I recently took the Edible Canada foodie tour of Vancouver’s Chinatown (read all about that tour here). While we nibbled plenty of tasty tidbits along the way, our tour finished with dim sum at the Jade Dynasty Restaurant. Here’s a report on our dim sum lunch:
As we settle into our table, our guide, food writer and Chinese food expert Stephanie Yuen, explains that the Cantonese expression dim sum (called dian xin in Mandarin) actually has nothing to do with food. It means “touching your heart,” which is what the artfully crafted dumplings, pastries, and other dishes that make up a dim sum meal should do. While non-Asians might suggest, “Let’s go for dim sum,” Yuen says that the Cantonese invite family and friends to yum cha — “drink tea.”
Our dim sum experience begins with tea — a smoky green tea called “Iron Buddha.” Outlining Chinese tea-drinking etiquette, Yuen explains that the host typically begins by pouring tea for the guests. Then younger guests refill tea cups for older guests.
Like many Vancouver dim sum restaurants, Jade Dynasty does not have carts of goodies circling the room. Instead, you order from the menu. Yuen tells us that she prefers this system, since dishes come piping hot from the kitchen.
These rice cakes, or niangao, turn out to be one of my favorite dishes. The English menu calls them “stir fry rice dough with XO sauce.” I love the chewy rice “coins” paired with the briny, slightly spicy sauce that’s really more like a spice paste.
My other favorite is the stuffed eggplant with shrimp paste (pictured at the top of this post). I’ve sampled this dish in lots of dim sum eateries, and this version is a fresh and flavorful one.
These deep-fried taro dumplings are nicely crunchy, a type of pastry that’s definitely better served hot from the kitchen, not riding around on a dim sum cart.
I’ve often had pan-fried radish cakes, but this stew-like version, “steamed radish cake with smoked meat,” resembles a thick radish porridge. I like the vegetal flavors, though I prefer the crispness and slight char of the pan-fried version.
“Will anyone try the chicken feet?” Yuen asks. She says that on her food tours, she usually orders a mix of more familiar fare, like shui mai, and dishes that her guests may not know or regularly eat.
And the dishes just keep coming: beef meatballs, spareribs in black bean sauce, rice flour rolls with dried shrimp, and “pan-fried crispy bean curd wraps,” tofu sheets filled with assorted mushrooms and fried.
The chef sent out an extra dish, since our visit coincides with the start of the Chinese New Year. These Thai-style fish cakes taste like a crispier, milder version of Thai tod mun pla. Note the tomato carved into the shape of a bird!
We wrap up our lunch with another New Year’s special, brown sugar cakes, also called niangao. These sticky little bites are made with rice flour and steamed — a sweet finish to our tasty tour!
If you go…
Edible Canada offers tours of Chinatown most Saturdays, departing from the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. You can choose from a two-hour neighborhood tour ($40) or a tour plus a dim sum lunch ($65). Make reservations, which are required, on the Edible Canada website.
Jade Dynasty Restaurant (137 E. Pender St., Vancouver, 604-683-8816) serves dim sum daily.
All photos © Carolyn B. Heller