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Dim sum that touches the heart

Update: October, 18/2020 - 08:48

Located in the heart of the city, Thiên Di Quán offers a wide range of dim sum with dumplings, buns, snacks and noodle soups. Ngô Minh opens the bamboo steamers.

FAVOURED FARE: Crispy shrimp balls, a popular Chinese appetiser. VNS Photo Ngô Minh

It’s just a short walk from the pedestrian mall in Hà Nội’s Old Quarter to Thiên Di Quán and its diverse dim sum menu. Whenever I find myself at the restaurant, be it for brunch, lunch, or dinner, the table full of bamboo steamers always seems like a feast for the eyes and the stomach.

Eating dim sum is an interesting experience, from the etiquette at play to the taste. Each lovely little thing inside the bamboo steamers is eaten a certain way. Whenever the steamer lid opens, my eyes delight in the beautiful, tasty, and delicate bite-sized dumpling or another offering.

In Cantonese, “dim sum” literally means “to touch the heart”. What a pretty name, and without doubt they really do touch my heart at first sight.

There are many Chinese restaurants around town with 30-50 different dim sum dishes on the menu, which can be mind-boggling at times. I often have to stop myself, or else I’ll be too full to stand up.

Dim sum includes an assortment of seafood, meat, and vegetable offerings cooked in different ways: steamed, fried, braised, or baked. I have a list of my favourites, including fried shrimp balls, shumai, shrimp dumplings, and soup dumplings. Each has a different shape thanks to the skilled hand of the chef.

Har gow is an iconic dish in any dim sum meal and is always the first thing I order. There are certain types of har gow - shrimp dumplings or scallop dumplings. They are stuffed with springy shrimp, pork fat, and bamboo shoots, then placed inside a delicate rice flour wrapper.

The best har gow should be juicy and springy inside while dry and slightly sticky on the outside. The skin is perfect when neither too thick nor too thin. You should be able to see the minced shrimp encased in the translucent wrapper. It’s perfect for dipping in black soy sauce.

 

CENTREPIECE: Cantonese roasted duck, a signature dish of the restaurant. VNS Photo Ngô Minh

Another popular dim sum dish is shumai, or siu mai (open-faced minced pork dumplings). Like har gow, siu mai is one of the first things that spring to mind when dim sum is mentioned.

Packing a load of flavour into each and every bite, they are most often stuffed with pork and shrimp and wrapped in a wonton skin before being steamed. There are plenty of variations, though, including vegetarian options.  

At Thiên Di Quán, the siu mai is topped with red caviar or crab roe, making it resemble sushi. It’s an interesting fusion. The juicy dumplings pop in your mouth and you won’t be able to stop at just one.

The bite-sized appetisers are not only served in bamboo steamers, as some types of dim sum are deep-fried to golden perfection.

My personal favourite is fried shrimp balls, which are crispy and crunchy. The skin of the balls is often made from spring roll strips.

Thiên Di Quán offers wonderful golden balls covered by potato flakes, which are far superior to others I’ve had elsewhere.

 

SPOILED FOR CHOICE: Thiên Di Quán offers a wide range of dim sum freshly steamed in bamboo steamers. VNS Photo Ngô Minh

The fried shrimp balls are great appetisers. The shrimp inside is soft and crunchy while the potato coating is crispy and tasty, like potato chips. It’s especially appealing when served with chilli sauce.

Most can appreciate the sheer number of dumplings, buns, pastries, and noodles on offer. Though bite-sized, you can fill your stomach with a few bamboo steamers. Sometimes I order chicken feet in black soy sauce, duck noodle soup, or even a hotpot if I go in a big group. Other times I skip the noodle soup to leave more space for roasted duck - a centrepiece of any meal, be it a gathering of family and friends or a dinner party.

The duck has a rich, gamey flavour. The skin is shiny and crispy, while the meat is crunchy and juicy. The herb stuffing also lends it a great fragrance.

Given COVID-19, Thiên Di Quán now delivers ready-to-eat delicacies to your door. You can ask to steam the dim sum at your home, so they are perfectly hot when they hit the table. VNS

 

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