February 19, 2014

Hai Hong Impresses with its Assortment of Dim Sum Classics

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Dim Sum delights as one of the most delicious and interesting types of Chinese cuisine. With so many different and individually unique dishes to choose from, the Cantonese version of Spanish tapas allows everyone around the table to taste a bit of everything and indulge a drawn out and sensual meal. Traditionally served with hot tea during brunch time, the petite dishes have migrated to Chinatowns and restaurants in sprawling cities and small towns alike, including our very own Ithaca. Snuggled in the heart of Collegetown, Hai Hong serves fresh dim sum every weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fans of more recognizable selections of dim sum, steamed pork buns and vegetable spring rolls — just to name a few — may let some of the more exciting and lesser known dishes slip through the cracks. While a comfortable selection may suffice for a mundane Sunday brunch in Cornell’s dining halls, the daring diner seeking a less conventional culinary experience should venture to try some of the tasty eats described here.

Taro Pies

The contrast of textures and unusual combination of flavors in every taro pie make for a complex yet easily enjoyable dish. Every bite of these golden puffs reveals a delicious layer of warm taro wrapped around a savory shitake mushroom and pork filling underneath a crunchy fried outer shell. Soft, crisp and savory, taro pies are a favorite dim sum selection.

Roasted Pork Buns

A dim sum meal is never complete without an order of buns. While Hai Hong offers many types, the roasted pork buns are by far the best. Known in Cantonese as Cha Siu Bao, the fluffy steamed buns envelop a salty and slightly sweet BBQ pork center. With the perfect sweet and salty ratio, the warm buns showcase perfectly the comfort of Cantonese cuisine.

Braised Chicken Feet

Even the boldest food enthusiast may not find braised chicken feet appetizing. While the reluctance is understandable, the spicily seasoned dish may provide an unexpected, rather interesting and enjoyable, experience. Comprised of wrinkled skin and soft and chewy tendons, the braised chicken feet are deep fried. Then they are heavily marinated with a mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce, chili peppers and other ingredients, providing an intense explosion upon first nibble.

Turnip Cakes

Despite not being the biggest fan of turnips, I make an exception for these fragrant pan fried slices of rice flour. Seasoned with dried shrimp, shitake mushrooms and a sprinkling of Chinese sausage, each slice — slightly browned on the edges —reveals a starchy texture and a briny flavor that some may find unfamiliar. While the flavor combination seems a little bizarre, the ingredients culminate in a perfectly seasoned starchy slice of turnip filled bliss.

Steamed Glutinous Rice with Chicken

Rice in some way, shape or form is essential to any authentic Chinese meal. While I don’t love plain white rice, it can get a delicious makeover with classic twists, which include variations of congee (rice porridge), rice noodles and sticky glutinous rice. At Hai Hong, the steamed glutinous rice with chicken takes top prize. Lo mei gee­, as it’s refered to in Cantonese, consists of sticky rice with tender chicken and Chinese sausage wrapped tightly in a lotus leaf. Flavored with chicken and soy sauce and infused with a hint of tea  flavor from the lotus wrap, this fragrant dish is rice made the way it was meant to be.

Crispy Egg Tarts

Pastries in Chinese food are few and far between. These flaky egg tarts with sweet custard filling are the exception. Light and buttery, the bite-sized tarts are beautifully glossy on top, a scintillating addition to any dim sum meal. They add a sweet balance to the mostly savory dishes of dim sum.

Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce

These pork ribs cooked in fermented black bean sauce are a must try at Hai Hong. While the dish gives off a pungent aroma, the succulent marinated ribs pack a punch of flavor. Bathed in a salty black bean sauce, the tender and juicy ribs slide easily off the bone.