There is nothing photogenic about Yum Cha.
Just had to get that out there for all y’all food blogsters. The lighting is always a strange yellow that does not do wonders for photo taking but the food more than makes up for this factor. Yum cha is something quite dear to me. There’s something highly comforting about the hustle and bustle of its atmosphere; its busy Chinese kitchen with skilled chefs perfecting their intricate dishes; its abrupt waitstaff circulating steaming baskets of goodies like dumplings, soft and glistening buns, fried goods of every type imaginable, colourful desserts and more (we can’t forget to mention chicken feet – fung jiao – now, can we?).
Wish we chose some of these gorgeous buns!
My first introduction to this eclectic way of eating was in primary school when a Chinese friend invited me to eat with her family. It was so exciting and different – with the strangeness of honeycomb tripe and chicken feet combined with the delicious qualities of chewy prawn dumplings (ha gao) and rice noodle sheets with a coating of salty soy sauce. It was such a memorable experience and as it is rare I do yum cha these days, it still is highly enjoyable.
This time a close friend and her mother joined me as we went off to Prince Restaurant (update: unfortunately now closed! Do some research into the name, I’ve heard they might re-open in a new location) in the miniature Chinatown of Parramatta. The affair is similar everywhere you go, with an elaborate red-themed setting and décor with trolleys coming past your table at a regular rate, tempting you with a huge variety of satisfying dishes. I wanted my friend’s mother to go about it the way she liked, choosing dishes that she knew and enjoyed. Most things we devoured were utterly delicious but of course, some didn’t meet expectations (such as when her mother instantly knew that the chef had been changed with the first bite of a dumpling).
As you’ll notice from these dishes, most are either time consuming to make at home or deep fried – Mrs. Ng is a great home cook so no regular stir-fried veggies or Singapore noodles for us thanks! Whether you’re an avid yum cha regular or have always been keen to try it out, it’s a great way to gain insight into the amazing eating culture of the Chinese – and it’s fun!
The ha gao were plump, juicy and tasty – my fave dumpling ever. Next came the ominous fung jiao which I’ve been a wuss about for years. But this time I finally tried one – it’s really just chicken skin with a tasty sauce but they’re really hard to eat because of all those damn bones! We opted for rolled rice noodles accompanied by a moreish sweet soy and sesame dipping sauce. This was quite bland on its own but the crispy and gooey noodles were addictive and excellent with the sauce.
My friend stated that this next dish – a deep fried sweet dough of sorts – is hard to find at yum cha eateries so with a tick on our menu ticket it went onto the table. The waitress took a pair of scissors and cut through the crispy, golden outer to reveal the most amazing aroma and white fluffiness. These sweet, crispy but soft morsels were delicious – but deep fried anything is as you know.
The prawn and chive dumplings were even better than the ha gao due to their tasty, generous filling but the thick pastry wasn’t ideal to our table. I obviously don’t know my dumplings well enough because I wasn’t too fussed…
The crispy battered squid was better the last time, apparently, being overly chewy and with super salty and bland pieces combined. The battered eggplant and fish combined was delicious, with a sweet chilli sauce and perfectly soft eggplant within – a perfect way of cooking this understated purple veggie.
Some things are best done simply, and without frills, like the creamy Tofu Fa. It’s a great palate cleanser and not heavy at all with only a slight sweetness from a dash of sugar syrup. I took some fried glutinous black sesame balls (lo mai chee) home and they were chewy, sweet with smooth sesame paste innards – just the way they should be!
So go out into the world and explore different yum cha eat-outs – you may find that the experience will continue to be memorable even after the first.
Prince Restaurant, 100 Church Street Parramatta NSW 2150, (02) 9891 5777.
Note: It’s rare to find a yum cha restaurant with a set English menu and prices – usually you’ll order what you want and either be pleasantly surprised or utterly shocked at the price point of each dish. Happy eating! :D