My dream first breakfast in a place like this? Dim sum. It’s all over the place. Fortunately for me, Luke has been around enough in the past three months to know the areas with cheap but over-the-top dim sum in Mong Kok, which has become, as I’m learning, his favorite neighborhood for its bustle and boisterous sounds, its smokey-but-fresh-smells, its grittiness, its raw, real, human qualities. Its cheapness. He is, after all, a college student. And he is, after all, a boy who was exposed to intense flavors at Vien Dong in Tacoma, Washington, which he and I frequented in his primary school years. One of his big study interests is the wealth gap in cities like this, where the distance between the very poor and the very wealthy, within just a few subway stops, is blatant. Much like New York and Seattle, I suppose. He and I both know those types of neighborhoods are always the best, where you can get a real sense of the place beyond the high-tea room at the Peninsula Hotel and the pricy shopping in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
As we peered in the glass doors of the restaurant when we first arrived, the Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum Specialty Store, we didn’t think we would get a table, but the host gave us stools to sit down outside, and it wasn’t long before we saw them wiping down a table in the back. The fun start to our experience came with the paper placemats sticking to the wet surface when we sat down, and on them, a caricature of a chef-pig. So of course I wondered aloud, “Why is there a pig on the placemat? What does that have to do with?” [And shame on me for ending a sentence with a preposition!]
Luke: I don’t know…maybe because they serve so much pig? Then he speculated that it might have something to do with the Eight Precepts Pig in the novel, Journey to the West, written in the 16th century. Apparently, the Eight Precepts Pig, or Pigsy, was thrown out of heaven and generally doesn’t want to do what he’s told.
I like Luke’s second suggestion better, even if it isn’t true, though I think one could make a case by comparing it to a depiction from one of the publications of the novel.
But back to the food. I love dim sum. In Seattle and Manhattan and Vancouver, BC, you can find restaurants where servers push carts around with selections for on-the-spot selection. No menus or order sheets. Just point and receive. Pretty nice. Luke said that’s not common here and it’s common practice to order off the menu.
So we read and pondered and discussed, then landed on seven or eight dishes to share ranging from steamed dumplings to friend chicken feet (which I tried, barely). Bottom line? This food blew my taste buds away. Seriously. Not even my first experience with Dim Sum in Manhattan in 1999 compared. Not even close.
The shrimp and pork dumplings were exquisitely tender and juicy. The Lo Mai Gai–“steamed sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf wrap”–was WAY better than I’ve ever had in the US. The bok choy was fresh and crunchy and a completely different variety than what one might find at home (thankfully). The pork buns were fresh with abundant filling (silly me to think recently that Costco’s version might be acceptable!). But the best dish? The one I had never tried? The Crispy Rice Flour Rolls with Shrimp.
There is not a single adjective I could use to describe this dish. Silky on the outside, crunchy on the inside, sweet all over. Epic.
You can bet there will be more dream breakfast in store there before we leave next week. Next up, though? Congee at Fa Yuen Street Market. But for now, hats-off to Pigsy and the Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum Specialty Store.