A week ago, when it’s the first day of Chinese (or Lunar) New Year, my mom called my phone early in the morning telling me to meet her at Jade Asian Restaurant in Flushing, for dim sum at 8 AM. I’m scratching my head as to “why so early?” But then it dawned on me that it’s a Sunday, prime dim sum days are weekends by default, and it is the first day of Chinese New Year and one must eat a “good” breakfast to start off the year. (To clarify a bit, this holiday is very food-centric and symbolic/superstitious; if you eat a good breakfast (as in eating well), you’ll have a prosperous year.)
By the time my family and I met up and sat at our table, we’re greeted with a lot of diners. Families and friends (and mildly surprising, several Caucasians who seem to know their way eating around Flushing) were gathered and eating at this time of the morning. So let’s move onto the food, shall we?
The very first dish we ordered were sharkfin, shrimp, crab leg dumplings. I spotted these when one of those steam carts the ladies were rolling around uncovered this particular dish, enamored by the gorgeous colors of white, red and translucent yellow. These dumplings were very fresh and delicious with a good amount of filling (tasted lots of crab and generally, sharkfin is pretty bland by default) and the skin isn’t too thick. (By the way, this particular dumpling is served only on the day of Chinese New Year.)
Moving onto the shrimp dumplings or ha gau (蝦餃), these were pretty damn good as well. Piping hot, not thick skinned and the whole shrimp is a pretty good size.
The fried taro dumplings or wu gok (芋角) were served warm with enrobed with a delicate thin crust that crackles on the teeth to reveal the soft, starchy taro and meat filling. It’s so good and hell, it’s fried so you can’t go wrong with that.
The siu mai (燒賣) is a staple for any dim sum restaurant. This is pretty much the textbook version (a good one). Personal opinion, it needed a touch of color (like a slice or two of scallion or something green) would be appreciated.
The shrimp rice noodle rolls or ha cheong fun (蝦腸) was the only clunker from this entire meal. It’s served barely room temperature, almost cold. If I really tried to overlook the temperature issue, it’s not bad but having cold dim sum is plainly wrong.
Next up, beef tripe with daikon. Chunks of tripe that’s been stewed long enough to make it tender yet still have the chewy characteristic. The cooks were smart enough to hide some of its gaminess with the use of chili flakes and I did like the residual heat that left on my palate after eating them.
The strangest thought or hankering occurred to me when we’re eating and watching the steam carts rolling past our table. My mind went on flashback mode when I went to Hong Kong last late spring and thought of these adorable buns that I ate at Sportful Gardens Restaurant. I said it out loud to my parents that I missed those said buns and they asked one of the women if they do have custard bun with salted egg yolk (流沙包) buns? Indeed, they do have it. We didn’t have high expectations they would be excellent but surprisingly, they were very delicious. The bun exterior was thin yet puffy and the filling was creamy, yolky and salty enough to strive the balance between sweet and salty yet a dessert. The small drawback was the fact this filling could have been smoother.
My mom wanted tofu skin rolls (腐皮捲) which I didn’t care so much about since I was getting really stuffed. It’s still served piping hot and it’s filled with bamboo shoots, mushrooms and pork bits with the chewy, saucy tofu skin.
The pièce de résistance for this entire meal was the cha siu sou (叉燒酥). My personal favorite dim sum dish just because it’s like the baked cha siu baos (also known as baked Chinese-style barbecue pork buns) but has the flaky, lardy crust. If it’s done right, it’s sublime, like these were.
Lion dancers: the video clip
The nice and unexpected ending to this entire meal were a small group of lion dancers (technically a pair with an entourage of people clashing loud cymbals as background music and guides for the dancers. Play the movie above to get a glimpse of the festivities.). According to my parents, they tell me this is traditional in Hong Kong to see the dancers wandering around, entertaining diners at a restaurant on the first day of Chinese New Year to bring prosperity. This is a first time thing for me as a native New Yorker. It’s a loud and intriguing custom to see young families chasing the lion dancers to have their photos taken with them or even to touch the lion costume to give you luck.
Anyway, this dim sum experience was very comparable to Hong Kong. All dishes were fresh and hot (except for the rice noodle rolls which might be just bad timing for us) and if anything, they’re responding to Mayor Bloomberg’s crackdown on sodium since most of their dishes were lacking some salt but it’s better than having salty food.