Hurry up, please. It’s time.”
I am a fiend for dumplings.
I remember my first dim sum like it was yesterday. Paying a visit to Seattle with family, our Alaska Air flight was delayed due to bad weather over the Cascades. By the time we got in to Sea-Tac, we were dizzy from low blood sugar. We got our luggage, got the rental and headed in to town. Having visited a couple times previously, I said I could get us to the International District (a.k.a. “Chinatown”) and from there we’d be able to find noodles or something. I had no idea what was about to happen.
Having identified one of those big Cantonese seafood restaurants with live tanks of all types of tasty invertebrates, we circled the block. We found a spot and when we got out of the car, we were surprised to find ourselves standing directly in front of a small storefront with a simple sign: Top Gun Dim Sum.
I don’t remember when, somewhere in the outer rim of my most distant food consciousness, that I first became aware of Chinese dim sum. Growing up, with the usual exposure most kids have to Chinese American sugar + fat bombs, I was certainly unaware. I mean, I loved Chinese food. Or at least what I thought was Chinese food. I loved the way eating in a restaurant with strange art and strange music and deep-fried everything hopped up with soy sauce & sugar was able to transport me to a different place and time altogether. To this day, I suppose I still have that child like fascination with food as a conduit for storytelling.
What I can say is this-I picked up my first book about dim sum from John Martin Taylor at his legendary Hoppin John’s culinary bookstore. The book in question was from the equally legendary Yank Sing in San Francisco.
That book was all I’d had to help me wrap my head around this thing, this paradigm of dumplings. As we walked in and found a table inside the Top Gun Dim Sum, the assault on the senses began as carts arrived table side, stacked with steamer baskets of various sizes. And so it is with most traditional dim sum restaurants. A non stop onslaught of steamer baskets and small plates- silken noodle rolls filled with bbq pork, crystal shrimp dumplings, clams steamed in black bean sauce and shao tsing wine, Chinese broccoli drizzled with sweetened oyster sauce, gelatinous pork dumplings filled with consomme. It just goes on and on and on and on.
Here’s the trick of it: in Charleston, the only place I can think of that does this is Dragon Palace out on Daniel Island. No one’s sole job over the week is to make dumplings for Saturday and Sunday brunch. No one’s raising a fuss. I’m happy they’re there and that they’re serving dim sum, but the the menu is limited, there’s no carts and no competition.
I’ve written about this before, about how even with the profusion of fantastic restaurants in town, there’s a serious lack of dining diversity and a whole mess of douchebaggery. I seriously hope that someday, sooner than later, someone with a collection of backers will come along and agree with me. If we’re all lucky, they’ll have cart service and live seafood. If not, we’ll all need to take advantage of those non stop Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle.
Today marks the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar, and Charleston needs dumplings.
Hurry up, please. It’s time.
P.S. -Happy Lunar New Year, or “gong hey fat choi”.
Here’s the guide to dim sum recently published by Lucky Peach. Hungry yet?