Going to a Chinese restaurant with my Chinese parents is always a bit of an adventure for Rich, my Caucasian husband. Since my father doesn't walk that well anymore, Rich drops us off at the door to get a table while he parks the car. He always complains that trying to find me in the sea of Chinese people is like trying to find a tree in the forest. Funny, but I don't have the same problem finding him .. he's the one that's a foot taller than everyone else in the restaurant.
Rich didn't know much about eating Chinese food before he met me. He tells the story of when he and his parents went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant for the first time. Not realizing that the style of dining involves ordering dishes to share amongst the table, they each made their pick. For a long while they each ate in silence, each facing their plate full of sauted chicken pieces, wondering where the vegetables and potatoes were.
Currently the best dim sum places are not in downtown Toronto, but instead up in Markham, where there is a large Chinese population. Dim Sum consists of eating a variety of shrimp, beef, pork and chicken dumplings served in small portions(usually 3-4 pieces per dish).
There are two types of Dim Sum restaurants, those where you order your dishes from a menu, and those where the food comes rolling through the restaurant on carts. We went to the second type since it's more fun. Strategy is required since you never know in which order the items will come out. Do you wait for your favorites or order whatever comes first because you are starving?
The other problem with the carts is that it is not always obvious what is being offered, since the food is often hidden away in covered bamboo steamer baskets while their descriptions are called out in Cantonese. If you flag down the server, she will show you the contents of the container, but if she doesn't speak English, you may still have to take a chance with the generic looking dumplings.
Most restaurants have the old stand-bys:
- Ha Gow - shrimp dumplings in a thin flour wrap; the best ones also have bamboo shoots in them
- Sui Mai - pork and shrimp dumplings - these are Rich's favourites, so if the rest of the family wants some, we know best to order our own
- Churng Fun - long noodle shaped wrap containing either shrimp or beef or pork, served in a sweet soya sauce.
- Minced beef balls with green onion served with worchestershire sauce
We usually look for restaurants that have a greater variety of choices. Some items that may not be found at all Dim Sum restaurants include deep fried squid, steamed chinese vegetables with oyster sauce, mini quail.
Drinking Chinese tea is large part of the experience. In fact, the Cantonese phrase for going out for Dim Sum ("Yum Cha") literally translates to "Drink Tea". The signal to the waiter to request for a refill of your teapot is to remove the lid and balance it on the top of the pot. They will spot this from afar and come to refill it. The traditional signal to thank someone for pouring more tea for you into your cup is to tap the table with two fingers. Somehow, Rich has morphed this tradition into a signal into a "give me more tea, woman!" demand, which I ignore until he actually vocalizes the request.
The first time I took Rich for Dim Sum, I got him to eat all sorts of strange and exotic "delicacies" such as chicken feet and tripe. He got wise when he realized that I wouldn't go near that stuff. Now he's smart enough to know what he likes and can even order some of them by name in Cantonese. Unfortunately even if he pronounces the words perfectly, he is often not understood because the servers are trying to figure out what english words match the weird sounds he was making. And there are some words and sounds that he will never be able to articulate ... so he needs to stay away from ordering beef because slightly mispronounced, he ends up saying dog. One Chinese phrase he has down pat is "Check Please", which he doesn't mind saying since Chinese meals in general are relatively cheap. So he always insists on paying the Dim Sum bill, telling my parents that they can pick it up next time when we go for the French restaurant meal.
One secret to picking a good Dim Sum place is to follow the crowd. The Chinese community must have some sort of ESP in relaying to each other the popular restaurants because they are usually packed and lineups are usually involved if you don't get there early enough. Dim Sum starts as early as 7am in some restaurants and by noon, you can expect to wait in line for some time. We usually try to get there by 10:30am to minimize the wait. And if Rich is one of the only white guy you see in the place, you know you have the real deal, as opposed to a "Canadianized" Chinese
restaurant. He'll be easy to spot ... he's the one a foot taller than everyone else.
Our current favourite dim sum place is Far Honey & Garlic Cuisine. They offer a fabulous dish of battered fish for a mere $2.50, as well as a Churng Fun with white fish. And best of all, they even take reservations!
Far Honey & Garlic Cuisine
1661 Dennison St. (Unit T1) - corner of Dennison & Kennedy Road