friday feast: yum yum dim sum!


Guess what I’m eating this weekend?

Just the thought of all those little dishes and plates full of char siu bao (barbecue pork buns), har gow (shrimp dumplings), and siu mai (pork and mushroom dumplings) is enough to quicken my pulse and make my eyes roll back in my head. *salivates and smacks lips*


But it’s not my usual shameful self indulgence. This time, I have a legitimate excuse — Monday, January 26th, is Chinese Lunar New Year!

I love you, shrimp dumplings!

It’s the year of the Ox, also called the Brown Cow. I checked my astrological forecast, and my lucky element is Fire. I’ve been advised to wear red and decorate my home in a red scheme to energize my life.

I’m sure dim sum would energize me, too. Instantly. It always has. I grew up with it in Hawai’i, and wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve looked for it. *Recalling pleasant memories of dim sum in Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Washington, D.C., Reston, VA, and New York*

Marry me, char siu bao. You’re my absolute favorite!

But hold the chicken feet, please.

Ah yes. I’m there. A noisy, talky restaurant with red dragons on the wall, servers wheeling their carts at breakneck speed, chattering about all kinds of things in Chinese. I can’t understand a word they’re saying, so I just point to what I want. In addition to the abovementioned favorites, I must have those long, slippery rice noodle crepes stuffed with shrimp, maybe some beef broccoli chow fun, a pineapple bun, a sesame ball, and a custard tart.

This one’s for you, James!

Okay, I can’t eat that much in one sitting. But it’s SO nice to dream. Sitting at a round table with a steamy pot of tea, the eating, people watching, and lively conversations really do lift the spirits. Everybody is happy eating dim sum; nothing else “touches the heart” in quite the same way.

So, you’re wondering, where is the poetry? Do I have to remind you? Food = poetry.

I was tickled pink when I found today’s poem in a juicy anthology of poetry and prose from Hawai’i, called Growing Up Local (Bamboo Ridge Press, 1998). The incident described is classic, so very typical, something I’ve experienced hundreds of times dining with family and friends in Hawai’i, or from Hawai’i. Believe me, paying for the check requires consummate skill, innate sneakiness, and much advance planning.


by Peter C.T. Li

Like two Tai Chi masters practicing the art of the sticking hand
my father and my mother-in-law pushed each others’ arms in various circular motions while fighting for the prize of the dim sum check.
The check would be passed from hand to hand,
back and forth,
up and down,
round and round,
in sync with the Yin and the Yang motions of the universe.

Both dueled to save face in the name of family honor.
Armed with ancient secret techniques such as
“Crane Plucks Check from Tiger’s Claw” and
“Buddha’s Benevolent Palm Tipping the Waiter for Check.”
It was no surprise that my father would defeat
my mother-in-law each outing and pay for the lunch.

The only time my father lost was when my mother-in-law
snuck away from the table while he was busy eating the last
siu mai of the meal.
I named her technique “Fox Stealing from Sleeping Monkey.”

It was an unwritten Chinese tradition of the dining martial arts
passed down through centuries from one generation to the next.

Dim sum and my in-laws at the China House Restaurant.


I dined at the China House Restaurant back in the day, but I don’t think it exists any more. You can bet the Tai Chi masters are still battling it out everywhere else, though.

Have a great weekend, and be sure to have some dim sum to welcome in the Year of the Ox! To check your astrological forecast, click here.

Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids has today’s Poetry Friday Roundup. Check out her arm movements. She probably knows Tai Chi.

Must reads:

Dim Sum for Everyone, by Grace Lin (Dragonfly Books, 2003).
Bringing in the New Year, by Grace Lin (Knopf, 2008).
Yum Yum Dim Sum, by Amy Wilson Sanger (Tricycle Press, 2003).
This Next New Year, by Janet S. Wong, pictures by Yangsook Choi (FSG, 2000).


50 thoughts on “friday feast: yum yum dim sum!

  1. Dim sum is my absolute favorite, though we have to drive over an hour to Montreal to find it. Beautiful pictures, Jama! (They made me hungry!)


  2. That is so funny, and reminds me so completely of my dear grandfathers, who always fought over the check, and sometimes pulled the “Fox Stealing from Sleeping Monkey.” Great post!


  3. drool

    My mouth’s watering! No dim sum where I live, very sad, but I’m going to attempt char siu bau this year.

    And that whole “let me pay” dance: oh boy, do I know that one!


  4. Oh, I love dim sum. My sister in SF often gets it for us when we come up. Oh, those sesame balls–at least I think those are the ones I love–a little bit of plum stuff inside, deep-fried and covered with sesame seeds? 🙂

    When I worked in Hollywood, I used to jaywalk across Sunset Blvd to a little dim sum place called Shanghai Noshery–that’s where I discoverd Shui Mai (SP?) Mmmmm!


  5. Everything looks delish! What a great poem to start the Chinese New Year with! Now I’m hungry…:0)
    Kelly Polark


  6. I’ve only had dim sum once (in DC, with a law professor), but I loved it. I don’t know how or what to order, so I haven’t repeated that event. I really should, I think. There are places in Chinatown in Philly that are probably great for it.

    Loved that poem, too.


