March 2, 2006

Touching My Heart

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Hai Hong Chinese restaurant has officially migrated up from the Commons and onto Dryden Road. I know, you’re probably thinking that another Chinese joint is the last thing Collegetown needs, with Peace Restaurant and Hong Kong still vastly popular. But Hai Hong has something that I have personally been waiting three years for Collegetown to serve: dim sum. Translated to mean “to touch your heart,” dim sum is served tapas-style for sharing. The practice of dim sum originated in the Chinese province of Canton and became linked to the art of tea drinking in the 10th century AD. Little dumplings served in fours in steamer baskets, steamed buns, and pot stickers comprise the more traditional fare, but dim sum brunches include countless options.

Going out for dim sum is quite the experience. The restaurant is usually crowded, noisy, and hectic as carts filled with brunch treats are offered to each table. Each plate ranges from $2.50-$3.50 and includes enough to share between two to four people. My favorite part of dim sum is the instant gratification: the cart stops at your table, you point to the dish you would like, your waiter stamps a small card, and you eat up! However, the procedure at Hai Hong is a bit more organized. When you arrive at your table, you are greeted with a write-in menu and pen. Requests are handed to the server, who then proceeds to bring out each dish made-to-order. My group of four ordered seventeen different dishes – needless to say, we were sitting for an hour and a half before all of our orders came out. But no one seemed to mind. We were too busy eating: a parade of dumplings, spare ribs, steamed buns, chicken feet (yes, real chicken feet), squid, taro pie, scallion pancake, Singapore style rice noodles, rice crepes, and dessert buns graced our table, one after the other.

Each dim sum restaurant offers its own specialties. At Hai Hong, everything we ordered was tasty, but there were some stand-out dishes. The steamed shredded pork dumplings were perfectly flavored and textured – the pork wasn’t too mushy or tough. The Singapore style rice noodles were lightly coated in curry sauce and included satisfying strips of pork, whole large shrimp, and vegetables. The rice crepe with dried shrimp was hot, soft, and satisfying. Hai Hong’s preparation of the taro pie was out of this world. What is taro, you ask? Technically, taro is a tropical vegetable that can be boiled, stewed, sliced, or fried; it is the base of the popular Hawaiian dish, poi. At Hai Hong, the taro was enclosed in a flaky, crisp, fried outer shell that resembled a filo dough nest. The inside of the savory pie was hot, smooth and creamy, kind of like a mashed potato. Another must-order dish in any dim sum meal is a steamed bun. The exterior of Hai Hong’s savory pork and chicken steamed buns was a bit crumbly, but the sweet custard steamed buns hit peaks of perfection. Three custard buns and four people posed a bit of a problem: we ended up splitting the last custard bun into fourths.

Whether you are a dim sum expert, or you can’t figure out how to properly pronounce the word, Hai Hong is definitely one brunch stop not to be missed. Although the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, dim sum is served from 11:30am-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Bring a group of friends and order away – it’s a great opportunity to try something different without breaking the bank.

Archived article by Anna Fishman