“Sixty-one! Sixty-one! SIXTY-ONE!”
A group of four wide-eyed people come darting to the hostess table waving their numbered ticket. “This place is terrifying,” I hear one of the girls exclaim as they take the stairs to the second floor.
Three more individuals make their way through the crowd. “What is going on!?” a guy with a big, confused grin on his face asks his friend.
What is going on is just another typical, slightly-stressful Sunday brunch hour at the Golden Unicorn, one of the more popular dim sum spots in Chinatown. On 1pm on a Sunday you can prepare for at least a half hour wait, so I’m sitting back with my ticket and enjoying the eavesdropping as I wait for my girlfriends. Dim sum is one of the best brunch deals you can get in the city: affordable, delicious, quick (once you sit down) – how could you go wrong? But if this is your first time trying dim sum, here are a few things to remember so you can ensure a pleasant experience.
Expect to share tables
Depending on where you go, unless you have a group of 6-8 people there’s a good chance that you’ll be sitting with strangers during your meal. Most restaurants have the typical large round table set up, which can be good or bad depending on who you get stuck next to. Another thing to remember is that with the close proximity, your new friends will probably hear every detail of your wild Saturday night or reasons you hate your job. At one recent lunch my girlfriends and I were in a detailed conversation about Whitney Houston’s drug addiction before we looked across the table and noticed a 10 year old girl staring at us absorbing every word. Woops.
Screw the menus
“Can we just get a menu and order? Because this is annoying.”
WRONG attitude. This was overheard from two unhappy lunchers who were sitting at our table and got overwhelmed by the hectic atmosphere. The beauty of dim sum is that you don’t need a menu – the food is brought to you in carts so you can see the real deal up close and personal and decide. Sure, it can be a little crazy with lots of different carts going by quickly and often times the people not speaking English, but that’s all part of the experience. Which leads me to my next point…
Be quick, and pardon all interruptions
“So I couldn’t believe what he said next. He insisted that we…”
“Holy crap, turnip cake! Stop that cart!”
Ok, so it may not exactly be the most polite thing to do, but if a fresh tray of turnip cake or pork steam buns or whatever is your dim sum weakness comes out, throw manners to the wind and grab that sucker! If you’re not quick enough some other lucky table will nab it before you do and you’ll be forced to wait another miserable 5 minutes before the next cart comes around. Let’s be honest here, in any other situation I would be a little annoyed if someone stopped me mid-sentence when I was just about to get to the juicy part of my story. However, during dim sum its perfectly acceptable behavior to interrupt conversations for the sake of food (although, you may want to make sure that everyone in your party is on the same page here or your brunch may not be so pleasant.)
Order what you want and as much as you want
Unlike other restaurants where you check with your friends and make sure to order things that everyone likes, with dim sum you have free reign to go wild and order what you want. With the portions being tapas-style and the price of each tray being so cheap, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you’re the only one in the group that has a thing for shrimp shuumai. That being said, you also should be prepared to share everything you grab since dim sum is family style and it would just be bad form to hog it all for yourself. Also, don’t feel bad if you feel yourself ordering too many trays – chances are everyone else wants it too and is just waiting for someone else to speak up. You’d be surprised at just how quickly you do fill up with dim sum anyway – you’ll most likely leave stuffed and happy that you didn’t break the bank on Sunday brunch for once. I chowed down big-time during yesterday’s meal and it only cost me $15. Win!