Entertaining's easy with dim sum at the ready

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      Heady college days fuelled by endless plates of spaghetti with tomato sauce taught me the merits of a full pantry. Recently, more graceful living has introduced me to the charms of a freezer full of dim sum—especially for last-minute entertaining.

      As much as I love going to restaurants for dim sum, the prospect of having to get to my favourite spot earlier and earlier in order to avoid the lineup grows more daunting as I get older. And once a table is won, I find myself racked with a guilt that compels me to eat and run. But yum cha is meant to be enjoyed as a leisurely social repast and savoured with a generous dose of lively gossip and conversation among friends and loved ones.

      So instead of eating out, more and more often I invite some friends over, crank up the steamer at the hour of my choosing, and serve dim sum at home. The selection may not be as diverse, but the tea is better. And if the conversation grows stale, a DVD is just a click of the remote away.

      While quality may vary, frozen dim sum is widely available in Vancouver. Many neighbourhood supermarkets have a collection in their frozen-food sections, but I recommend seeking out either shops that specialize in dim sum or Asian grocery stores or supermarkets, as brisk stock turnover ensures better quality. The shops I frequent are in my neighbourhood. Gah Lok Dim Sum (4169 Fraser Street; 604-873-2233) carries a wide variety of house-made Cantonese- and Northern-style dim sum, from har gow (shrimp dumplings) to lo mai gai (sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves). Good Taste Foods (4352 Fraser Street; 604-872-4489) specializes in Shanghai and Northern dim sum, with offerings such as lamb and carrot dumplings and the popular xiaolongbao (pork buns). While Good Taste also produces machine-made dumplings for the wholesale market, owner Jie Gao assured me that the ones in the freezers at the Fraser Street shop are all handmade; they also come with cooking instructions. Hon’s Wun-Tun House (various locations) has long been famous for its version of potstickers, and the West End location (1339 Robson Street) has a separate kitchen that focuses on vegetarian dim sum items, as well as other vegetarian dishes. You can also buy the frozen Hon’s dim sum to take home. And if you frequent T & T Supermarket (various locations), you will have noticed that it has a whole freezer aisle dedicated to these tasty morsels. Often on weekends, the supermarket features in-store samples so that you can taste before you buy.

      Don’t fret if you think that dim sum packages sometimes seem large enough to feed a crowd. Take it from me—in addition to in-house dim sum brunches, there are many more out-of-the-box reasons to keep a good stock of frozen dim sum at hand. Potstickers and green onion pancakes are terrific rainy-day meal solutions. They’re also helpful in ensuring that you’re a gracious host. According to my mother, one should always have snacks to offer visitors when they come calling—and, well, potato chips and sour cream dip just don’t make the grade.

      The key is to think of dim sum items not as just traditional Chinese food, but as healthy, affordable, convenient, ready-made components of a meal. For example, with just a few minutes in the steamer, chicken buns are a wonderful way to bulk up a lunch of reheated leek and potato soup left over from the previous night’s dinner. Char siu bao—barbecued pork buns—will likewise complement a clean-out-the-fridge vegetable broth. Pork dumplings, steamed or fried, are delicious with a mesclun salad. Make a dipping sauce with slivers of ginger and some cider or sherry vinegar, then use it to dress the salad by adding a drizzle of olive oil.

      Green onion pancakes cut into wedges, topped with a slice each of Brie and tomato and garnished with a basil leaf, make lovely party hors d’oeuvres. Or try them as a base for sautéed, in-season wild mushrooms, such as lobster mushrooms or chanterelles. A few vegetable dumplings—steamed, boiled, or fried—can replace with one easy step the supporting cast of vegetables and pasta that usually accompanies your meat or fish entrée. For dessert, how about some boiled glutinous-rice dumplings with a creamy black-sesame filling? These are traditionally served in sweet ginger soup. For a change, try them in a fragrant chamomile tea sweetened with honey, or roll them in some ground hazelnuts and serve with ice cream.

      Have fun with dim sum, and soon you’ll realize that it can touch your heart in more ways than one.




      Aug 6, 2009 at 11:39pm

      awesome! i love dim sum!!

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