New York’s dim sum masters have put a quirky, modern spin on the traditional Cantonese breakfast staple.
There’s cheeseburger dumplings, taco dumplings and dumplings that look like Pac-Man. Perhaps you’d prefer a crispy egg roll stuffed with pastrami or a steamed bun with a piggy face that squirts custard when it’s squeezed.
Dim Sum in New York is anything but boring.
From the alley ways of Chinatown to the wealthy neighbourhoods of the Upper West Side, diners are almost encouraged to play with their food at new age dim sum outlets springing up across the city.
At venues like Red Farm and Mimi Cheng’s, culinary innovators are reinventing the bite-sized treats, traditionally served in bamboo steamers, to appeal to a younger generation of diners who eat with their eyes.
They’re using non-traditional ingredients, unexpected flavours and distinctive techniques to bamboozle the brain and tantalise the tastebuds.
As well as healthier options and visually-appealing (Instagrammable) plates, they’re creating a memorable food experience with a flair for presentation.
Millennials today accounts for around 50 per cent of a restaurant’s customer base. They want interesting food, healthier options and great photos, and that’s exactly what they’re getting.
Rest assured though, there are still plenty of old-school dim sum dives across Manhattan that will never go out of style.
But if you’re after a modern take on this popular Asian comfort food, you can’t go wrong at these creative kitchens in New York.
At Red Farm, New York’s farm-to-table inspired dim sum joint, the menu is full of inventive twists that resemble something more like pop art.
Take the Pac-Man shrimp dumplings ($16), for instance. It’s a tempura sweet potato Pac-Man reclining on a bed of crushed avocado that’s chasing four pastel-coloured shrimp-stuffed dumplings with black sesame seed eyes.
Not only is it one of the Red Farm’s most-ordered dishes, it’s also one of its most photographed. A quick search on Instagram will attest to that.
Then there’s the signature pastrami egg roll ($10.75) – part Jewish deli and part Cantonese spring roll – bringing disparate cuisines together in a fun way. Or the hand-crafted pork soup dumplings that arrive with candy-striper straws to suck up the broth.
Red Farm started in Greenwich Village, but thanks to a cult-following, now has an offshoot on the Upper West Side. The Pac-Man dumplings are also creating a stir at Red Farm’s newest location across the Atlantic, in London’s Covent Garden.
Where: 529 Hudson Street, West Village. 2170 Broadway between 76th and 77th Streets. 9 Russell Street, London.
Sisters Hannah and Marian Cheng struck a chord when they started serving organic Taiwanese dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s in the East Village five years ago.
And it’s no wonder. They are the dynamic duo behind the first-ever vegan dumpling, as well as a crazy assortment of monthly menu specials that include taco-inspired dumplings, cheeseburger flavoured dumplings (pictured), mac and cheese dumplings and even cookie dough dumplings.
The Mighty Veggie ($10.75) – six dumplings stuffed with kale, zucchini, shiitakes and egg and topped off with scallions and fresh ginger – can be ordered lightly pan-fried in canola oil or steamed, and are served with the house “secret sauce.”
They even had a Guac Burger Dumpling stuffed with a sweet potato black bean quinoa patty, and topped with a dollop of avocado and beet ketchup.
Their carefully-crafted, made-to-order delicacies, based on their mother’s secret recipe, have been such a hit that they have now opened a second outlet, in Nolita.
Unlike many of the cheap dumpling dives you’ll find in Manhattan, Mimi Cheng’s uses only lean, organic meats and loads its dumplings with in-season vegetables. They might cost a little more, but they’re worth every cent.
For $13.15, eight dumplings come pan fried or steamed in three varieties: vegetable, pork and chicken. There is a daily market vegetable, like a cucumber salad, and a dessert dumpling, each for $5.
Tim Ho Wan
Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred, Hong Kong-based dim sum chain, is renowned for serving life-altering baked BBQ pork buns and prawn dumplings at insanely low prices.
Here, the buns are baked, not steamed. Made with a sweet, sticky char siu (barbecued pork), they are encased in a cloud-like fluffy bread with a sweet, crunchy top.
The East Village location gets the thumbs up for its pan-fried chicken dumplings with ginger essence, deep-fried dumplings with pork and dried shrimp, and those wonderful baked barbecue pork buns.
The group has been on an aggressive expansion drive across the US and now a second Manhattan outlet at Hell’s Kitchen, as well as in California, Las Vegas and Waikiki. There are reports it’s also about to open in Houston.
Regardless of where you dine, its seems the experience is pretty much universal – both in terms of taste and how long you’ll need to wait. In fact, the restaurant is known as much for its long wait times as it is for the famous pork buns.
Even in New York, the queues of people waiting for their dumpling fix can be torturous, especially on weekends. So try visiting mid week for brunch or lunch, or settle for a spot at the small standing counter at the front of house.
Where: 85 4th Avenue, East Village. 610 9th Ave, Hell's Kitchen. Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center, Irvine, Southern California. Level 3, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, Waikiki. Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
At Nom Wah Tea Parlor, deep in the heart of Chinatown, dim sum is something of a culinary art. There are no mass produced dumplings in push carts here; they disappeared years ago.
Instead, diners are given a piece of paper and a pencil and metal steamers made-to-order are quickly brought to your table. Soothing tea is also poured into mismatched cups, a collection dating back a half-century.
The handmade shrimp and snow-pea-leaf dumplings are a crowd favourite, while the egg roll is wrapped in an egg crepe and then battered, which keeps the filling moist while it is deep fried.
Nom Wah is the city’s oldest dim sum joint in Manhattan. It first opened its doors in 1920 at the infamous Doyers Street, a tiny angular laneway once dubbed the Bloody Angle due to the bloodshed between warring Asian gangs.
These days the biggest fight is for a table at this vintage dim sum house.
What I love most about Nom Wah Tea Parlor is its storied past. It has an authentically rich history and a welcoming atmosphere.
And it seems there’s no stopping owner Wilson Tang, who took over from his uncle in 2010. He has since opened an offshoot nearby on Kenmare Street in Nolita, and an outpost in Philadelphia.
Despite the novelty dim sum craze, it’s still hard to go past some of Chinatown’s grand dim sum palaces, especially Golden Unicorn.
Tucked away on two floors above a bank at East Broadway, the dim sum here is reliable, fresh and always satisfying. But trust me, it’s best to get here early, especially on weekends, or you’ll be waiting quite some time.
I often think of that Seinfeld episode when they wait forever for their number to be called, only to throw in the towel and walk away hungry.
It’s a bit like that here, as dozens of people mill around in the marbled foyer waiting for their lucky number to come up.
You’ll often be asked if you want to share a table. If you agree you will be eating a lot sooner than those who stubbornly wait for a table for two.
Once you are summoned and make your way upstairs to the elaborate dining room, you’ll soon realise it was worth the wait.
Steaming carts laden with noodles, shrimp dumplings and pork siu mai zig zag around the room.
The big sensation here in the past few years has been the custard-filled steamed buns that resemble a pig (pictured). Squeeze the bun, and you’re in for a hilarious experience.
The average cost per person is between $15 and $25, although it depends how hungry you are.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
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