Foodie Mom: Navigating the Dim Sum Cartuser rating
Dim sum can be tricky enough for adults, particularly those more used to ordering Chinese takeout on a Friday night. But try it with a four-and-a-half-year-old, whose go-to staples include white rice and vegetable rice noodles. Taking any liberties with her Asian food menu choices could be considered sacrilege and may cause a spontaneous hunger strike.
With that in mind, we decided it was time to broaden Gianna’s Asian palate a little.
Hunger strike or no, Gianna was going to eat some dim sum.
Tired of all the Italian food and flavors we gorged ourselves on over the holidays, we recently took a culinary adventure to Chinatown to explore some new flavors and jump-start our palates for the New Year. Since we “staycationed” this year, I was also jonesing for some culture and new scenery. We headed down to Jing Fong Restaurant, New York’s largest traditional Cantonese restaurant that offers more than a hundred different varieties of traditional Hong Kong–style dim sum. If we were going to give Gianna her first dim sum experience, it had to be here: The massive second-floor dining room (which looks as large as a football field) holds more than 120 tables and is constantly bustling with patrons—mainly Chinese families and friends—and steaming food carts whizzing by. To get to Jing Fong’s mecca of dim sum greatness, two supersized escalators whisk guests up to the dining room.
Aside from feeling hungry, the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced dining room made Gianna feel a little trepid. When the novelty of the escalator ride wore off, she began asking a variety of questions: “Why is the food on wheels? Why is it so crowded? Why is no one speaking English?” I knew she was hoping we could high-tail it over to Little Italy for pizza.
Once we were ushered in, Gianna’s request for white rice and noodles with veggies fell on deaf ears. Instead, she was presented with a cart of fried shrimp balls, spring rolls, fried shrimp wrapped in bacon, egg custard, chicken feet and soft tofu skin with pork—all in steaming bamboo baskets. She went first—reluctantly—for the shrimp, fried in a nest-like crunchy coating. It was the presentation that drew her in. The verdict was “Crunchy things are good, but I still want my noodles and rice.”
After devouring a spring roll, another winner in Gianna’s book (three cheers for crunchy things), I felt compelled to flag down a waiter and asked for a menu. Luckily they had a variation of Gianna’s favorites: Flat noodles with beef and vegetables. Although the noodles weren’t as thin as what she was used to, they were proclaimed delicious. She even tried some Chinese broccoli.
Mixing in a bit of culture to get kids to try new things can be a win-win. Once the shock of the unfamiliar wears off, it’s fun to see how kids react to their surroundings and how they make the connection between food and culture. Gianna was so intrigued by Jing Fong we came back with Grandma and Pop-Pop on another occasion. She still stuck to her crunchy-noodley theme, but she was successful exposed to a new way of eating Chinese food besides out of takeout boxes at home.
Oh, and yes, there was round of white rice for everyone.