they may throw on some pieces of fried wontons.

On my most recent excursion to China Pearl, I went with a party of five. We ate till each of us was brimming and were out the door about $10 dollars down a person. Personally, I think that dim sum is a balancing act between price and variety of dishes. Since most of the dishes have about four one-person servings, my favorite number is going in groups of three. That way, you might get two pieces of your favorite items because there might be someone who doesn’t want their share. Children...be nice about taking the last piece.

If you want a good tea, try the chrysanthemum tea (gi hwa tsa). The lady even asked if we wanted sugar in it.

And the last tip of the day: the chopsticks at most dim sum places are notoriously slippery. You try plucking that last tiny, lil’ pork riblet from its sea of oil with these pseudo-ivory chopsticks. My point: stab whenever possible with one chopstick and fake holding onto the item by making sure the other chopstick touches whatever you’re grabbing. Else, just ask for a fork. Happy eats.