I simply had to, with the large spread we had the other day, and I am just into dim sum.
I love dim sum; with the variety that is available (in a good Chinese restaurant, that is), one can have a feast with the different types of bite-sized dumplings and finger food to tempt the palates.
Dim sum was traditionally meant to be an appetite teaser; and served as light bites in the early days of Chinese civilization, with the royal chefs grueling in the kitchen to make unique and savory bites for the Emperors and the royal family to enjoy throughout the day.
Dim sum was linked to a tradition of tea tasting (also known as yum cha in Cantonese) which took place during the days of the Silk Road where the travelers needed to take a rest at different points of their journey. This practice led to the business opportunities for the locals who started setting up teahouses and stalls by the roadside to attract these exhausted travelers, to pause on their journey and take a, literally, tea break. Tea is an enjoyable and relaxing activity, and this was the exact notion promoted by the teahouse owners to draw their customers to their place for tea drinking and to relax. Besides the travelers, the teahouses also saw the coming of the farmers in the rural areas in the vicinity who came to cure their exhaustion after a hard's day work on the fields with a rewarding time sipping the tea and wiling their time away.
While initially it was only tea served as it was not considered to be appropriate to serve food with tea, since it was believed to be adding to the gluttony practice and lead to weight gain, this was later changed when tea was discovered to promote digestion and in eliminating the fats, and food was slowly introduced in these teahouses. Starting with light snacks and bites, these were the nature of the food served along with tea, as they were not meant to fill the stomachs or one's appetite, but simply to complement the tea session.
The origins of dim sum was from the Cantonese in the southern part of China who later converted the notion of tea sessions (or fondly referred to as yum cha) into a merry gathering and not so much of a solitary activity. The introduction of dim sum varied and soon spread to the Cantonese population in that part; mainly Guangdong and then to Hong Kong, where dim sum remains today, as one of the local favorites.
Dim sum was meant to be served as small bites; snacks and not as a main meal, but its popularity has now led to it being treated as a wholesome meal in most place, especially Hong Kong.
It is not surprising either, with the wide varieties they have for dim sum.
Being a fan of dim sum, it is also predictable that I would frequent dim sum places, and thankfully, I am in a place where I am literally surrounded by them. I am especially fond of the older restaurants which have seen the earlier of days; as they have the experienced chefs from the years of running and making the dim sum.
These retro Chinese dim sum restaurants are almost everywhere in Penang, and especially in the Georgetown area; Cintra Street, Kimberley Street, Macalister Road, to name a few.
Leong Kee Dim Sum Restaurant is one of the ones located in this area; and like the others, always buzzing with crowds since its early opening hours at 5am.
The restaurant has been in business for more than 2-3 decades, just like the few others in this area (namely Tai Thong; not to be mistaken with the restaurant group, Tho Yuen, Yong Pin, etc) and has its own base of regular customers which consist of generations of Penangites. Even the foreign travelers and local tourists are starting to flock to this restaurant.
The staff are friendly and comprise of mostly elderly folks; where some of them have been working there for a long time. Be patient when it comes to weekends, with the overwhelming crowds, the staff would be rushing and probably shouting in loud voices to place your orders, but they are doing their jobs as efficiently as possible though they do get frustrated which is understandable.
However, the workers are all generally friendly, and prioritize their customers, always.
A tradition which starts with tea tasting; should always be commenced with an order of a good pot of brewed Chinese tea. Select from the varieties which include a list of favorites; Tieguanyin, Jasmine, Chrysanthemum (there are two; either the flower alone or mixed with tea), Po Lei, Xiao Ye Gan, etc.
I have noticed some of the older customers bringing their own tea leaves too, and just brew to their own tasting with the hot water available in the restaurant.
Leong Kee has a good variety of dim sum available which comes served in a steamer trolley; along with a small cylinder to heat up the dim sum as the workers push the cart over the restaurants. Space is limited with tables being set on both sides of the restaurant, and customers, workers and even the chefs are all wedging their ways against each other in the narrow alley in the middle of the restaurant.
Imagine these workers pushing the heavy carts around and then the chefs coming from the kitchen to bring out the freshly steamed dim sum to the front of the shop.
(However, the workers are all kind enough to warn and to direct the customers on their coming and it is not as chaotic as it sounds.)
On weekends, there are special seafood dim sum, or trolleys serving only seafood, or purely prawn-based dim sum such as these:-
Har Mai (shrimp dumplings in the siew mai style)
Scallop and prawn crystal dumpling
Prawn dumpling in a bowl crystal wrap
Mixed combo of prawns topped with scallops and sago pearls served with starchy broth and cabbages
Shrimps with carrots and vegetables
Prawn dumplings wrapped with vegetables
Prawn with carrot strips and french beans in crystal rolls
Prawns with carrots only in crystal balls
Another version of prawn dumpling
The usual fare which can be found everyday in a different trolley cart would be as follows:-
Chili stuffed with fish paste
Colorful trio of Siu Mai topped with cubed carrots, mushrooms and capsicums respectively
Sushi rolls with mixed fish and minced meat past with seaweed skins
Egg wrap rolls with meat paste
Braised pork ribs
The following are the two items which are must-orders; well, traditionally when one is having dim sum
Traditional Siu Mai
Traditional Har Gao
Besides the dim sum, one can also opt for other more-filling options...
Chee Cheong fun, traditional Hong Kong style (flat rice rolls filled with meat and prawns) served with soy sauce and chili oil
Lor Mai Kai (Sticky glutinous rice, or lor mai in bowls with chunks of chicken meat and mushroom)
There are more options to choose from; such as porridge, steamed buns which comes in an array of fillings (kaya, lotus, red bean paste, bbq pork, custard, and even mini buns or mantous), and deep fried pastries.
On weekdays, the restaurant also serves noodles which one can order from and will be cooked and served directly from the kitchen.
Dim sum is a looked forward to meal for families and particularly popular on weekends.
After all, what better way to spend quality time with the family than a wide spread of different types of food and a good pot of Chinese tea to enjoy over the family banter?