"The Original Small Plate – Dim Sum" by Kyleigh Beach

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The small plates trend continued strong in 2010 and shows no signs of letting up in 2011.  American diners enjoy the concept of sharing several different dishes with their dining companions rather than committing to a gigantic, overly filling entrée.  Turns out we are just catching on to a dining style that many cultures have embraced for hundreds of years, Spanish tapas probably being the most familiar.  The Chinese have their own version called dim sum, which literally means “touch of heart”. 
As Chicagoans, we are fortunate to live amongst many different ethnic neighborhoods, Chinatown being one of them.  Last month, my husband and I decided to check out Chinatown’s well-known dim sum establishment, Phoenix.  The huge restaurant was jam-packed and there was a wait; always a good sign.  We perused the menu while we waited and the bartender gave us a few recommendations on house specialties, like chicken feet.
The service of dim sum is unusual in the way that diners do not order.  Rather women push carts full of steaming bamboo baskets, bowls of soup, and dishes of stir fries through the dining room and when you see something you like, you call them over.  The steamed dumplings are really something special.  Finely minced vegetables, meat, and/or seafood are delicately seasoned, encased in a rice dough, and intricately pinched and sealed shut.  The steaming keeps them moist and delicious and all that’s needed is a quick dunk in some chili oil. 
Another dish I absolutely loved was the pork bun.  Minced pork mixed with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce is tucked into the center of the softest, fluffiest white dough you’ve ever tasted.  It reminded me a little of how barbecue joints will often serve white bread with their barbecue, except much, much tastier.
If you have never been to Chinatown, I recommend planning a dim sum outing in your near future because it is an affordable way to sample many authentic Chinese dishes at once.  You might even be surprised to learn you like chicken feet!

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