The Curve is a new Scout column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees. This week, Scout contributor Ken Tsui eats around the edges of Vancouver’s complex dim sum scene.
Dim sum is a rite of passage for Vancouverites. For those with day jobs, it represents a weekend morning opportunity to catch up with friends and family. For retirees and those with a little more time to spare on a weekday, it’s an opportunity to lounge with the morning paper, sip on tea and graze on hand-folded dumplings. The Cantonese breakfast and lunch ritual (you have every right to be incredulous when someone tells you that dim sum can be served at night) has changed little from when I was a kid. Some places still roll carts through the tables while others provide a diners with tick-box a la carte menus. Making sense of it can be tricky for first timers, so where does one start? With a learning curve…
BEGINNER | Dai Tung Chinese Seafood Restaurant | 108-1050 Kingsway, Vancouver | 9AM – 3PM | Consider this a greasy spoon version of dim sum, dishing out all the classics without any frills. While there aren’t any culinary surprises here for the initiated, it’s still an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the kind of old school dim sum that’s been crystallized in time for a generation. Every Chinese-Canadian growing up in Vancouver has their go-to entry-level joint like this. Dai Tung just so happens to be mine. If you’re not adverse to waiting in a crowd, Western Lake Seafood on Victoria Drive is another old standby.
INTERMEDIATE | Dynasty Seafood Restaurant | 108-777 W Broadway, Vancouver | 10AM – 3PM | Once you’ve gotten the lay of the dim sum land, Dynasty Seafood is your next step in exploring fresh twists on time-tested standards while tasting the mastered minutiae of traditional techniques. It is one of the rare opportunities Vancouverites have to taste unique approaches to dim sum dishes without a commute out to Richmond. From the squid-ink scallop dumplings to those stuffed with truffle-scented mushrooms, Dynasty covers the spread, challenging expectations without completely flipping the script.
ADVANCED | Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant | 4600 No 3 Rd #101, Richmond | 10:30PM – 3PM | For those looking for something a little different and are willing and eager to venture into Richmond’s Chinese food jungle, Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant challenges the traditionalist’s expectation of dim sum’s flavour and form. From the pan-fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras and sticky rice to their signature black truffle, pork and shrimp dumplings, Chef Tony is an exciting, idiosyncratic detour in the evolution of modern dim sum.
EXTRA CREDIT | Kam Wai Dim Sum | 249 East Pender Street | Vancouver | 9AM – 6PM | If you’re diehard about dim sum and looking to experience a traditional Chinese seafood restaurant setting, I suggest paying a visit to Chinatown’s Kam Wai Dim Sum. Though a former shadow of its glory days, Kam Wai is now just a frozen dim sum supplier with a humble take-out counter slinging your best bet for a quick fix. With limited, at best ad-hoc seating, score points for eating it squatting out front of the shop like I do (partial credit for standing). If you’re feeling inspired, Kam Wai also sells frozen dim sum that you can steam at home.