Dim sum that will touch your heart at Fung’s Kitchen in Houston
7320 Southwest Fwy. #115
Houston, TX 77074
4.5/5 steamed xiu mai
Happy New Year! Dim sum used to be a New Year’s tradition in my family; every January 1st, we’d gather at a dim sum restaurant mid-morning for this delicious Chinese brunch. Like the Spanish’s tapas and the French’s hors d’oeuvres, dim sum is the Chinese’s variety of small dishes conducive to socializing.
Dim sum, which translates to “to touch the heart,” stems from the tradition of drinking tea while conversing with friends. Travelers on the Silk Road in ancient China would need rest stops along the way, and so teahouses sprouted on the roadside. After a long morning of manual labor, farmers also needed a place to commune and relax. Teahouses began serving snacks as an accompaniment to the tea, and thus, dim sum was born.
Dim sum is mostly associated with the Cantonese people in southern China and Hong Kong who, over the years, had transformed the dining experience from a respited to a joyful, bustling one. Today, dim sum is typically eaten for brunch, enjoyed by the elderly after morning exercises or on Sundays for family get-togethers. In some of these overseas restaurants, dim sum can be served from as early as six in the morning and continue until three o’clock when the typical Western afternoon coffee break takes place. Many dim sum restaurants in the States still follow this tradition, some not even serving dim sum unless it’s Sunday morning.
Dim sum in the U.S.is an experience in itself. The restaurants have open floor plans as large as ballrooms, and all tables are made for ten; even if you’re a party of three, you may get seated at a table for ten. Food isn’t ordered off the menu; carts piled high with steaming hot dishes are pushed around the restaurant, and you point to what you want and it’s given to you straight away–now that’s literally “a la carte.” The wait staff marks the dishes you order by stamping a paper that remains on your table until you’re done and it’s time to calculate the bill. In smaller or less traditional restaurants, you’re given a sheet of paper, and you mark off which dishes you want before handing it to the wait staff. Dishes come in small quantities (which I love) so you can try a little of everything. There are steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecue pork, all sorts of dumplings and fried pastries, cold jellyfish salads, congee (or rice porridge), braised chicken feet, egg tarts, and so on. Dim sum experts claim you should start with the steamed dishes, then move on to the exotic, then fried, then finish everything off with the sweets. And hot tea is always the beverage of choice–it aids in the digestion of the greasy foods. My friend, Joy, and even John when we had first met both did not like dim sum, saying that every dish tastes the same and not that great. I said they were going to the wrong places and eating the wrong dishes. Personally, these are my dim sum staples that I have to get at every dim sum meal:
- Xiu mai – steamed dumplings filled with either pork or shrimp wrapped in a wheat flour skin and topped with crab, roe, and/or mushrooms
- Har gau – steamed shrimp dumplings wrapped in wheat starch skin
- Cheung fun – steamed large flat rice noodles rolled around shrimp or meat and served with sweet soy sauce
- Nor mei gai – a lotus leaf filled with sticky rice and other savory ingredients such as hard-boiled egg, Chinese sausage, chicken, and/or pork
- Gai lan – steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
- Pork spareribs steamed with black beans and jalapenos
- Fried taro puff
Fung’s Kitchen, along with Golden Palace and Dim Sum King (which serves dim sum every day, all day), are my favorite places to eat dim sum in Houston. These are the top three–I think I’ve only had better dim sum in Vancouver. I know this entire article was about dim sum and not about Fung’s itself, but I really can’t pinpoint what it is exactly that I like so much about Fung’s aside from the fact that their food is just damn good. Try it and see for yourself. Now after typing this post, my mouth is watering for a little food that would touch my heart. Maybe I’ll have to revive the old family tradition and plan a dim sum outing today. Happy eating! Here’s to many more in 2011…