As someone who is Cantonese and lived in Hong Kong before, I know my dim sum, and I’ve had plenty of it in my day. My usual experience – sitting down at a dim sum restaurant with family, ordering all sorts of delicious foods as they pass by (or marking them down on a card, depending on where you are), and then sitting around and talking while slowly eating more than you expected to.
So it was quite an eye opening experience for me when I went to a dim sum take out place in Chinatown. The place is super small, as most shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown are. They have a to go counter inside, with industrial-sized steamers just full of certain dim sums (shrimp dumpling, pork dumpling, baked buns, etc). You walk in, tell them what you want, they pack it, and you’re on your way in two or three minutes. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I’ve never had a dim sum experience where it didn’t drag on (sometimes for hours) while you sit there and wait for your family and family friends to stop talking so you can leave and watch tv at home.
The dim sum wasn’t anything special. It definitely wasn’t spectacular, and I wouldn’t even go as far as to say it was good. But it wasn’t bad either. Just mediocre, fast dim sum. I think this type of shop works though because of how incredibly cheap it is. What you see in the picture above cost $3.10. The congee was a little too watery for me, so I only ate half and got something else for another $1.70. If I hadn’t gotten the congee, my meal probably would have been less than $4 for sure. And I was surprisingly full afterwards. All three of us walked out of that place way more full than we had anticipated after paying less than $5 for our meal each.
I wouldn’t come here often just because it’s not my style per se. But on those days I’m feeling cheap and Asian, I know I’ll find myself strolling up to Chinatown again for a cheap meal. Oh, and just a word of advice. Know your dim sum if you’re gonna be at a place like this. The menu (and by that I mean the paper posted up behind the counter) is only written in Chinese. The people that work there can speak some English and you can always do the “point and shoulder shrug” routine to indicate you don’t know what the heck it is, but it’s just a lot simpler if you know what you want.