When you’re Chinese, Saturday or Sunday mornings mean yumcha, which literally translates to “drink tea”, with family. You wake up early and pile out to a restaurant to wait for a table to grab some dim sum and hot tea. Once you sit, you’re given a bill card for your table. Everything you order will be on that card. It is divided into several sections – small items, medium items, big items, and special items. Women push around carts that contain all sorts of food –some hot, some cold, and even desserts and baked goods. When you order something off the cart, the cart lady will stamp your bill card, marking off the size of your item.
Ever since starting college, yumcha has been a rare occurrence. Saturday and Sunday mornings are usually spent catching up on the sleep I didn’t get during the weekdays. But last Saturday, the boyfriend and I went yumcha with his family at Golden Unicorn Restaurant in Chinatown. The moment you sit down, the waiter will ask you what kind of tea you want. Once that is done with, you start ordering dishes from the various carts that are running up and down between the tables.
First up is the typical dimsum order – Shui Mai. These are little pork dumplings that are left open at the top. The filling is ground pork with variations of shrimp, mushrooms, and green onions. The dumplings are then steamed in a bamboo steamer. All of these dishes are pushed around in a cart with hot water on the bottom to keep the food hot inside their steamers.
Next up is Ha Gaows, which are shrimp dumplings. The filling is entirely shrimp while the outside is a thin wheat starch skin. Like the shiu mais, these dumplings are steamed in a bamboo steamer. The key to figuring out if you’ve been served a good Ha Gaow is testing the skin. If the skin is thin but chewy, then it is a good ha gaow. If the skin is hard or un-bouncy, then you’ve been served either an old dish or a badly made skin.
Another typical dim sum staple is the Cha Siew Baos. These are little steamed buns filled with sweet barbeque pork and onions. Dim sum cha siew baos come in two forms – steamed or baked. The steamed baos, shown here, are white and fluffy while the baked ones are brown and sticky. Both have the same filling. When it comes to cha siew baos, I always prefer the steamed ones because they’re soft and piping hot when they arrive at my table. The baked baos are usually cooled and served on a dish versus in a steamer.
No yumcha meal is complete without rice crepes. Rice crepes, or churng fun, are rice noodles that are steamed and then rolled. They are pulled into their shapes after being cooked. They usually come in three forms: beef filling, shrimp filling or no filling. Churng fun is usually topped with sweetened soy sauce – the more the better! I’ve been eating churng fun since I was a little kid, so every time I yumcha I must have them. They’re soft and chewy and very filling. My favorite has always been the plain rice crepes but the beef seems to be the most popular among the kids.
By this point in the meal, it’s time for the law bak go, or fried turnip cakes. They’re pre-made by the kitchen and then fried in front of you by a cart lady. Her cart is different then the others because hers is actually used for cooking. She puts the pre-made turnip cakes onto the grill she has and makes them nice and crispy right in front of you. Turnip cakes are usually served with a side of oyster sauce for dipping. Fried turnip cakes are loved because of the texture when you bite into it. The outside is crunchy while the inside is smooth and chewy.
Next up are the Spring Rolls. Spring Rolls served during yumcha are usually not piping hot. They are placed on the cool dishes cart, along with the other fried foods. When you’re a Chinese person eating spring rolls during yumcha, there is only one dipping sauce you use – worcester sauce. It sounds a little weird, but we don’t eat it any other way.
After so many dishes of hot delicious good, it’s finally time for dessert! Most restaurants have a dessert cart. Golden Unicorn has several. They have a cart just for various puddings, a cart just for tofu pudding, and a cart for baked desserts. When we were browsing and trying to decide what to order, the baked desserts cart rolled by and the cart lady told us that her don tats, or egg custards, were fresh out of the oven. There is nothing better than hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven egg custards. They didn’t look like they were fresh, but moment I bit into them, I knew they were. The inside was still warm while the crust melted in my mouth. It was such a small dish that I already wanted another order before I even finished my first egg custard.
And now, we reach the highlight of the meal. For me, no yumcha is complete without Malaysian Rolls. These rolls are yellow, small, and super cute. They are made from a very soft sponge cake that is flavored with molasses. The result is a spongy soft roll that is just the right amount of sweet. The rolls are steamed inside a bamboo steamer, so they’re best eaten when they’re hot. Nothing is worse then a cold Malaysian roll. If you don’t try anything else that I’ve eaten today, you HAVE to try these Malaysian rolls. Golden Unicorn makes them perfectly.
Golden Unicorn is a bit expensive for standard dim sum but you really do get the quality you pay for. The food is always hot and delicious while the service is quick – the waiters always pick up empty steamers and plates from your table. If you’re ever in the Chinatown area and want some good dim sum, definitely give them a visit!