Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I was on my own at Jade Asian (136-28 39th Ave., Flushing). It was an early Sunday morning dim sum stop before a day of serious eating (with a serious eating confederate) was to commence in earnest. I passed over the dim sum standards, like har gow, siu mai, chee cheong fun, turnip cakes, sticky rice. I wanted to see what specialties they had, stuff you don't see everywhere. And these babies caught my eye. There were pieces of crabmeat hanging out of these rice flour dumpling cups, and inside there was a mixture of minced mixed seafood and vegetables, an awful lot going on inside a dumpling. Too much, actually. It was then that I had my dim sum epiphany. After years of looking for places with the unique creations, the out of the ordinary, it struck me that none of these specialties ever satisfy me as much as a simple dim sum item done well. Can you really beat a har gow (rice flour shrimp dumpling) that has fresh, flavorful shrimp and a thin, light wrapper that holds its own without falling to pieces? That's really the apotheosis of dim sum, not a prima donna dumpling.
In addition to the prima donna seafood dumpling I had one other item, lau sa bao ("flowing sand buns"). They're steamed buns, unassuming on the outside, stuffed with a sweetened and salted duck egg yolk. Though some descriptions call it a custard, it doesn't really have a custard consistency, it's more, er, flowing. And the sand part of the name might refer to the color or to a slightly gritty texture to the filling. I went to Jade Asian on the recommendation of a Chinese-American coworker whose parents swear by their lau sa bao. These were my first, so I have no comparison. While I enjoyed them, I'm much more fond of egg custard. Perhaps the best egg custard dim sum I've had was at Ton Kiang, in San Francisco. On weekends they have a chef who specializes in rice flour items, and one of them is a steamed dumpling stuffed with warm egg custard, amazingly delicious and sensual.