5 to Try: Dim Sum Staples

It's hard to beat a leisurely Sunday meal with friends. This week, instead of gathering over eggs, breakfast tacos and pancakes, why not try brunch the Chinese way and head out for dim sum? Literally meaning "to touch your heart," dim sum always brings a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes, and goodies galore: steamed pork spareribs, daikon radish cakes, tofu-wrapped pork, slippery rice noodle rolls and more. Hungry yet? Here are five popular dishes to try on your next trip.

Shrimp Dumplings Shrimp dumplings are the quintessential dim sum dish, the barometer by which we judge a meal, a staple for newbies and pros alike. Dumplings, of course, should be steaming hot, magically translucent and expertly pleated. The wrapper should be sealed tight and bursting with fresh, pink shrimp, all with a slight essence of toasted sesame oil. As simple as they appear, there are oodles of potholes to avoid. The outer wrapper must be sturdy enough to hold -- but never thick and rubbery. If there's too much bamboo and other fillers, the staff's skimpin' on the shrimp. But done right, shrimp dumplings are a glimpse of pure perfection: warm, texturific gumdrops that slip-slide in with a joyous flavor and a satisfying grace. Delicious. While any dim sum restaurant in town should have excellent shrimp dumplings, the ones at Ocean Palace are top-notch.

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf These stiff packages may look like a five-year-old's wrapping paper, but trust us: Thar's booty within. Open the lotus leaf with the flick of a stick, and you'll find a pat of glutinous rice with an oddly gray tint. Hmmm... While gray food has never won anybody a James Beard award, don't rethink your decision quite yet. The gray sheen is simply an indication of the buried treasures inside: chunks of luscious mushrooms and succulent sausage just waiting to be unearthed. The rice is sweet and the additions are savory, making this a grab bag of goodness. While this is a specialty at most dim sum restaurants, you won't want to miss it at Ocean Palace.

Head-On Shrimp If you're one of those people who eats only the middle third of Mr. Shrimp, it's time to sack up. Okay, fine, we understand why you might want to avoid the heads and tails in a curry, cocktail or stir-fry, but with salty-spiced, deliciously crispy pan-fried shrimp, the best flavors are in the neck up. Don't believe us? Give it a whirl -- the only crazy thing is looking at it, so close your eyes and the problem's solved. You'll crunch into a texture that's chip-like, and dyn-o-mite in taste -- like a lightly salted shrimp-flavored firework explosion. Find it on Sunday mornings at Fung's Kitchen.

Chicken Feet Chicken feet have the unique ability to bring smiles to some faces -- and audible gasps of genuine horror to others. Sticky, smooth and deliciously gelatinous, these things are infamously difficult to eat at first, but once you've mastered the technique, you'll be spitting bones clean faster than Kelly Ripa on speed. Can't picture it? It's basically like eating a jellyfish with bones. First the chicken feet are deep fried or steamed; then they're simmered in a sweet black bean sauce. You'll immediately notice the skin, so velvety-tender that it falls off the teensy bones with ease. Remove the bones, one by one, and you're left with the perky sweetness of the chickeny mush left behind. The result is an unexpectedly appealing and pleasant dish. Try it at Golden Palace.

Ginger Scallion Tripe Looks like pappardelle, tastes like victory. Tripe is the stomach lining of a cow, the joy of outgoing ethnic diners, and the disgust of vegetarians worldwide. You might have had it in menudo, stews, or sausages - but you haven't had it like this: boiled. With sauce. The Chinese believe that good food shouldn't be masked with strong sauces. Hence, the sauce for this dish is mild in flavor -- as simple as the preparation itself, enhanced only with a light combination of ginger, garlic and scallions. This dish's pleasure lies in texture, rather than taste: Ginger scallion tripe should be tender, yet pose a light crunch. Tastes best at Fung's Kitchen.

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Ruthie Johnson
Contact: Ruthie Johnson