Or maybe I'm just over coconut. Crispy, juicy, intensely earthy... you can skip the Chinese broccoli if you eat your fill of these veggie dumplings. Reprinted with permission from The Dim Sum Field Guide by Carolyn Phillips,copyright © 2016. If you don’t know dim sum that well, this is the primer you were in search of—and flipping through the 80 pages offers a smart look at the scope of this wonderful style of eating. Whichever you prefer, the tangy, tender barbecued pork at the center puts these in the running for the world's greatest comfort food. ORIGINS This bread dough is light, fluffy, and tensile, due to its assorted leavening agents. NESTING HABITS Often found in clusters of three or four in a medium-size bamboo steamer basket, although larger ones may nest alone in smaller baskets atop waxed paper squares; these bigger ones can often be sighted in Chinese bakeries. Illustration credit: Carolyn Phillips © 2016. It's no more exciting than your mom's broccoli, but required for the same reason -- to balance out all the fat and carbs you're shoving in your body. Find out how she's breaking her JewBu mother's heart today by following her: @Denveater. (I fully expect to take heat for this.). Nearly 30 years ago, Phillips married into a Chinese family and—while mastering the language—fell hard for the country’s regional cuisine, including dim sum (more on that later). Dim Sum. With lacy crusts that give way to a mouthful of mashed taro root -- which could pass for potato but for its lavender color and nuttier flavor -- followed by a smidgen of saucy ground pork, these may be the most exciting discoveries on the dim sum table, despite looking like sponge-coral specimens, petrified faceless gerbils, or whatever's clogging your shower drain. The cooking, with origins in the populated eastern metropolises, is almost unrecognizable from what many perceive as Chinese Cuisine™—including a cumin-rubbed beef, ginger, and cilantro dish called silk road fajitas. Cantonese baozi were first sold as snacks in Guangzhou teahouses. Carolyn Phillips’s exhaustive study of Chinese food culture is a thing of legend. HAR GOW This is where the foods of Chaozhou, the Hakka, and Southern Fujian have intertwined for centuries. In her dense and exhaustively researched new book, All Under Heaven (Ten Speed Press), Phillips dives into the eight traditional “great cuisines” established during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), which include some familiar regional cuisines, such as Hunan, Fujian and Sichuan. Dim sum combines the best of both worlds: brunch and Asian food. Just try it: slightly crunchy on the outside, almost creamy on the inside, mildly savory, and weirdly addictive. NESTING HABITS Four or so are clustered inside a bamboo steamer basket, and nowadays they’re often nestled in small foil cups to help prevent them from tearing. The wrappers are made out of sweet potato flour and wheat starch mixed with boiling water, and this gives the packets a snappy texture. Steamed and flavored with dried tangerine peel and watercress, these taste lighter, fresher, and generally healthier than your average albóndiga -- not that wholesomeness is ever anyone's key criterion for a meatball, but it doesn't hurt. The exterior is fluffy with a smooth surface; the interior is soft with chewy bits. Also called barbecue pork buns, even though the pork never comes near an actual barbecue. IDENTIFICATION Translucent balls stuffed with finely chopped garlic chives and the occasional fresh shrimp are pan-fried on both sides to create a light golden crust. Close your eyes as you bite down on the silk-sheathed pork, and fully savor the aromatic broth without distraction. NESTING HABITS Three on a plate, often arranged on a doily or shredded lettuce. Remember the kids who ate pencil erasers in grade school? The problem is that they're not always at their best, and at their worst they've got a kind of abscessed-Twinkie thing going on. The flavor of the black-bean sauce is complex, pungent, and actually delicious; it's the jellied texture that takes some getting used to. The har gow of Cantonese baked goods. It traditionally has 12 folds and a fat purse shape that Chinese gourmands have described as a “spider’s belly.” The bright pink color showing through the vaguely sticky and shiny exterior demonstrates why these divine dumplings truly deserve their Chinese name, “shrimp jiaozi.” A celebration of the exquisite quality of perfectly fresh shrimp, har gow are extraordinary when done right because there is simply no place for mediocre ingredients to hide. IDENTIFICATION Springy, with a yeasty aroma, these baozi (filled and stuffed steamed buns) are wrapped with a special Cantonese dim sum bread dough so as to make the dough splay open into three or so shiny white “petals” that are craggy along the edges. Dim sum is—as a whole—small plates of dumplings, noodles, cakes and sweet things circulated on trolley carts. If you don’t know dim sum that well, this is the primer you were in search of—and flipping through the 80 pages offers a smart look at the scope of this wonderful style of eating.
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