The atmosphere seems hectic, but everyone is in a jovial mood. There are long lines waiting outside for brunch, people bundled up and laughing, soaking in the unmistakable Chinatown air. Inside, tables are filled with hungry patrons – some are gesturing to catch the attention of the cart ladies, some are quickly downing the bite-size goodies with chopsticks. You hear loud conversations, the ting of metal carts, the plop of wooden steamer baskets. More laughter, more orders, more food.
Welcome to dimsum brunch in Chinatown.
Have you ever had dimsum? Dimsum is a Chinese dish involving small portions of food – usually dumplings, steamed dishes, and other savory items. They’re little bites meant for sharing, tapas-style, served in little baskets or little plates. In Chinatown cities across the America, dimsum is most often served during the weekends, from 8 am to 2 pm, thus becoming dimsum brunch. And while I’ve never been to China myself, I do know that in Asia, Chinese dimsum is served throughout the day.
Hei La Moon is one of the top three restaurants I always hear about from my dimsum-expert friends (and by dimsum-experts, I mean fellow Asians and one uber-authentic source, my Chinese friend John). The other two restaurants are China Pearl and Chau Chow City. Now remember, we’re in Chinatown so don’t expect any hoity toity service or even you know, clean bathrooms. But I digress.
Once you’re in the restaurant, expect organized chaos. You’ll quickly be ushered to your table, and then the fun begins.
The cart ladies will come whizzing by with delicious offerings, and when they come to your table they will explain what they have in their carts. Unfortunately they mostly explain things in Chinese. You should just pretend to understand, ask some basic questions if you like (“Pork? Chicken? Shrimp? Sweet? Spicy?”) but my recommendation is to go with your gut and salivating mouth and just point to whatever dish you want to try. They then stamp your little ticket, plop down your order, and proceed to the next table.
In the Philippines, these are called siopao and the filling is called asado, which is tender pork cubes in a sweetish barbeque-like sauce (made with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and other secret ingredients). My favorite kind of steamed bun is the one filled with a meatball – in the Philippines it is called bola bola – but I don’t know if Hei La Moon had it because I couldn’t quite express myself to the cart lady (“Pork? Ball? Meatball?”).
(But note that they offer the fried savory dishes with the fried/baked desserts, such as the egg tart in the corner above)
It’s best to go to dimsum brunch with a bigger group of friends (there were five of us last weekend); that way you can try a lot of different dishes! The only problem is that you might go a little a crazy and order too many small plates (but is that really a problem?) and then you’ll hardly have room for dessert…
Fortunately, I ALWAYS have room for dessert:
I looked it up on the interwebs and it is called jin deui, but I know it as buchi (from the Philippines, of course).
I usually don’t like warm desserts, but I almost alienated my friends by hogging this whole plate. It was so very, very good.
Dimsum brunch was a success (and by success I mean happy bellies, tighter pants). We enjoyed the bustling pace, the multitude of choices, and the fun, rambunctious appeal of Chinatown. It was also great that the dimsum brought back so many memories of home for me. It felt like a special adventure, and one I would like to do again soon. Now if only I can understand Chinese.
Do you have any particular favorites in your Chinatown?