  7. I love a good poem that makes me laugh. Yum! Yum! I want to read it again!

    And if it’s not too much to impose on you, you don’t live too far from me and I could use a suggestion of a place to try.


  8. I think dim sum is served for breakfast in Hong Kong restaurants and some places in China. Some start serving it as early as 5 a.m.! Here in Virginia, though, it seems more a brunch/lunch thing. I say it’s good any time of the day :).


  9. Oh yes, you must seek out some places in Chinatown. In many restaurants, you don’t have to worry about reading a menu and trying to decide what to order, because they wheel carts around to all the tables, and you can just point to your choices. Part of the fun is trying different things each time.


  10. I would recommend Fortune Restaurant in the Seven Corners Shopping Center. It’s not in the little mall, per se, but a separate building in the same parking lot. It’s adjacent to the Home Depot (where the snipers killed those people). Fortune used to also be in Reston, but they closed down. Dim sum is served from 11 – 3 p.m. daily.

    There also used to be a place in Arlington, but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. I don’t venture into DC too often, but I imagine Chinatown has some good places too.


  11. Custard Tarts

    Now, I must go to Koko Marina this weekend and have some dim sum and my fav custard tarts. This is our fav Chinese restaurant about 2 miles away from your brother’s house. They serve tasty dim sum and other Chinese dishes. We go there whenever we’re in the neighborhood. Here is their dim sum menu:

    Click to access Dim_Sum_Menu.pdf



  12. TadMack says: : )

    Oooh, Jama. Lunar New Year is the ONLY TIME I regret vegetarianism a teensy bit My Chinese friends say you’re supposed to JUST EAT and not ask what everything is… and I’m so tempted by these pictures! YUM!

    And can I just laugh at that poem?! I think Tai Chi masters show up everywhere!! Thanks for this laugh.


  13. Dim Sum

    Elaine M.

    Wow! Those dumplings and other dishes look delicious. I’ve had a special Chinese New Year post half-written for about a week–but the inauguration and other news has kept me busy watching TV and reading political blogs. I hope I get around to finishing the post and putting it on my blog by Monday!

    Happy New Year to you, Jama!!!


  14. Re: TadMack says: : )

    Oh my dear, dear, TadMack — *holds hand over heart*. Vegetarian or no, you must fill this unspeakable void in your life. No dim sum? Say it isn’t so. Listen to your Chinese friends — these little treats are so small that there’s not much meat in them anyway.


  15. Even with a full stomach, my mouth is watering. What photos! And I love the poem.

    I’ve never had dim sum, but now I want to.



  16. great pics!

    we’ll be feasting too.

    When I lived in China whoever earned the most paid for the meal (it didn’t matter who issued the invite or the reason for the event).

    And watching push hands in the park each morning and dancing on the streets in the evenings were to of my favorite things to do.


  17. Where’s the Spam?

    I wish I’d discovered China House when we went to Hawaii, if it still existed at that point. I enjoyed luau food, but otherwise I just remember some sort of fried egg, rice and gravy thing and loads of Spam served everywhere, I even saw Spam sushi.

    -John Mutford


  18. Re: Where’s the Spam?

    You’re right about the Spam. I think Hawaii is second in consuming the most Spam in the world (behind Guam). And it sounds like you ate some loco moco — hamburger and gravy over rice with fried egg on top.


  19. from Laura at Author Amok

    Mouth-watering post, Jama. I don’t eat pork anymore, but those barbecue pork buns…yum.

    I loved the poem. What a great find. It’s so visual — “Buddha’s Benevlent Palm Tipping the Waiter for Check” is my favorite line.

    Enjoy your feast! Ox is my son’s Chinese Zodiac sign. (He totally is one. Stubborn and all.)


  20. Re: from Laura at Author Amok

    So you have an Ox in the house. Even more reason to celebrate the New Year! I don’t eat much pork either, but will make an exception for those pork buns :).


  21. Kung Hei Fat Choy, Jama!

    Thanks for the yummy photos. I will definitely eat dim sum on Monday night – while watching the webcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards! I am so excited!

    LOL. Thank you for the awesome poem. I burst out laughing while reading it. I think a little fighting over who pays the check is an Asian thing. This happens in the Philippines too. LOL. 😀

    Now what should I have for dinner? I could get some siu mai (here siomai) and char siu bao (here siopao) or save that for Monday. Or have that tonight AND Monday night. Choices choices. There’s also the glutinous rice cake in the fridge, waiting to be fried. And I need to have long life noodles of course….

    Into the Wardrobe


  22. Aack! What is wrong with me?! Chinese New Year’s Eve is TONIGHT.

    *dashes off to have her Chinese food TONIGHT*

    Into the Wardrobe


  23. Oh, Jama! This poem is hysterical! It made me snort out loud–so visual and funny. Thanks for sharing it.

    I wish I knew tai chi. I need to do a bit more meditative movement, like yoga or tai chi or something. Maybe this’ll be the year. It might help settle my mind enough to get my 10 minutes of quiet thinking time every day (my new-habit-goal for the year).


  24. Glad it made you laugh, Laura. I do remember your motto for this year was, “Do Nothing.” Man, that’s hard, isn’t it? With so much to do? I need to try to still my mind too.


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