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A little ways back, The Strokes’ lead singer Julian Casablancas caught a whole lot of flack for his divisive comments on the great pastime of the NYC millennial: Brunch. He turned his nose up at at the leisure and indulgence of the privileged few, who sip Bloody Mary’s and eat $17.00 Eggs Benedict for hours on end, lamenting: “I don’t know how many, like, white people having brunch I can deal with on a Saturday afternoon.”
“Blasphemy!” The masses responded, “Brunch is sacred! Brunch is life!” Here’s the thing, though, to a certain extent, I’m on Julian’s side! I mean, I love brunch as much as the next gal, but, given the choice, I’d rather have Dim Sum on the weekend every single time.
For those who aren’t familiar (and, if not, here’s a preemptive “You’re welcome,” for changing your life), Dim Sum originated as a Cantonese breakfast custom, and eventually spread to the other regions in China. It usually consists of dumplings and other small dishes, served along with green tea. In some restaurants the dishes can be ordered off the menu, but, the more authentic (and fun) way to enjoy the custom is with the signature carts, which servers wheel around the restaurant and show you what unique treats they have in store.
At Golden Unicorn, my favorite Dim Sum joint in the city, they bring around a whole roasted, crispy-skin duck and cut it right before your eyes, making peking duck buns with hoisin sauce, scallions, and cucumber.
One of my favorite meals of all time occurred the morning after my cousin’s wedding when, in a symbolic gesture representing the joining of our families and cultures, we gathered together for Dim Sum and Bagels—our family is Jewish, and her new husband of Chinese heritage. Objectively, these are two best breakfast foods in the entire world (if you read Dish and Drink you’re familiar with my impassioned thoughts on bagels).
So. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dim Sum, I present to you the definitive rules for navigating a world so magical, so scrumptious, that once you try it you’ll never look back to the boring brunches of days past.
RULES OF DIM SUM
1. Be brave
This rule goes two-fold, because courage is required both for what you eat, and who you dine with. Communal tables are the norm at Dim Sum, so you may find yourself sharing a table with strangers. You hang out with your friends all the time–make new ones!
For some inexplicable reason, strangers are always giving me their extra food at restaurants. It’s happened on dates, with friends, even alone. Maybe it’s my kind smile! Or maybe it’s the way that I salivate, and stare longingly and incessantly at their neglected plates, piled high with steaming morsels that I imagine melting on my tongue. On multiple occasions my table buddies at Dim Sum have charitably sent along some extra sticky rice, or an unwanted dumpling.
It’s important to be adventurous with what you eat as well. You don’t have to get the chicken feet or tripe if that’s too strange for your palate, but try the bean curd dumpling, the soft sweet tofu, or congee with scallions and hot pepper sauce. If I see a dish I don’t recognize, I make an effort to inquire about what it is and try it. Last time I did so, I discovered one of my new favorite treats; pan fried rice roll with dried shrimp, scallions, sesame seeds and a peanut-butter-hoisin sauce.
2. Be pushy
Dim Sum is about getting what you want, when you want it. You may find yourself waiting quite some time to be seated, but once you get a table, it’s instant gratification. Don’t feel bad flagging down servers pushing carts that look appealing to you–if you don’t do so, you won’t eat.
If things get dire, it is not totally unacceptable to get up from your table and walk over to one of the carts to grab some food. This is somewhat frowned upon though; so if you do it, make sure to bring the card that sits at your table to make sure you’re not being a total pain in the ass (servers stamp the bill to keep track of how many dishes you’ve received, and the price of them).
3. Never give up, because it never ends
The Bottomless Brunch is a tempting concept, but, in all honesty, I don’t want more eggs, more bacon, more pancakes. After a while I reach my threshold and it just gets old. Dim Sum provides a seemingly endless array of foods that I personally just don’t get sick of. Plus, new dishes are being wheeled past you all the time, so even if you think you’re full you can always change your mind.
Furthermore, the portions at Dim Sum are generally quite small and are shared amongst your party. This means you can almost always convince people to get more. My friends and I have coined a saying for just such moments: “It’s just one more dumpling…”
Truly, these are words to live by.