The Chinese culinary tradition known as “dim sum,” words that translate roughly to “touch your heart,” is not a single dish, but rather a series of eclectic delicacies that are readily available in Flushing.
Dim sum is served throughout China and particularly in Shanghai. It is overwhelmingly a Cantonese tradition (so it can be sweet and savory, but not very spicy) that is compared most often to hors d’oeuvres, a light meal or a snack. However, some of the best dim sum is said to be from Hong Kong, where restaurants begin serving as early as 6:30 a.m.
Although the preparation varies by restaurant, most varieties involve some type of meat and/or vegetable wrapped in light dough or pastry made from rice, wheat flour or even seaweed and then either steamed or deep fried. If you’re planning on a dim sum meal, just beware that most restaurants will not serve it past 3 or 4 p.m. as it is usually eaten from breakfast to lunch.
And speaking of planning, you should know that in traditional dim sum restaurants, the bill is determined by counting the number and size of plates. So, the more plates on your table, the higher your bill will be.
In Queens, a good bet for dim sum devotees is downtown Flushing, on or near Main Street, which has many Chinese restaurants that serve a wide variety. Locals say the following restaurants are definitely worth the trip: Ocean Jewels Seafood Restaurant, 133 30 39th Ave.; Gum Fung Restaurant, 136 28 39th Ave., and Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant, 136 14 38th Ave.
They also say not to miss Gourmand Restaurant on 38th Avenue, Fay Da Seafood on Main Street and Happy Buddha on 37th Avenue for vegetarian dim sum.
Sago, at 39 02 Main St., is mainly known as a tea cafe, but serves dim sum all day. Jessi Lin, 25, a waitress there, recommended several popular varieties including the steamed vegetable dumpling, the seafood shui mai made with shrimp, pork and crab, and yakitori chicken, which is made with a tangy barbeque sauce. Another Sago favorite is hot peppery chicken with Korean hot sauce.
If you’re heading over to the East Buffet & Restaurant at 42 07 Main St., Manager Jack Zhang noted that “special order” dim sum is always on the menu. “One of our specialties is shark fin dumpling soup and it’s made with seafood, pork and shrimp,” he said.
East Buffet serves dim sum from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and specializes in Hong Kong style selections comprised of smaller steamed and pan fried dumplings and seafood such as the curry fish bowl.
Zhang emphasized the importance of tea drinking with the dim sum meal and recommended either traditional Chinese oolong or special jasmine tea.
Sandy Hsiao, a manager at Chao Zhou Restaurant at 40 52 Main St., says that its version of shui mai is a bit different from other restaurants. It features pork and shrimp in a bun made of wonton noodle skin. “It’s one of our best sellers and we serve it every day from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.” she said.
Chao Zhou’s shrimp dumpling is basic, comprised of only fresh shrimp filling in a translucent, starch based skin. It’s made without the addition of spices, as is most dim sum, and is also served without sauce. “Cantonese style cooking is not spicy, so we don’t add spices to the dim sum. Most restaurants serve theirs as a snack, so we only serve soy sauce upon request,” Hsiao said.
If you’re wondering about dessert, there’s dim sum sweets as well. Zhang says there are about 20 different types.
Among his favorites are the red bean bun made from beans, sugar and a pinch of honey surrounded by steamed pastry dough There’s also tropical mango pudding nestled inside light pastry dough.
Other dessert specialties include custard tarts, coconut custard and milk cream buns and rice cakes filled with fruits such as melon and apricots.