Having had the privilege and pleasure to be born and raised within a Chinese family, gaining access to rice and tea and being associated with take-out cuisine are two aspects that form the essence of Chinese food trends in the United States, or anywhere in the Western world. However, as there are many facets to authentic Chinese food fare as are dialects of the main Chinese language, one needs to take some time and truly experience what the full range of Chinese cuisines has to offer to the oftentimes discerning palette.
With the recent surge in popularity with Spanish tapas, brunch, and other forms of casual dining, one should explore and taste the Chinese version of this new way of dining. To most connoisseurs, this form of dining is known as dim sum, or yum cha. From Webster’s Online Dictionary, dim sum means “touch the heart” or “order to your heart’s content.” In practical terms, it is a form of Chinese cuisine usually enjoyed on the weekends between 11AM and 3PM, in which ladies push around carts full of small dishes made with different meats, seafoods, and vegetables and the customer picks and chooses whichever dish he or she would like to order and sample. On the weekends, when advanced reservations are highly recommended, upon every order, the lady will make a mark on a card that will be tallied up at the end of the meal to determine the final bill. The second phrase “yum cha” literally means drinking tea, which refers to the beverage of choice when dining on these small morsels of both sweet and savory foods. A word of advice to first-timers to this form of Chinese cuisine: opt for the jasmine-scented tea, since that is probably the only type of tea that someone not accustomed to bitter teas can handle without resorting to adding sugar.
With this basic understanding of dim sum dining, much attention should be paid to a Chinese restaurant that should rank high on anyone’s list of dim sum excellence. This is none other than Oriental East, which is located at 1312 East-West Highway in Silver Spring, Maryland, about a block away from the Metro station. Having had the good fortune to experience some of the most incredible dim sum teahouses in the world, it is not hard to see why anyone would rank Oriental East on the top of his or her list of favorites.
Saturday is typically the busiest day of the week for this delicacy, so plan on arriving early or else the wait time could be two hours in a seemingly crowded entryway. No one would think at first glance that this unassuming restaurant in a strip mall would boast some of the most incredible small-bite creations in the world, let alone in the Washingtion metro area. The atmosphere, although loud at times due to the crowds and employees conversing all at once, is designed beautifully and elegantly for a great dining experience, especially if you are able to snag a table by the windows. When you are seated, standard protocol is to order your preferred tea and to request your condiments, with hot chili oil being the most requested one. In all honesty, no one would be able to sample every single item that came your way, but the true essence of dim sum is trying a dish with similar ingredients prepared in uniquely different ways. In other words, you will not miss out on the ideal experience if you do not order every item that came to your table! Choose carefully and always opt for variety.
An expert in this dining experience can go on and on about what to order and what to order several times over, suffice it to say that dim sum is a form of cuisine that someone would easily embrace and come back for seconds in the near future. For someone with a knack at picking the best quality dim sum dishes, let this expert provide you with a list of items that should not be overlooked, even if you have the common tendency to order everything in sight.
- Steamed shrimp dumplings: paper-thin wrappers filled with shrimp pieces and bamboo shoots
- Steamed barbecued pork buns: roasted and chopped pork in a Chinese barbecue sauce, encased in a light dough exterior
- Egg custards: creamy egg filling surrounded by a flaky, buttery crust
- Beef rice noodle rolls: seasoned and minced beef with green onions wrapped inside thick strands of rice noodle
- Taro root fritters: a savory meat, shrimp, and vegetable filling inside shavings of taro root
As you can see, dim sum has become a popular trend in all dining circles, since comsumers value a form of cuisine that allows you to taste different preparations and combinations of meats, seafoods, and vegetables, all done in a innovative and elegant way. So, next time you are in Silver Spring or find yourself in the heart of Chinatown, go outside the box and try your hand at dim sum. Your heart and your stomach will thank you when all is said and done!!