Make a Chinese New Year resolution to try dim sum
Lions and lanterns, dragons and dumplings. Signs of the Chinese New Year abound this time of year. If you've had your fill of steamed whole fish and noodles longer than your legs, I suggest you make a resolution to try dim sum.
And you don't have to head to Chicago's bustling Chinatown to get a taste of these breakfast and lunch items. A number of suburban restaurants now offer dim sum brunch on the weekend, which prompted me to get a better understanding of dim sum menus and dining practices.
I turned first to Ying Stoller, a Gurnee resident and founder of Ying's Kitchen, a line of natural Chinese food products. An advocate of home cooking, Stoller nonetheless says dim sum is something you go out for.
"It's just too much work to do at home," Stoller says.
Like Spanish tapas, dim sum dining is abundant and communal. Dim sum dishes come three or four to a plate or basket, and many are to be consumed in one bite.
"It's definitely meant for sharing," says chef Rodelio Aglibot of e+o Food and Drink in Mount Prospect. "It's a great way to do small plates with friends, to sample a lot of things. I grew up with dim sum in Hawaii and California. It's what we did for Sunday brunch.
"Traditionally carts would come out with an array of items; you'd grab what you wanted and mark your ticket," explains Aglibot, who also runs Yum Cha Dim Sum Parlor in Chicago. As you might expect, that approach can lead to uneaten food. "Now at 80 percent of dim sum houses, you order and it's delivered," he adds.
The tradition of dim sum started along China's Silk Road where Aglibot says roadside tea houses offered travelers small meals. The meals were not meant to fill their bellies but to "touch the heart," he says, giving dim sum's translation.
In the modern era, dim sum is a chance to slow down on the weekends and enjoy food, family and friends. Based on the reception of the dim sum menu at e+o, Aglibot says he wouldn't be surprised if more restaurants start to offer weekend service. If you venture out, here's what you need to know:
Tea: "Let's go yum cha" might literally mean let's drink tea, but it's understood as an invitation to go for dim sum. Naturally, a dim sum session starts with tea (unless you're at e+o, where the cocktail menu might tempt you otherwise).
Aglibot suggests chrysanthemum tea. "It's floral; not that much bitterness. It's very pleasant to drink with dim sum."
Expect a pot on the table for the group and fill up others' cups before filling yours. Don't be shy about asking for a second or even third pot; placing the lid slightly ajar or upside down on the pot signals the need for more.
Dumplings: Steamed dumplings are very typical, says Stoller. (She shares her recipe for pork dumplings -- shao mai -- in the Feb. 18 Food section.) Sometimes the dumplings are stuffed with pork, sometimes with shrimp and often topped with fish roe.
Fried taro root dumplings are a Stoller family favorite. She says they "explode" with flavor and crispy texture.
During the Chinese New Year, look for dumplings with many pleats, as many pleats mean prosperity.
Bao, or buns: They sometimes look like dumplings, but the dough for bao has a soft, dense crumb. These often hide a barbecue pork filling (cha siu bao), a dim sum highlight, and can be steamed or baked. Cha siu sou is barbecue pork wrapped in flaky pastry.
Spare ribs and more: Tiny spare ribs might be served with a variety of sauces, Stoller says. At e+o, Aglibot and his staff look at dim sum as an opportunity to create "small plate" versions of popular menu items, like braised beef and bone marrow or its Buddha chicken wings.
Congee: Sticky rice might seem like a platform for sweet, but it's generally paired with savory toppings. At e+o that means braised duck, but at other places it could be egg or pork.
Desserts: Don't expect anything too sweet like chocolate doughnuts or raspberry streusel coffee cake. Dim sum sweets are more understated, with items like mango pudding and egg tarts, which can be made with a pie-like or shortbread-like crust.
Get your dim sum onSome restaurants offer dim sum dishes on their regular menus, some feature dim sum items only on weekends. Here are a few places to try:
10 E. Miner St., Arlington Heights
(847) 255-9080, bistrochen.com
e+o Food and Drink
125 Randhurst Village Drive, Mount Prospect, (847) 398-3636, eofoodanddrink.com/
4663 Old Tavern Road, Lisle
(630) 305-8868, fabulousnoodles.com
Gen Hoe Restaurant
537 E. State St., Geneva
(630) 232-8350, www.genhoerestaurant.com
600 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling
Jockey Express at Mitsuwa Marketplace
100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights
(847) 357-0888, www.jockey2go.com
Joy Yee Noodle
1163 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville
(630) 579-6800, joyyee.com
850 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville
(630) 357-7633, rakusushi.com
31 Golf Center, Hoffman Estates
(847) 885-0688, www.royalbuffetil.com
2457 W. 75th St., Woodridge
(630) 580-3188, wontondeli.com
• Know of other places that offer dim sum in the suburbs? Please share with us and others at Facebook.com/DH.Timeout