This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a list of the 100 dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of her personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston food-scape. It's a list to drool over.
It took me far longer than it should take anyone living in Houston to get to Chinatown. It's not that I dislike Chinese food or feel that Bellaire Boulevard is too far of a drive. It's that I was overwhelmed by the options. And not just the restaurant options, which are indeed numerous. The sheer number of meal options at any given Chinese restaurant is astounding.
Fortunately, many places like Golden Dim Sum have picture menus, which help Chinatown newbies like me figure out what to order. Also fortunate is the fact that I had a local foodie as a tour guide during my first visit to Chinatown, or I never would have ordered the sesame soft balls on Golden Dim Sum's menu. Something about the photo of squishy, off-white, doughy balls oozing black liquid is not incredibly appetizing. It looks like some bottom dwelling sea creature bleeding ink or gooey guts.
I promise I'm going to get to the part where I persuade you that you should, in fact, eat it soon.
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When the sesame soft balls were finally delivered to my table after nearly a dozen other dishes, I wasn't necessarily that intrigued. It wasn't until I cut one in half and saw the grainy black center that I perked up a bit
The outside is soft, chewy and doughy. It's a glutinous bite of rice flour topped with crushed peanuts for an added crunch. the inside is filled with ground black sesame seeds and sugar that together look like black sand from a volcanic beach. As I said, the entire effect is not altogether appetizing, but the taste is heavenly.
The sweet sesame is almost like Halawa, a middle eastern candy made with tahini, but the granulated sugar gives it a different texture and a shock of sweet that pairs well with the gummy rice flour ball and salty peanut topping. It's weird, yes, but also wonderful and soothing.
A single bite of Golden Dim Sum's homemade sesame soft balls was enough to make me regret the last several dumplings I ate. And dumpling regret is a rare occurrence in my world.