Dim Sum Two Ways

Dim Sum, the Cantonese equivalent of tapas, is one of my biggest culinary fetishes. It is at its heart a communal affair; often one must share a table with strangers in a crowded and bustling restaurant, and it usually just makes sense to go with friends — the more people you go with, the more dishes you can order. The problem with finding willing friends is that dim sum isn’t for everyone. People who are vegetarian, gluten intolerant, allergic to anything in particular, or on any kind of religious diet might as well forget it. There is nothing at dim sum that they can eat. There is also no concession or apology for this fact. This is part of why I love dim sum.

There are two ways that dim sum can be served. The first way is à la carte, where patrons order the dishes from the menu and have them brought fresh to the table. The second way is from the carts that servers push around the restaurant, filled with steam baskets containing different selections. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. In order to describe the process in a bit more detail I have selected one of each type of restaurant located here in Victoria to let you decide for yourself what you like better. There are quite a few good dim sum places in the city, but these are two of my favourites:

à la carte: Shanghai City Seafood Restaurant.

Shanghai City is an interesting restaurant. They have a menu that offers traditional Canadian-Chinese food, but (if you ask for it) they also have a second menu that offers (and delights in presenting) dishes from all four of the main regions of Chinese cooking. In addition to this, there is the dim sum.  Chef and owner Younian Jin, makes all of the favourites here.  I especially liked the sticky rice with sausage, bone-in chicken, and mushrooms, and the perfectly tender salt-and-pepper squid. I liked everything, actually.

shanghai-city---younian-jin

Younian Jin, owner and chef.

With à la carte you have to know what you are ordering in advance (which could be hard if you’ve never had dim sum), but the advantage is that the food comes to the table fresher. The other advantage, if you do know what you want, is that you can eat the dishes you like the best, as opposed to gambling on whatever random item may roll by on the cart, or even snatched up by others before it reaches your region of the room.

jade fountain shrimp egg roll

jade fountain shrimp egg roll

shanghai city sticky rice

shanghai city sticky rice

From the cart:  Jade Fountain at the Red Lion Hotel

The fun thing about eating dim sum from the wandering carts is the mystery of what will come around next.  You can spend the entire meal hoping for a favourite dish, only to have it come around when you are already too full to eat it. One might have a cart pull up, have the server pull up the lids of all the baskets, and find they want nothing from there. This said, the randomness of it, and the great variety of items makes the game of eating from the carts tremendously fun. Even when I’ve missed my favourite dish, I’ve never left unsatisfied. 
Jade Fountain, managed by Johnny Woo, runs the carts every day of the week and, at least in tourist season, is busy and crazy enough to provide a genuine dim sum dining experience. I was a particular fan of the dumplings with shrimp, shredded pork, and almonds, and I also liked the egg rolls (made with real fresh omelette shell) stuffed with minced shrimp and vegetables. Again, everything was wonderful.

Shanghai City Seafood Restaurant
548 Fisgard St,
Victoria BC V8W 1R4 ·
(250) 388-3148

Jade Fountain
3366 Douglas St,
Victoria BC V8Z 3L3 ·
(250) 383-8718
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Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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