This is a series of reviews done up for my trip to San Francisco. I figure that since I have to eat, I might as well write about it. Enjoy!
I was told that San Francisco houses the largest Chinese Cantonese community in USA and a dim sum breakfast is a must have for any visitors. This time round, we give the more expensive Yank Sing (check spelling) at Rincon Tower a miss and went to the other end of the scale at the heart of Chinatown instead.
New Asia (an unlikely name for one of the most popular dim sum restaurants for the locals), sits at Pacific Avenue and Stockton Street.
It was quite clear when I stepped in that it belonged to the era where cinemas were the only places one could catch movies, bell bottom jeans were the rage and fast food had yet to entrench itself in the culinary scene. New Asia had seen better days, no doubt about that. The first floor was closed when we were there that morning at half eight and the ground floor was slowly being filled up. There was a xi (happiness in Chinese) character permanently placed on a wall. That must be for the occasional weddings or birthday parties still being held at New Asia that can easily sits hundreds.
I always have a penchant for the old style dim sum restaurants where they serve everything in trolleys filled with hot steaming tapas styled delicacies. It must be the times spent at the now defunct Tai Zi Lou along Selegie Road back home when I was a kid. Siew mai, char siew bao, har gao, chee cheong fun, lor mai gai - the dim sum staples, all seem to taste much better when they are served out from a steaming pushcart. To the untrained eye, the only inkling of what is contained in the pushcart is the constant calling of the waitress behind it.
Never mind that LO was fussing around when we settled down at a far end of the great dining hall, my eyes were darting frantically in anticipation of the next pushcart laden with fresh dim sum pushed out from the kitchen. I was a kid again. "Char siew bao (roast pork bun)!" I called out to a waitress who acknowledged with a friendly grin and a quick nod. The moment she laid down the bamboo steamer, I was waving my hands at the lady pushing the chee cheong fun (rice noodle wrap) cart. Before long, the entire table was filled and Wife gave me the all too familiar wary look.
Out of the dim sum that we (or I to be more precise) ordered, the char siew bao with the enough fatty meats in it left a deep impression. The siew mai (steamed pork dumplings) came highly recommended by the travel guide stuffed in my back pocket and they were easily the most fatty ones that I have ever come across - just the way I like it. The fillings were packed loosely unlike many of the dim sum restaurants in London that serve reheated frozen packs that one can easily get from supermarket shelves. Lor mai gai (glutinous rice with chicken) came with, yes, fatty chinese sausages - heavenly. I thought that the cheong fun's skin and the egg tarts' crusts could be thinner though.
The old style dim sum restaurant is probably the equivalent of parisian sidewalk coffee shops. You could literally spend half a day people watching while nibbling at arteriole clogging dim sum downed with tea (there were no choices of tea being offered, New Asia just had 'tea'). In New Asia, you could do that under the odd combination of plasticly looking chandeliers and two gaudy good pillars in the middle of the hall.
After two hours at the corner of ours, I couldn't help but notice that there were really just four main categories of people that morning and possibly every single morning. There were those old couples who probably got so used to each other that they have absolutely nothing to talk about, staring into thin space and having their breakfast in silence. Then you have the singles who came with a full set of newspapers. Sitting on a table meant for four on their own, they are prepared to last for the entire morning. There would invariably be groups of friends. These are the jovial ones who probably meet regularly for mahjong, chess or simply trading gossips. Finally, you have the families with at least three generations with the grandparents looking a tad weary, parents looking somewhat cross and children fidgety.
I wouldn't be surprised if New Asia is a lifeline to those who still clings onto an era that they grew up in and thus familiar with. In fact, if I were live in the lovely city, I could see myself dropping by every now and then. New Asia might be from a bygone era but I suspect there is a bit of it in everyone of us sitting there that morning.