the food of my peoples

Every time I plan a trip, the food is one of the key highlights around which I will plan all other activities. I will spend hours on Yelp to make sure I know exactly where I’m going and why. When the husband and I return from a trip and friends ask how it was, our answer is either, “The food was so good!” or “The food was just ok.” Never mind that we were in Spain or Colorado or some other breathtakingly beautiful location. We just always come back to talking about the food.

Well, my parents and I went to visit my sister in Chicago this past weekend, and any foodie knows that Chicago has no dearth of incredible cuisines to choose from. The Parthenon in Greektown, Rosebud Steakhouse, Shaw’s Crab Shack, and of course the plethora of coma-inducing deep dish pizzas are must-visits. Caramel ice cream french toast at the Bongo Room for brunch? Yes please.

But on this particular trip, what we really craved one morning was dim sum in Chinatown. The food of my peoples. The shared understanding with the other immigrant families in the room that this food is at the heart of our own hearts, and hence it never gets old. The yuppy brunch boutiques couldn’t compete with the carts of savory deliciousness brought to you by women reminiscent of that favorite jovial-but-borderline-bossy Chinese auntie who glowed with pride at the morsels they offered, and hardly hid the fact that they were more than slightly offended when you declined their offers. Only in a bonafide dim sum restaurant would this attitude from your server be both expected and appropriate, and earn them a better tip. After all, it only showed how much they cared.

There is, of course, the pork or shrimp siu-mai. Savory, salty, juicy, deceptively light morsels of meat and finely chopped vegetables enclosed in the thinnest of wrappers, subsequently dipped in soy sauce, hot sauce, or hot mustard. I don’t need the fancy overpriced dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Sit me in an old B-rated Chinatown restaurant anyday, so long as I see the aunties with their carts and the wrinkles of pride on their faces, I know what they have to offer must be authentic.

My sister and I reminisced about how adding the thousand-year-old-egg always made the best pot of rice porridge. Don’t let the black-and-green color or the pungent garbage-like smell of those eggs fool you. That stuff is nothing short of gourmet. Barbeque pork steamed buns, taro cakes, deep-fried sesame balls with red bean filling, and egg custard pastry cups are non-negotiables.

But somehow, what we look forward to the most are the chicken feet and the cow intestines. Frightening as they may appear, these delectables deserve a spot on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Even if you need to close your eyes to eat them, or need a good Tsingtao beer afterwards to help you forget what you just consumed, the flavor in these dishes, when prepared correctly, is absolutely incomparable. (I have to admit though, when we found a small hair in our cow intestine dish, it seemed rather pointless to complain about it to our waiter. I mean, how clean can this cow intestine dish be, really?)

I could tell you plenty of other stories about the crickets and deep-fried waterbugs offered at Typhoon in Santa Monica. The live snake at the hole-in-the-wall in China that was subsequently sauteed into two dishes – one based on the skin, and the other based on the scant amount of meat running along the snake’s slithery skeleton. (That snake dish left me reeling with dizziness in the airport later that day, but it was so worth it.) The raw beef lips that I gleefully found in a 99 Ranch supermarket as the ultimate tool for a future practical joke. The brain soup of some poor unidentified creature that my uncle offered to me in a Taiwan night market. Just a brain in a bowl of broth. (No amount of Tsingtao was going to help me out with that one. I passed.) But alas, this post will remain dedicated to the glorious, incomparable cuisine known as dim sum, the food of my peoples.

175 thoughts on “the food of my peoples

  1. omy goodness! my mouth is just watering! foodies! man we are soo spoiled! im gonna get dim sum this week…this is when i miss monterey park (aka your people…haha). elite is my fav in mp!

      • I definitely agree with your views on planning your travels around new food adventures. I had some amazing food in China which was simple in appearance (like grated fried aubergine and potato) but really complex in flavour. I washed it down with a Tsingtao of course. I’ve also had other memorable food trips around Japan, France, Kenya….getting hungry just thinking about it! I have a blog on traditional British food if you want to stop by. Oh – great photography too, by the way 😉

    • I was thinking the same thing, potato, tomatoe, squash and beans. What a wide variety of foods you have tasted and tried. My husband and I are going to Chiago this month, what is a great brunch place? Not chinese, too early for me!

      • Potatoes are great because they’re so wonderfully versatile! Chicago is full of wonderful brunch places. I’ve been to the Bongo Room and Yolk, both very good and very decadent. 🙂 I’ve also heard good things about Orange (New American) and Wishbone (Southern comfort). Have fun in Chicago!

  2. I can’t ever eat siu mai without my ears skipping a beat. It sounds IDENTICAL to the phrase “Shwmae?” which in Welsh means, “How’s it going?” o_O I keep looking for a steaming plate of dim drwg diolch (“Not bad, thanks”) to follow it up.

  3. Ah, pot stickers… chinese dumplings. One of the few Chinese dishes I really, really like.

    I spent a summer in China years ago, and I tried very hard to try and consume various food items, but alas, I suspect I lost some weight. And I grew up eating things like hogs head cheese and cracklins and squirrel stew with a few squirrel skulls in the pot to be cracked open and the brain eaten by my grandfather and me (we were the only ones who’d do it).

