Yum Yum Dim Sum!
by Eric T. Haun, Chevalier
With the Year of the Tiger fast approaching, the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C., was delighted to gather at China Garden Han Gong for a traditional dim sum brunch on January 22nd, 2022.
Located in a quiet neighborhood in Rockville, Maryland, China Garden offers a taste of authentic dim sum at a quality that one would expect to find in a bustling restaurant in the heart of Hong Kong. The forty confrères and guests who took part in the sold-out New Year’s brunch were all thrilled that such cuisine could be enjoyed within the pleasure of a fifteen-minute drive, instead of a 15-hour flight to the Pearl River Delta!
Dim sum, which literally means (to) “touch the heart,” are a collection of small dishes that are famed in southern China for their expansive taste profiles, textures, and preparation methods. To compliment the selection of food items on the menu, diners were welcomed with Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV Champagne, a fabulous sparkling wine with notes of sun-ripened fruits, hazelnuts and brioche that paired wonderfully with the traditionally savory dim sum dishes as well as the sweeter dessert dim sum with which the brunch culminated. This was such a festive occasion and Champagne such a great complement to the entire range of dim sum, that the 40 attendees drank 31 bottles of bubbly! One of the questions of the afternoon was, “why isn’t Champagne regularly paired with dim sum?”
Bailli Judy Mazza started the afternoon by welcoming both members and guests to the bailliage’s first event of 2022, expressing everyone’s hope that the remaining gatherings of the year would continue to be in-person. Following the welcome and introductions, the first dim sum dishes were brought to the tables. In addition to the Champagne, each table was offered its choice of chrysanthemum, flower, or oolong tea – each a fragrant pairing with the food.
Below is a sampling of highlights from the fifteen savory dishes in two savory courses and five dessert selections we enjoyed:
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings: Contained within the translucent wrap is a succulent shrimp filling, crisp with flavor. The delicate wrap is smooth and silky and just strong enough to hold the delicious shrimp found inside.
Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings: Prepared similarly to the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, the chives, with their delicate texture and fresh aroma, create a robust tasting profile without overwhelming the shrimp.
Pan Fried Taro Cake: Dense and savory on the inside, and crispy on the outside, the Pan-Fried Taro Cake is a combination of Chinese sausage, rice flower, taro, and dried shrimp. Topped with chopped scallions, this full-bodied cake offered a nice transition from the delicate dumplings sampled just before.
Rice Crepe with Pork: Savory and sweet pork wrapped in a smooth and tender rice noodle, served in a sweet soy sauce. The texture of the rice crepe allows the soy sauce to be slowly absorbed, creating a wonderful palate experience of sweet and savory with every bite.
Deep Fried Shrimp Roll with Bean Curd Skin: A large, full-bodied shrimp, wrapped in crispy bean curd. This roll delighted our guests with its rich flavor and juicy texture.
Sautéed String Beans Sichuan Style: Moderate hints of spice graced this perfectly prepared string bean dish. The sauté method allows the string beans to remain firm without becoming overly tender, with a burst of smoky and spicy flavor entering the palate with each taste. While not typically considered a traditional dim sum dish, the Sautéed String Beans prepared in the classic Sichuan Style could not be absent from the Chinese tasting menu.
Steamed Chicken Claws: Perhaps the most infamous of all dim sum dishes, the Steamed Chicken Claws were prepared in a light soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, and Sichuan chili sauce, creating a pure and fragrant taste. Braised and steamed, the Chicken claws were tender and succulent and even for the less adventurous, well received.
Baked Roast Pork Pastry: A crispy and flaky puff-pastry filled with sweet and salty roasted barbeque pork. The pastry is famed for how these two ingredients interact to create a very special tasting experience.
Pan Fried Stuffed Eggplant: The Chinese eggplant was stuffed with mashed shrimp and prepared with a briny oyster sauce and light sesame seed oil. The eggplant acted as a base for the filling, with the outside taking on a slight crisp with the inside remaining tender. The dish was noted for not only being a special combination of flavors, but also its delightful textue.
Steamed Ribs in Black Bean Sauce: A classic dim sum dish, the spareribs were cooked to perfection and served towards the end of the second course. The black bean sauce is fermented, adding a complex and satisfying flavor profile to the hearty ribs.
Portuguese Custard Tart: As the name suggests, the Chinese egg custard tart is a derivative of the Portuguese egg custard tart, or “Pastel de Nata”. The individually-sized tart consists of a flaky and slightly dense pastry filled with a silky smooth and creamy baked egg custard. (Some may wonder how a Portuguese specialty became part of the Chinese dim sum repertoire. The answer is that Macau, just 40 miles west of Hong Kong along China’s southern coast, was a Portuguese colony from 1557 until the transfer of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China in 1999, enabling the delectable tart to make the 6800-mile transition.)
Durian Sticky Ball (photo by Bill Babash)Durian Sticky Ball: Served slightly chilled, these sticky balls allowed the savory and sweet tasting notes of the Durian to shine through beautifully without overwhelming the dish. With a slightly chewy and creamy texture, these bites also served as a refreshing palate cleanser after the first and second courses of savory dishes.
Water Chestnut Cake: Water chestnut is a popular fruit in China and is well regarded for its sweet taste. The cake had a firm gelatinous consistency and a translucent appearance and was served slightly warm, holding its form even after being cut into squares for plating.
As the afternoon concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza introduced and thanked the banquet manager who organized our event and the dim sum chefs who had created the feast. They graciously answered attendees’ questions about the afternoon’s delectable creations. One question was about the source of the durian – obviously a not fruit easily found at your neighborhood supermarkent. They explained that China Garden gets its durian flown in from Shanghai, ensuring the freshest flavor in its durian desserts.
Judy then presented Carrie Zhu, owner and manager of the restaurant, with a signature Chaîne des Rôtisseurs plate to commemorate the event and thank the entire China Garden Han Gong staff for their outstanding work in the kitchen and professional service in the dining room.
This delicious rendition of the bailliage’s “Chaîne on the Edge” series marked a great beginning to 2022 with more culinary discovery surely to follow in the Year of the Tiger.