One of my favorite neighborhoods in NYC is Chinatown. I love the hustle and bustle, I love the maddeningly crowded streets, I love the fruit and vegetable stands stocked with all the hard-to-find produce that I crave…although I could do without the stinky fish vendors, especially on a hot summer day. I could also do without all the restaurant windows full of Peking Duck carcasses, but fortunately for us vegans there are a few havens in the neighborhood where vegan treats can be found.
One such place is the Vegetarian Dim Sum House, where I recently went with two of my best gal pals, Valerie from Lifestyles of the Chic & Vegan, and Leanne of Vaute Couture. Being Asian ladies, we like to plan our outings around Asian food, and had been talking about dim sum for several weeks.
I had been to this place before, a couple years ago, and I had completely forgotten how good it could be. You don’t go for the decor, because it’s slightly depressing, and you don’t go for the service, which is efficient but hardly warm and friendly. You go for the dim sum.
Now dim sum can be slightly intimidating to the uninitiated – you’re given a menu card with a checklist of the items you want. You simply write in how many you want of each item, and they will bring the dishes to you. But it can also be intimidating because there are so many unfamiliar (to most of us) items, and descriptions are virtually nonexistent. What are treasure balls? Monk dumplings? And I just can’t bring myself to order shark fin dumplings, vegan or not.
At any rate, I was with a couple of dim sum veterans who knew how to order like real pros. We actually started with some watercress dumplings, which were light and very fresh-tasting, but we dove into those before any of us remembered to pull out our cameras, so I didn’t get a picture of them. We also had some good ol’ spring rolls, to cover the deep-fried portion of our nutritional pyramid.
Then we had some rice flour rolls, some were filled with mock shrimp and some had mock ham. It’s hard to describe the texture of these, they are like very silky, smooth rice crepes with a delicate flavor on their own but excellent at absorbing the accompanying sauces.
We also had some turnip cakes, which I had to confess I had never tried before, much to the dismay of Valerie & Leanne. I am now a fan too. These cakes are starchy, not unlike potato, but with a silkier texture. Fried to create a nice crisp on the outside, and dipped into what I think was a hoisin-type sauce, these were really delicious.
We also had some mock roast pork buns, a requisite at any dim sum outing. If you haven’t had these type of buns before, the dough is really thick and spongy, and the filling inside is savory with a barbecue-type sauce. These are utterly addictive, though very filling. Or maybe I was just getting too full at this point anyway.
We had to try something from the sweet menu, so we had some red bean dumplings. The red beans are sweetened and mashed inside, so these are sweet but not overly so. I liked the filling but the wrappers were a bit too gelatinous (though vegan) for my taste.
We also ordered some crispy banana rolls for dessert, but be warned that these came out pretty much swimming in honey. If you order these, make sure to ask them to leave off the honey. Fried bananas are still pretty darn good on their own!
Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell St. (At Doyers St.)
New York, NY 10013