    I guess a lot of it came down to the chop sticks. I can eat with chop sticks, but when you’re eating ‘plate of chicken’ and every bit has bits of bone in it… after a while I find it not worth the efffort… and the chicken feet and head in the mix didn’t do anything to make it more appealling. Or being served broiled fish and communally trying to pick pieces off of it with chop sticks. I ate a lot of rice and vegetables on that trip…. and ate muslim uyghur food with great relish when it was available (I was in western China).

    But the dumplings…. those I liked. Heh, and your description of the Chinese auntie… I recall coming across a few of those types while I was there. Ha!

    • What fun food experiences you have had as well! Ah chop sticks. Some people have mastered those things in a way that I will never be able to achieve. I just use my God-given fingers. Haha! Thanks for reading my post!

  4. Love the pics and how you decribe the food. I went to a very similar restuarnat here in Minneapolis (Tom Pham’s wondrous azian kitchen – yes, azian splet with a z). Loved the food and the experience. The pork buns and dim-sums were to die for! Enjoyable read 🙂

  5. Love the pics and how you decribe the food. I went to a very similar restaurant here in Minneapolis (Tom Pham’s wondrous azian kitchen – yes, azian splet with a z). Loved the food and the experience. The pork buns and dim-sums were to die for! Enjoyable read 🙂

  6. I do my Yelp research every time I plan a trip as well!

    Dim sum is such a weakness for me. Being that it is the breakfast hour and I’m at least 45 minutes from passable dim sum and hours away from the Bay Area, I should have known not to read your post.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • Yeah, I can understand why chicken feet and cow intestine may not be the most appealing to some, haha! I LOVE Indian food. Found a fantastic cookbook a couple years ago and felt like I won the lottery. The flavors are so complex and wonderful!

  7. I like the way you describe a place ~ through its food. Indeed it’s one good way to explore a country’s culture. I tasted cow’s intestines too, but I might pass with the brains, it’s too much for me too… Nice post!

    • Thanks so much! I agree food is a huge part of a culture. I think I would eat the brain if it was prepared in a way that disguised what it actually was. But what I was offered was way too blatant. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  8. “Sit me in an old B-rated Chinatown restaurant anyday, so long as I see the aunties with their carts and the wrinkles of pride on their faces, I know what they have to offer must be authentic.”

    I feel the same way. My husband and I discovered, months back, this hole-in-the-wall mexican restaraunt. Both of us were curious to see how it (not part of a chain) compared with local competitive restaraunts (Habaneros, Dos Pesos, Iguana Grill, and random, thriving others). It far exceeded both of our expectations in it’s authenticity, high-quality entrees AND pricing. We go on a twice-monthly basis, and our servers are always friendly, helpful and remember our regular order before we’re able to give it. Also – their unique, home-made pablano pepper sauce is fabulous.

    Aun Aqui

  9. I am the same way when I travel! Food always comes first. I agree that the best restaurants are always the B-rated hole-in-the-wall places.

    So incredibly blessed to work right beside the Chinatown in my city, and be able to have dim sum whenever I please…which will most likely be today after looking at all your delightful photos. Thank you so much 🙂

  10. Oh my goodness, I love this post! I’m half-Chinese and grew up going to random restaurants with relatives. I’m exactly like this, but all my non-Asian friends think I’m crazy! I’m so glad i’m not alone. “Sit me in an old B-rated Chinatown restaurant anyday, so long as I see the aunties with their carts and the wrinkles of pride on their faces, I know what they have to offer must be authentic.” Haha you’re brilliant, thanks for the awesome post!

  11. I need to be honest I barely read your post but it’s because the quality of your pictures for the dim sum you typed about in Chicago’s Chinatown are making my stomach hurt! They look so mouth watering I’m contemplating booking a flight. So delicious…..

  12. We do the same thing when traveling-plan it all around the restaurants, advice of locals, and Yelp. It’s the most sensible way, really, because no matter where you go, you’re going to eat, and a lousy meal can ruin the day!

  13. great shots! and now i’m starving. i don’t know if i should thank you or not…i’m likely to hit up the snack cabinet shortly and indulge in something i might otherwise have left alone 🙂

  14. ahhh the tripe, cannot forget the tripe XD I never ate it, personally it does not appeal to me. My dad loves it and swears by it. The shrimp dumplings however, I’ll have those by the handful.

    I miss the days when dim sum was served in those little carts and the ladies would go around table to table offering what they have. Now it’s just pick from the list, serve, eat, go.

  15. My dad remembers a time when his Chinese roomate found an awesome Chinese restaraunt in a town neither of them were familiar with. When asked how he knew the food would be good, my dad’s roomate just said, “Look around you”. Sure enough, my dad and his brother were the only 2 non-asians there!

    I’ll have to try this place sometime.

  16. Awesome pictures! I love dim sum and try to always find a reason to take a trip down from school to NYC Chinatown so I can get some. =D My favorites would definitely be ha gau and wu tau gau! Even if I don’t have time to go down to the city I would make some dumplings when I am feeling a little homesick. Check out my post about them!


