It was a cool, clear day. More like Spring than the end of August. Philly is known for their sweltering heat, much like Baltimore or DC. This summer has been mild, though, and I've been luvinnit. We had no other agenda after our business transaction, so we decided to head to Chinatown for Dim Sum, a treat we hadn't had for several years. The fresh vegetable markets contrasted the smells from the sidewalk garbage. The cartons of fresh fish and crabs along the sidewalk, women picking through boxes of lychee and mango. The sweet aroma from the bakeries, people bumping and jostling. People I encounter speaking Chinese to me. The long, blank stares I give them finally brings them to speak undulating English to me.
When I was in college, we'd get up in the double-digits on a Saturday, having spent a late night dancing to Donna Summer and Lipps Inc (do I date myself??) We'd share a cab to Chinatown and look for these little plates and bowls of delectible snacks - the perfect food to energize you after a night of partying. In those days, we'd go to Imperial Inn, chosen the best of Philly and rated by Zagat. Well, what a delight that not a thing has changed in all these years! The decor is the same, the food is just as good. And greasy.
If you go to a traditional place, sit down and wait for the tea, and think "Chinese tapas." Your table will probably have a bottle of soy sauce and a jar of hot pepper oil. You won't find fried rice or fried noodles and you won't get a fortune cookie either. Wheeled carts piled with small metal or bamboo baskets will come by. It seems the waiters who come around never speak any English! and when they do, I just can't figure out what they are saying! So, gird yourself up, be brave, point and nod at something that you think you can swallow. My best girlfriend loves chicken feet and I love tripe, but most of you probably want to stay away from those the first time. On those carts will be a variety: dumplings, buns, meatballs, sweet rice dishes, custard tarts, puddings and cakes. I love to dip my little treasures in a soy sauce/hot oil mixture.
Depending on how busy they are, a cart with a new variety will come out every so often. If you get there as the doors open, you may only see a couple of carts - that's still about 10-12 different dishes. But as the time goes and the tables fill up, you'll see a bigger and bigger variety. There's a great description on Wiki. Some of my favorites are:
- Shrimp Dumplings
- Char Siu Bao - steamed or baked dumplings. The BBQ pork filling is my favorite.
- Char Fun - wide rice noodles wrapped over shrimp or pork; a sweet soy sauce tops them
- Taro Dumplings
- Almond Tofu with fruit
As in any other meal, save the sweets for the end. The almond tofu with fruit cocktail is a great finish.
For every bowl you order, the server will mark your tab depending on the cost of what you took. So, you won't be able to decipher the total until at the end, when they total it for you.
Tea helps you digest the food, especially fatty foods. So drink the tea. WITHOUT sugar.