The dim sum experience

Boston's Chinatown gate

Boston's Chinatown gate

I have a soft spot in my heart for Boston’s Chinatown. During my second year of grad school, my documentary class produced a film about the gentrification of Chinatown’s across the U.S. It’s a sad state with how poor communities of people are forced from their homes because of the capitalistic nature of condo companies and 21st century growth. I was lucky enough to be introduced to one of the last great Chinatowns in this country. (If you want to view that film we produced, click here.) Every time I return back to Boston, I must return.

China Pearl, Boston, Mass.

The outside of the China Pearl.

Back home in Milwaukee, we don’t have the luxury of a true Chinese dim sum experience like the great Chinatowns have. It can be hard to make it to Chicago to enjoy their dim sum on a weekend. The thing about dim sum – it’s a family thing. You go on weekends to enjoy the company, the fellowship of being with your loved ones. However, if you want to experience a feast that will both pique your senses and introduce you to a new way of eating, then I highly recommend this experience.

One of my favorite haunts in Boston’s Chinatown is the China Pearl. Once you go up the red vinyl staircase you enter a completely different world. On weekends, expect to wait for more than an hour. During the week, you might be able to walk right in at lunch. You’re met with a mix of native Chinese speakers, tourists and area college students and business people. You could sit at a table with your entire family or you could be mixed with people you’re never met. That’s all part of the fun!

But, the best part about the dim sum experience is picking the food out. Servers cart around selections and stop at each table. You can select whatever you’d like. If you select something from the cart, the server stamps your receipt. You’re only charged for what you take from a cart.

Serving at China Pearl

Servers at the China Pearl dish out treats for guests.

The most popular items at dim sum are:

  • Shumai. A steamed dumpling usually filled with chicken, pork, shrimp or a mixture of the meats.
  • Spring rolls. A thin rice paper wrapper that is filled with meat or vegetables. Very much like an egg roll.
  • Sio pao. A doughy steamed bun usually filled with a barbecue pork mixture or other meat. A personal favorite!
  • Egg tart. Think of an egg custard in a tart shell.
Sio pao

Barbecued pork buns (sio pao) are a yummy delight!

The great thing about dim sum is that you get to try something new. Many times the servers will bypass customers who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in some of the more traditional Chinese dishes. If you’d like to try something exotic – like duck feet soup or some sort of cow intestines – then stop them. But be warned, it can be hard to communicate with your servers who speak limited English. Sometimes you’ll need to ask your tablemates what something is or just pass if you’re a cautious eater.

Shumai and tea

Shrimp shumai and tea.

Most of all, have fun with dim sum. If you want to learn more about the dim sum experience, check out this resource from the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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