by Andrew Coppolino
Call it “Cantonese tapas.” Dim sum are those little bites of food that arrive via pencil-and-paper order sheet – and, at one time, via a cart wheeled through the dining room piled high with the delicacies. Each item costs no more than a few dollars, and the selection is wonderfully wide – from tripe and fried chicken feet to mango pudding – with prices for each dish at only a few dollars depending on size.
Dim sum translates to something approaching the phrase “a heart’s delight,” and that is just what you get with the many and simple morsels that come to your table. It’s a delightful way to eat where you get to nibble on a variety of dishes and share plates with others at table. It’s just good-tasting fun.
Several restaurants that are part of small chains in the region offer dim sum along with their Thai menus, but here are a few restaurants where dim sum is a specialty. Please check with individual businesses for hours of opening and dish availability.
King Tin Restaurant, Waterloo
Long a traditional favourite in Waterloo that once garnered interest from restaurateurs and other diners from outside Waterloo Region, King Tin, where trolleys of dishes and bamboo steamer baskets stacked six high once roamed the dining room, recently moved from King Street at University Avenue where it had been since the early 1980s to a location tucked in amid Wilfrid Laurier University student housing on Spruce Street.
For Cantonese and Szechuan cooking, King Tin offers the usual immense range of dozens and dozens of dishes, from hot and sour soup and pot stickers to Ha-moon style vermicelli; from beef brisket casseroles to Peking duck. Stuffed eggplant is as good as any in the area, as is sticky rice, fried tofu, and enjoyable dumplings packed with shredded pork. A radish cake tastes good, as does the taro, a purplish starchy root vegetable with nutty flavour. It’s mixed with pork bits and deep-fried giving it a fuzzy appearance—with great taste. Sweet yam balls and sesame balls are good. Both the tripe and the “Phoenix paws” (boiled, “ballooned” and then deep-fried chicken feet, replete with toe nails) are served too, the latter will prove to be a lot of tiny-bony work to eat. Dim sum is served daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Alas, sadly, the dining room trolleys no longer run.
Crystal Palace Chinese Restaurant, Waterloo
Down the main Waterloo street toward the city centre, Crystal Palace is another oldie-but-a-goodie for Chinese food and dim sum. There is a certain quality and character, like a place you might visit in downtown Toronto, that can only be captured in an old and slightly dog-eared restaurant. Pan-fried eggplant is stuffed with a minced shrimp that has not been too finely processed and maintains a good body. Turnip cake has that delicious combination of slight crisp and sweetish exterior that meets a creamy texture inside and a gentle tang of turnip. There are Phoenix paws too (pictures above), marinated in spicy black bean sauce. Dim sum is served all day. The restaurant is closed Tuesdays.
Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Kitchener
Cameron is pretty much the king of dim sum in the region. Where they once had the same old-school quality of Crystal Palace, Cameron went through pretty extensive renovations several years ago. It now has a décor that, while nice, is slightly at odds with what you might envision in a dim sum restaurant. The regular menu at the very busy restaurant has delicious items like Singapore noodles and oysters and eggplant in a clay pot. Scallops with peppercorn sauce and baby bok choy are other good dishes. As for dim sum, stuffed eggplant, steamed BBQ pork bun and the sticky rice with “treasures” of shrimp in lotus leg are only a few of the very popular favourites, as is Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce – it has that crunchy texture, heady aroma and slightly tart flavour that makes dim sum dining exciting. Dim sum is served between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The restaurant is closed Tuesdays.
Sam’s Chinese Kitchen, Kitchener
Having taken over an old coffee shop on Victoria Street North just about at Lancaster Avenue (there’s a sign that says “Drive Thru,” but you can’t get your pork shumai there), Sam’s Kitchen, formerly Hot Wheels Chinese Kitchen, has gained popularity as a dim sum shop. They seem to do a cracking take-away business with the residences in the neighbourhood, but many of their dim sum dishes rival anything in the region. Sam’s dim sum is served all day.