Good Chinese food can be one of the greatest, most blissful experiences in life. On the other hand, mediocre or worse Chinese food can be an enormous, soul-destroying, misery-inducing letdown. Just when you have your taste buds primed for the spicy flavor of Sichuan or the delightful, delectable softness of your favorite dumplings, disaster strikes and you are served watery, flavorless, non-identifiable meat/vegetable pieces. Your heart breaks as you feel an emotional flashback to having your 10-year-old feelings stomped on by your crush back in school. An equally devastating and emotion-inducing experience.
But don’t break up with your favorite food just yet. Having a love for Chinese cuisine can prove to be a tumultuous relationship, but if you are willing to work through your differences, it can be rewarding. What is the key to this passionate affair you ask? Yum Cha.
Yum Cha is a Cantonese tradition involving Chinese tea and dim sum, a food service where small portions of steamed, pan-fried and deep-fried foods are brought around on carts for your selection. Usually an occasion associated with brunch, many Western countries are so taken by the practice that it can often run well into the mid to late afternoon. Soothe your weary soul with aromatic tea while ample offerings of dumplings and small plates of classic dishes mend your broken heart.
And where better to enjoy this mouth-watering East Asian experience than Epcot’s World Showcase China Pavilion? Theoretically speaking that is. While there is no charming Yum Cha service currently available on site, I think if we all band together we can pressure this dream into a reality.
Now I am not talking about ordering a couple of dim sum-inspired appetizers. This whole idea of ordering your dishes is wrong. Yum Cha needs to have the traditional carts that are pushed around, stacked high with steaming hot goodness. Get your Sticky Rice (糯米雞 lo mai gai ), Prawn Dumplings (蝦餃 har gow ), and Steamed Pork Buns (叉燒包 char siu bao). Want more? Try Snow Pea & Broccoli Dumplings, Fried Prawn & Spinach Dumplings, Pan Fried Rice Noodles, Seafood Eggplant, Steamed Chinese Green Vegetables, Chicken Combination Dumplings, Singapore Noodles or Beef Flat Noodles. All served in traditional steam baskets. Add a jug of water and some chili sauce, what more could you want in life?
If your Chinese food is going to be pricey, it might as well be good quality and nothing beats fresh hand-made dumplings. Spring rolls and dim sims for the faint-hearted, chicken feet and tripe for the more adventurous, Yum Cha has something for everyone.
For anyone who has ever had the opportunity to enjoy an authentic Yum Cha experience, one would know that it is very different from the service-oriented hospitality industry of America. The fast-paced environment of a true Yum Cha experience will have you flagging down the wait staff, desperate to get your hands on the last basket of prawn dumplings on the cart. Once it comes, be prepared for a disinterested grunt, a stamp on your payment sheet before promptly pressing on to the next table or back to the kitchen. Don’t take it to heart; this is the Asian culture introducing itself. Some may find it rude or abrupt, but in essence, it is a no-nonsense, get-the-job-done work ethic that results in a level of efficiency, dedication and systematic success that the Western world fails to match. In a nod to the culture of many Asian countries, the staff is not there to make an impression that will later dictate what tip may be left; they are tasked with the job of servicing the restaurant as a whole and doing it well. To a pro, this is actually part of the ambiance you look forward to.
Don’t take it personally if your server doesn’t strike up a conversation with you. Their immediate job is to circulate the selection of offerings they have on board as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s what makes this so seamless and extraordinary.
Because the food is circulating the room around you at all times, what is on offer whenever you happen to stroll in is somewhat of a lucky dip or lottery, in that you never know what you are going to get. Similar to that of a sushi train where small samplings of sushi are rotated around on a conveyor belt, ready for you to take what suits your fancy. You have to be willing to try anything to make the best discoveries. That’s what makes Yum Cha so exciting and easy to return to again and again. You think you know what might come around and then, bam, Snow Pea & Prawn dumplings rock your socks off.
So what’s the plan you ask? Every time you go into Nine Dragons, ask the maÎtre d’ if they offer a Yum Cha service. If asked often enough, who knows how far up the food chain the idea might float. Need more convincing? Yum Cha can be as fast or slow as you want it to be. Take every basket of sunshine and rainbows as they come past, or slow it down and take one at a time. It’s the perfect mealtime stop to suit the needs of any itinerary. The idea that you select what you want and leave what you don’t as it comes past also makes Yum Cha extremely cost-effective. That means you can tailor the experience to suit your time frame, your group, your tastes and your budget. Kinda awesome right?
The bottom line is, you can get mediocre Chinese food at home, wouldn’t you prefer to get an authentically delightful, traditional experience out of your China Pavilion?
Practice using your chopsticks and let’s make this happen!