Believe it or not I had never had Dim Sum before going to Empress Pavilion last week. I've had my share of Chinese food but I've never sat down for the Dim Sum experience. I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be small plates but that's about it!
The Chinese call the little delicacies served as snacks during tea time “dim sum”, which translates into "touching your heart." Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition from yum cha (tea tasting). Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks.
The unique culinary art of dim sum originated with the Cantonese in southern China, who over the centuries transformed yum cha from a relaxing respite to a loud and happy dining experience. Consistent with this tradition, dim sum restaurants typically only serve dim sum until mid-afternoon and serve other kinds of Cantonese cuisine in the evening.
We went for Dim Sum on a Sunday afternoon to Empress Pavilion. It was hot out in Chinatown so the air conditioning of the restaurant was refreshing. We sat at a big round table (just the two of us) and waited for the first cart to come around. The restaurant was pretty crowded and noisy. Not really knowing what to expect I passed on the first offerings. Besides, she had a lot of dessert, but I wanted to see the other plates. We started with fried dumplings, which were dense, sweet, and quite filling. We then had some BBQ baked pork buns, and fried shrimp. Lastly, we got an order of seaweed salad. That was more than enough food than we were able to finish so we took leftovers. The bill was fairly cheap, $18 for everything. The most expensive thing we got was the tea at $5 for the pot and I don't think we even had a option to have the tea or not. We were stuffed by the time we left but everything was delicious.
My best adivce is to go for dim sum in a big group; otherwise you'll fill up on a few items and miss the opportunity to sample everything. On the other hand, like us, you can always take home the leftovers! For the novice, the noisy atmosphere in a dim sum restaurant can take a bit of getting used to. But it's a great way to sample a variety of intriguing tastes and flavors.