Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reward for Braving the Chinatown masses: Serious Dim Sum

Did you know that San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia? Or that it has the second highest population density in the country, after Manhattan? That last one definitely gave me a pause. Most buildings in the neighborhood are only four or five stories tall! That's a lot of people crammed into closets. and onto sidewalks. and into shops. In fact, that's a lot of people, period. The photo to the right must have been taken at 5 a.m., because it does not do justice to the crowds.

On Sunday, Do and I joined forces with a college friend (make that a very good college friend -- Do did crash on his floor for five weeks this summer) and this friend's childhood bud and ventured out to get us some Dim Sum.

For those who have never had Dim Sum (me, before college), wikipedia describes it as "a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea." Instead of ordering from a menu, trays of goodies are wheeled past you on carts and you simply point at whatever looks good. Pointing is the lingua franca, since you usually can recognize and name only the steamed rice or chicken feet. It costs less than ten dollars to stuff yourself silly. Dim Sum was almost a monthly habit for us when we lived in Chicago. We and a regular group of friends would drive over to the Phoenix around 9:30 a.m., before the line started but after the carts came out, and would delve into a ridiculous quantity of deep-fried rolls and dumplings and things for an equally ridiculous price.

So, map in hand, we crossed the bay and made our way to San Francisco's Chinatown. Wow. Block after block of tea houses, tourist tshatshkes, sidewalk food markets, and cheap restaurants. And it was crowded! These were no Midwestern-sized sidewalks and streets like in Chicago's Chinatown. People were jostling around each other, using the street as often as the sidewalk. It felt alive. Woe be to the car trying to inch its way along.

When we got to the Dim Sum restaurant, Dol Ho, we were the only Caucasians in sight (always a good sign). The place is a total hole in the wall, and we were seated right next to the kitchen (score!), just to the left of this photo, and therefore got to watch them make all of their dumplings by hand, including the dough. English wasn't getting us far, so the friend of our friend actually pulled out his very limited Cantonese to get water for the table. The whole thing was a total trip. The Dim Sum was excellent and plentiful, better than Chicago's Phoenix though without their variety (admittedly, it could be that the Phoenix is larger and so the carts pass through more often). For the four of us, including three male Science grad students (I don't know if they eat more than other graduate students, but it's possible), the total came to $26. We didn't eat for the rest of the day. It was glorious.

Do is very excited to go to a Chinese tea house and I'm sorely tempted by all the inexpensive groceries (79 cents for a bag of ginger the size of an onion sack!). My brother arrives tonight for a five day visit, so there are good odds that we'll be checking out another Dim Sum spot this Sunday. Exciting!

Disclaimer: I took none of the above photos. I was too busy oogling at everything and trying not to lose Do in the crowds.

Disclaimer 2: We still don't have internet at home, and Do is always crazy busy at lab, so it looks like you're stuck with me until AT&T gets its act together. I promise, he hasn't died or lost interest or anything. In fact, he's cooking Pasta Puttanesca tonight (score!).


Psychgrad said...

Very cool that you live so close to that area. Looking forward to all of your posts to come exploring your new surroundings.

kat said...

Oh yum. Chinatown is a crazy area for all the senses!

That Girl said...

We were just there last month. It was my first time and I could have spent hours more.

kittie said...

Wow, I adore dim sum - and would kill to have somewhere like that so nearby!