Chinatown: more than the Dim Sum of its parts

Starting to fall behind on SF posts, sorry about that. I asked the concierge at the Hyatt where I could find the best dim sum. She swiftly disparaged all of Chinatown with some references to mystery meat and suggested Yank Sing in the Rincon Center. Dim sum in a food court? I'm not sure if I'm ready to sign up for that. On the other hand, Zagat rates the place tops for dim sum, too. During a meander South of Market, I stumbled into the Rincon Center (a refurbished art deco post office with a Rivera-esque mural!) anyway. The place looked right. I came back the next day with Professor N.

Yank Sing spells it "deem sum" which suggests a certain history and pedigree - they've been serving it up since before the orthography settled down. They consider Shanghai soup dumplings a specialty, so we had a batch of those. Also, some shrimp dumplings, my old fave turnip cakes and some interesting veggie items with spinach and peapod stems.

Clockwise from top above: Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao), snap peas, basil dumplings, turnip cake (lobag gao), and shrimp dumplings (ha gow). If you haven't had the soup dumplings, you should try them, perhaps at Joe's Shanghai in NY. They somehow make a dumpling containing both meat and soup. You eat them carefully (since they're usually piping hot) with both chopsticks and a spoon. Ha gow and lobuk gao are standys, both executed well but not stunningly. The basil dumplings were refreshingly different.

From the veggie cart, we sampled (clockwise from top) savory vegetable dumplings, spinach dumplings and peapod stem dumplings. The colorful savory had a touch of curry in it, or maybe it was just that they were orange. Spinach and peapod stems were fresh and flavorful. The peapod stems have something in common with fresh grass clippings, but in a good way. Oolong tea in a nice glass no drip pot was a great addition.

Having great Chinese food is always a treat, but having it in such a location was just another reminder that the touristy Chinatowns aren't always what they used to be. Or at least its not so easy for random outsiders to find the gems.

I've written about the odd similarity and familiarity of Chinatowns I've been to around the world before and it came together again in San Francisco's Chinatown when I walked past a kosher deli just inside the gate, saw designer fakes openly for sale, and sat on a bus that was stopped to make way for a random passing lion dance. It looks like the same lacquered ducks hang obscenely in shop windows around the world.

Chinatown is a classic immigrant neighborhood. Most of the original immigrants who could afford to have moved away, possibly creating newer, nicer, Chinatowns in their suburbs even while they visit the city center for weekend shopping. And new immigrants from other places have made themselves at home in the old downtown Chinatowns.

Boston's Chinatown has an additional layer of history on it - it's one of the oldest, and its been carved up by highways and other urban renewal projects even while it remains a lively patch squeezed in between other old Boston neighborhoods.

For all these reasons, I'm very glad that this weekend, my good friend C will be opening a temporary art space right in Boston's Chinatown. It will be interesting to see how the mix of contemporary photography and Chinatown history goes down as masses of locals and tourists turn out for the August Moon Festival on Sunday. Read more about the Hudson Street Gallery on facebook, upcoming or going. I hope you can make it to the open house. There will be a grand opening later on.

4 Responses

  1. Professor N
    You and I ate here twice, actually. I think the basil were my favorite too. The duck was great in concept but lacking in execution. The pea pod stems were pretty good, and the savory vegetable dumplings were kinda bleh. The venue was great though - I wish we had been able to eat in the open air courtyard. And, as with Panisse, the company was superb.
  2. Yeah, I stuck with the first visit. On the second visit, had some nice cha siu bao, and decent pu erh tea, but the duck sandwich I was dying for was uninspiring. Might add a post on that but the photo was lousy so there wasn't much to work off.
  3. Oh my, can I have all of the veggie ones shipped here? Yum yum.
  4. Wow. Loving the sauce, looks like something my dad would dish out with a good old helping of sugar drowning somewhere amongst the fellow debris. I do think Lobak gow is quite possibly one of the most unique textured and tasting flavours around. Having said that, lightly toasted toro nigiri is equally amazing for the changes of texture and taste. I miss Japan so much.
  5. [...] you may know, I like fried turnip cake.  I liked it in Hong Kong.  I liked it in San Francisco.  I liked it in London.  I like it here in Boston.  I have not yet liked it in a boat or with a [...]

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