Monday, July 16, 2018

You say Dim Sum I say Yum Cha let's call the whole thing off

by V (writer), Venice!, October 16, 2007


It was long ago decided, that when I die, I will be going to a great big Yum Cha in the sky. The bed will be king size, the sheets 1500tc, white, Egyptian cotton and the carts on wheels will circle my bed, laden with an array of all my favorite foods. I will never get full and there will never be crumbs in the bed.

“What ARE you talking about?” you ask. I am talking about the Chinese custom of sharing a late morning-tea meal (usually between 11 & 1), sipping tea (yum cha) while dining on small, snack-like morsels (dim sum). This Chinese ritual is often enjoyed weekly by a large group of family and friends and is a cherished way to spend time chatting and catching up with the family. In Australia, we call it Yum Cha. Here, you call it Dim Sum. But whatever you call it, it can be eaten wherever in the world Chinese people can be found.

Seated at large, round tables, everyone shares the dishes that are selected – by way of pointing – from trolleys piled high with piping-hot, metal & bamboo steamers. These wheeled carts crisscross the restaurant, back and forth from the kitchen. Each table is provided with a card that lists the foods and prices in Chinese script. This card is stamped with a tiny smiley face by the trolley server each time you select a steamer. The smiley faces in the mysterious boxes are added at the end of the meal and the price calculated. If you can’t read Chinese, then you’ll just have to trust them, but I’ve never paid over $20 for Yum Cha no matter how much I’ve eaten or how many Tsing Tsao beers I’ve consumed.

Now, I am not being bias I can assure you, and at the risk of falling out of favor with my fellow Americans, I have to say that I have had great difficulty with Chinese food since arriving in Los Angeles. Quite simply, it’s not really Chinese food. I have now come to realize, after eating my way through Chinatowns on both coasts of America (yes, including San Francisco), there is such a thing in the world as, ‘American Chinese.’ And can someone please explain to me why you are supplied with a dinner plate rather than a small bowl when dining in a Chinese restaurant here? Has no one ever noticed that chopsticks are not designed to work with a flat surface? Has anyone ever seen anyone in China eating out of anything other than a bowl for that matter?

How am I qualified to suggest these things? Well, because I am lucky. I come from a city that quite literally has the best Chinese food in the world - in part due to high quality of produce to work with and because our government has had a long established immigration incentive with the Chinese Government & the British Government for, in particular, those qualified in hospitality. We have thus accumulated most of China’s top chef’s. Sydney, Australia is considered even better eating than Hong Kong by Chinese themselves. And the food is pretty great in Hong Kong, I have to say. It’s like the fact that 8 times out of 10, eating a curry in Glasgow will likely be better than eating a curry in India.

My Fiancé was raised in Hong Kong and many of my relatives are Chinese. It is a staple food for us and we have both been suffering greatly without Chinese food. The word on the street I’d heard was that Monterey Park was where one needed to go to find the better Chinese food in Los Angeles. So Saturday morning, I finally went. This Venetian took an excursion to the Far East for Yum Cha and it was worth it.

Everything about this restaurant was warm and familiar as I was transported back home. There was a wait, before ridiculously cold air-conditioning invited me into a loud, clanking, heaving, several hundred capacity restaurant. This was a ‘nice’ place I deduced by the presence of white table cloths, glass bricks and airport carpet. They are the same all over the world the ‘nice’ places. In the lower-end yum cha places, vinyl table cloths, bare neon bulbs and plastic colanders piled with Bak Choy (as waiters hunch over them separating leaves) at a back table is the standard from San Francisco to Shanghai to Sydney. The host was gruff and grunted and pointed as he led us to our table. The trolley ladies were surly and the drinks guy had to be asked four times to get me soy sauce and chopped chili. Yes, everything was as it should be and I was happy. Now if only the food could follow through.

I ordered Bo Lay tea (a test and my favorite - no one has had it at any place I’ve been to in LA so far) and was met with a chipper look from the waiter who, smiling, proceeded to ask, “How you know Bo Lay?” They had it. Things were looking good. For $20 (exactly) I have to say that overall, the food resembled some of the closest to Chinese, Chinese food I’ve eaten in America. Usual Yum Cha rules apply. Get there at 11am and no wait. Queues can get long. Get there after 1:30pm, selection has diminished and freshness cannot be guaranteed.

This is only one on the lists of restaurants I intend to try in the district, and I would be delighted to field more recommendations. I would give it a 3 star rating if it were in Sydney, but being in Los Angeles, I give it 5 stars.

Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant
145 N. Atlantic Blvd, #201-203
Monterey Park CA 91754
T 626 308 2128

My Mother was the most amazing cook. Growing up in my house, we dined on Malay and Indonesian, Singaporean and Chinese and Polynesian styled foods … this was the influence of our cultural heritage and geography. And all my life as a child and then teenager, I just wanted to be like everyone else and fit in to white Australia. I did not want to come home to an after school snack of the usual, hot, BBQ Pork Buns, cooled sugar cane sticks and coconut water. I wanted fish sticks and ketchup and potato chips. I believed that if I ate these foods, somehow, it would make me more Australian. I realize now, it would have just made me fat.

I'd give anything for one of my Mother's BBQ Pork Buns right now.

About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on You say Dim Sum I say Yum Cha let's call the whole thing off

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By Venditto on October 16, 2007 at 10:12 pm
I started drooling somewhere in the 2nd paragraph. I love dim sum, and now I love you. Nice article!
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By Ariel on October 16, 2007 at 10:58 pm
First love story on BrooWaha? sweet.
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By icanluvulongtime on October 19, 2007 at 08:37 am
Have you tried K-town for real dim sum?
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By V on October 19, 2007 at 03:21 pm
I have, but if you know one in particular to recommend ...
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By pleasurepalate on October 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm
I've actually been doing a dim sum of the month outing for my dining group this year and have been doing my own exploration. My top three so far are Sea Harbour in Rosemead, New Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights and Ocean Seafood in Chinatown. Not having your background, I can't speak for their authenticity, but quality and flavor-wise, I think they're tops. :)
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By Steven Lane on October 24, 2007 at 11:11 pm
Aussie China Town Dim Sum is the best I have had in the world.
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