In Boston and the surrounding areas there are ample opportunities to try dim sum, which are small Cantonese dishes including variations of dumplings, noodles, and vegetables that are fried or steamed. Dim sum was originally intended to be a snack (most of the dishes I’ve tried are high in fat and sodium), but in the United States and even in current-day Hong Kong, people tend to eat a series of smaller dishes as a meal.
Chinatown is the obvious option for dim sum in Boston, but from Quincy to Metro West there are dim sum restaurants of all sizes to satisfy your cravings. You can order from a menu, typically in small restaurants and during weekday lunches, or from carts (see left) on weekends in large locations (sometimes with multiple floors that seat hundreds of people). Each table receives a card and each cart has a stamp based on the size of the dish it’s carrying. At the end of the meal you simply submit your card to be tallied. The cart system is great if you’re unfamiliar because you can look at the dishes on the cart, rather than requesting the food by name. However, once you go a few times you’ll develop your favorites and then you can ask for a dish by name if you don’t see it!
I first tried dim sum in LA during a 2006 visit with friends who live a short drive away from Chinatown. They knew how to order from the carts, suggested favorite dishes, and shared their enthusiasm with me and my mom. Since my first experience I’ve followed their lead and introduced the meal to everyone from high school friends, to exchange students from Spain, Venezuela, and Colombia, to my dad. Eating family-style is always the best way to go with dim sum, so regardless of who you bring, get ready to share.
Below are some of my favorite dim sum dishes from Chau Chow City in Boston’s Chinatown, which I’ve found to be a consistent choice for a weekend brunch. If you’ve never been, these images will also give you a better idea of what to expect.
From plate and going clockwise: rice noodle roll with shrimp and sweet soy sauce, vegetarian dumpling, shrimp dumpling (har gau), and siu maai (dumpling-like noodle package with shrimp or pork). You’ll also start your meal with a pot of tea (top of image).
I also suggest the lotus leaf sticky rice (lo mai gai), steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (gai lan), salt and pepper shrimp, fried squid, and taro cakes.
If you don’t have access to a restaurant with dim sum, you can always find a limited frozen selection at a Chinese market (and sometimes Trader Joe’s even carries them). And if you do go for the first time, I hope you’ll embrace the experience by being adventurous with the flavors and textures and enjoying how social dim sum can be.