      • Your welcome! Dim sum is just one of those comfort meals that I will always seem to have a empty stomach for no matter what time of day!

  17. Funny you should post this – I just went for dimsum today at lunch with a bunch of friends! My favorite is har gow and the crab claws… oh, and the snow pea shoots with garlic! Yummo!!!

  18. yup, i love dim sum, my favorite are shrimp dumpling and sea-food siu-mai, every time i went to Guangzhou, I must have some in the morning, never missed. albeit i like sleeping more in the morning, i think it’s really worth it. you know what, the most excited part was you could pick what you like by yourself, when the waiter was pushing the cart by. 😀

  19. Oh my goodness Yummy! The char siew pao’s always my favorite item to order when I have dim sum, and i always get weird looks from the family because they are so filling I wont’ be able to have anything else on the menu. My joy comes from the moment the waiter arrives with the dim sum baskets, though I know what I’ve ordered, the identical baskets adds a wee bit of suspense and gives me a nice surprise when the cover is lifted and presented on the table. Ohh God am i hungry now!

  20. OH man now i’m hungry lol! char siew pao and Siu Mai are my favourite, but it’s the ha kau that i can’t get enough of! rarely do i find a place that makes GOOD ha kau here in Vancouver, BC cause they are either too thick on the wrap or too little shrimp. Now, if the dim sum places here could make some more pork intestine delicacies i’d be happy 🙂

  21. This post made me hungry. I actually love Chinese food. And I agree with you, food is already an attraction to every new place we visit.

    Congratulations fo making it in the freshly pressed. Savor the moment!

  22. I’ve seen a pot sticker place around Lexington Ave in NYC. Heard they serve some fine dumplings and momos…your post just reiterated that for me 🙂

  23. oh my gosh, your photos make them look so delicious that I almost dont care if they are cow intestines or chickens feet! 🙂 All of it looks so delicious. Too bad there is no food like this AT ALL in chile…

  24. Beautiful post and pictures! I also love to blog about food and travel. But I have never tried this kind of food before. I lived in Chicago for grad school; now I know where to visit when I go back. I wonder if I could be brave enough to eat chicken feet…..

  25. After reading your post, I feel like taking my family and going to either Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong. Dim Sum, a little touch of the heart. Great post!

    • Dim sum can feel deceptively light. And since you are ordering these small little platters of food, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve actually eaten. But I agree that healthy eating is important, and dim sum is probably healthier than caramel ice cream pancakes and things of that nature. 🙂

  26. I’ve never had proper dim sum and I consider myself a foodie. Your photos and words have painted such a vivid picture I can almost taste them and I want to experience it for myself. What am I going to do? Spain is not the best place for Chinese food, in fact it’s awful!! Glad to have found you, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thank you so much! Oh you absolutely must try dim sum the next time you travel somewhere where you can find it. Spain has some wonderful cuisines as well; I was out there last summer and thoroughly enjoyed the food there.

  27. Yumyumyum, brings back memories!
    Your pictures made me crave dimsum. Good thing that at the restaurants in my neighbourhood there are two menu’s: one for non-chinese and one for chinese people. Tried the cow intestines there, so yummy people! A must eat!

  28. Dim Sum – my favourite!

    I once had baked scorpion on a bun and fried ants at a Raffles Hotel restaurant in Singapore. I agree, food is at the heart of Chinese culture. One of my favourite memories has to do with food.

  29. Know exactly how you feel! I’m a Cantonese person living with my English husband in the UK. Trips to Chinatown for dim sum help to keep me grounded and is an important and regular ritual. In fact, I’m having dim sum tomorrow and your post has helped heighten the anticipation! Thanks and congrats on making freshly pressed!

    • Thank you! It’s really wonderful to have our familiar ethnic foods nearby. I always realize how much I take it for granted when I talk to friends who live nowhere near authentic Chinese cuisine and have limited ingredients to choose from in their grocery stores.

  30. Pingback: the food of my peoples (via a pilgrim’s lens) « with a hint of nonsense

  31. I LOVE DIM SUM. That is all. Hehe. I think I even have a post of when I went out to dim sum with my parents.

    Us Asians got it good!!

  32. This blog entry captures all the reasons why I love dim sum so much! I love the photos. It’s hard for me to take photos of dim sum because everything gets eaten so fast!

  33. I was drawn to your blog because of the photo of the dimsum trolley. My trip to London is never complete without a visit to New World in Chinatown because they serve dimsum off trolleys. There’s a Chinese supermarket near my place of work and I try to bring frozen dimsum home to steam when I crave it. But there’s something infinitely more enjoyable about waiting for the server to lift that steamer basket lid so you can find out what you can choose from! 🙂

  34. Wow! Amazing photos! I’m Japanese so I love Chinese food, right after Japanese food of course. Food from your native land is always the best. Thank you for sharing your love for the food of your people. Please check out my blog on a cross country trip…

  35. This might seem like a simple question…but how exactly do you make dumplings? They look absolutely amazing and I love eating them!! (By the way, your pictures are beautiful). But how do you make them at home? Do you know?

  36. Pingback: Pacific NW Post #1: Seattle | a pilgrim's lens

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