Growing up Cantonese, I have always been surrounded by delicious dim sum and char siu at home. Whenever I feel homesick in the city, I take the subway down to Canal street and suddenly all the longing for home is gone. Hearing people on the streets speaking in Cantonese, eating some delicious dim sum at Golden Unicorn, I am beyond proud that my heritage is being carried on even when home is thousands of miles away. My favorite morning activity back home is yum cha (literally ‘drink tea’), which refers to the activity of eating dim sum. You can say yum cha is an equivalent of brunch, but to me, it is so much more than just a morning activity.
When I was little, my entire family would gather for yum cha at least twice a month. I’d always look forward to those family gatherings as I get to spend time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Instead of going to a restaurant, we would gather at my grandma’s house, sharing our ups and downs while tasting homemade dim sum. My grandma, who is born and raised in Guangzhou, knows a number of recipes by heart. Among her recipes, rice noodle rolls, congee, turnip cake, siu mai, and lo mai gai are my absolute favorites. And even when I am away from home, getting these dishes in the city always makes me feel homey. Besides sharing my list, I am also including my go-to places in the city for these delicious dim sum dishes!
- Rice noodle rolls (肠粉)
If you’re only going to try one type of in life, this is the one. Without a doubt, rice noodle rolls are the most popular type of dim sum that everyone must try when visiting Chinatown. It is similar to a French crepe, but instead of wheat flour and milk, the batter consists of rice flour and water. The toppings range from shrimp, beef, char siu, to different types of vegetables. Seasoned with soy sauce, this dish gives you a silky and bouncy taste of rice noodles and quickly fills up your stomach. My grandma’s recipe comes with an extra topping of eggs, which perfectly blends in with the rice rolls and gives the noodles an extra taste of bounciness!
For the most authentic rice noodle rolls, try Golden Unicorn Restaurant on 18 E Broadway.
- Congee (皮蛋瘦肉粥）
Cantonese people absolutely cannot live without having congee in the morning. It’s like some sort of “caffeine” that energize the rest of the day! It is simple enough to be made at home, especially if you have a pressure cooker. You can adjust the thickness of the congee to taste by adding different amounts of water. The type of congee you get a restaurants tend to taste dense and salty, with pork, century egg (皮蛋), and green onions as toppings.
This combo might sound weird at first, but you will never regret trying it! Deluxe Food Market on 79 Elizabeth St has the best congee for only $2.99!
- Turnip cake (萝卜糕）
There are two extremes when it comes to turnip cake: you either hate it or you love it. I used to not be a fan of turnip cake when I was little because it was like a dessert in disguise – appeared to be sweet, but turned out to be savory. But as I grew older, I began to enjoy this weird fried combination of turnip and flour.
By far, Golden Unicorn Restaurant has the tastiest turnip cake I have had in the city!
- Siu mai (烧卖)
I loved eating siu mai for breakfast back in elementary school. It is similar to lo mai gai, but the difference is that it is much smaller and easier to carry around. The classic ones in dim sum restaurants come with shrimp, but pure siu mai without any topping is my absolute favorite! Stop by Nom Wah Tea Parlor at 13 Doyers St for this delicious dim sum!
- Lo mai gai（糯米鸡）
The fifth on my list, but it is easily a crowd favorite among dim sum lovers. Lo mai gai is made with sticky rice, pork, and Chinese sausage. Then, it is wrapped with a lotus leaf and steamed in a large pot. A special trick to make lo mai gai even tastier: my grandma would get fresh leaves from the market early in the morning to make the sticky rice softer!
If you’re too tired from school work and you crave for some good dim sum around campus, Tim Ho Wan on 85 4th Ave is the best place to go!