My Dim Sum Guide is on LA Weekly
Whether you want dim sum that is cheap or high-end, traditional or modern, we've got you covered with this dim sum guide to the San Gabriel Valley.
An iconic part of the traditional dim sum experience is the salesmen-esque ladies that circle around your table with pushcarts filled with different types of dim sum. Although this is a great food porn experience and ideal if you want your food immediately, it's not the best way to get fresh food—critics say it's no better than the food you get sitting out under heat lamps. Another disadvantage is that certain cart ladies (and they're almost always ladies) who are not diligent in their routes, circle certain areas more than others, leaving certain tables sad and dim sum-less.
But now most higher-end dim sum in Hong Kong as well as the U.S. have a "we don't steam it until you order it" motto. Food takes a bit longer to arrive at your table, but the dim sum comes out hot and piping fresh. You also get the peace of mind that your food hasn't been sitting in a cart making its rounds all day. All dim sum varieties are clearly labeled on a paper menu—which you may not enjoy if you're the kind of person who decides what to eat by peeking into the carts.
Drinking tea is almost as important to dim sum as the actual food itself. The typical teas available include Chrysanthemum, Jasmine, Oolong and Pu-erh. The restaurant will charge you for tea whether you drink it or not, so choose a tea you will enjoy, since you'll end up paying for it anyway. Think of it as a tea tax. Most dim sum restaurants also charge for condiments. Don't let your dim sum experience go by without ordering a chili sauce, an XO chili sauce, and a Chinese mustard sauce. They are most excellent and will elevate your dim sum legitimacy to the next level.
Traditional dim sum classified their dishes according to small, medium, large, special, or A-D. Each cart lady would come by with a stamp that corresponded with the price. At the end of the meal, all the stamps would be tallied up. However, the stamps got muddled up and the process looked so complicated that it was often hard to check your bill. New school made-to-order dim sum is clearly marked on a paper. Dishes are usually the same prices and straightforward. Everything is clearly printed on a receipt to make double-checking the restaurant's math easier.
Must-orders: A traditional dim sum experience includes various types of buns such as BBQ pork buns (steamed, pan-fried, or baked), rice noodle rolls, egg tarts, pineapple buns, roasted meats, porridge and dumplings. Modern restaurants still serve the traditional dishes, but also have taken traditional favorites such as a pineapple bun and included a salty egg yolk "lava" that will flow out of the bun and make your taste buds ask for more. A regular soup dumpling at a modern restaurant could include a deluxe ham and pork soup with a giant dumpling with faux shark's fin inside.
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