Chef Young Xie has been making dim sum for 35 years.
He started in Hong Kong when he was 16, and moved around after that -- around China, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. Now, the North Loop is where he's putting his talents to use.
The owners of Jun recently scooped him up after finally taking the plunge into adding dim sum to the menu at their new Szechaun restaurant. Though dim sum is typically a daytime Cantonese eating tradition, Jack Wang, who owns the restaurant with his mother Jessie Wang says they'll be serving theirs all day. “We love dim sum. We always wanted to do it. So we’re doing it.”
After a few conversations with Wang, I’m starting to become accustomed to this, his trademark calm and matter-of-fact attitude. “Dim sum is good," he says. "So we have it.”
Dim sum is a unique culinary specialization, with dishes manifesting in countless permutations. In addition to some of the more typical preparations like cha siu pork buns or steamed shrimp dumplings, dim sum can take on a level of complexity that easily rises to the realm of art. Xie shows me some iPhone photos with steamed buns shaped like wild mushrooms and bright yellow lotus flowers made of egg yolk, coconut, and chocolate.
Why don’t we see more dim sum in the Twin Cities? Because of this intensive specialization. Even the delicate wrappers are all made by hand, and Wang tells me that many best dim sum chefs don’t necessarily want to take work in the Twin Cities because they fear there isn’t enough of a market for it. “And then they won’t have a job,” he says.
So, why don’t we prove those dim sum chefs wrong, and head over to Jun, where they’re currently serving it seven days a week, at all hours that the restaurant is open? Xie is there six of those days, and let me tell you, we want him to keep his job.
Here are some of the best dim sum dishes of the moment, though they’re rotating about 20 different varieties daily.
Shumai (pictured above)
One of the more recognizable dim sum dumplings, shumai are an open wonton dumpling, in this case stuffed with chicken, shrimp, mushroom, and fish eggs.
Crispy Taro Balls
An utterly new experience for this food writer, these frizzled pouches look a bit like Don King’s hair at the precipice. The inner surprise reveals a dough of violet purple taro root, and inside of that, a chicken filling almost as smooth as a puree, interspersed with nubbins of black mushroom. A little sesame oil adds more umami. My research tells me that these are served more traditionally at Chinese New Year because of the many steps involved, so get this uncommon treat while the getting is good.
Egg Yolk Buns
For the sweets lover, these rich buns are filled with eggy custard thickened with coconut milk and cream. The ones pictures are made with duck yolks for an even richer experience, though the restaurant also offers them in more standard chicken yolk. They’re sometimes sold as pastries at bakeries in China, too.
Another version of shu mai, these delicate beauties hold near-translucent coins of scallop, nuggets of shrimp, and seemingly tweezer-placed carrot and cilantro. So light, they’re like eating sea essence.
Shrimp dumplings with bamboo
Shrimp dumplings come in many forms at dim sum, but I love these for their herbaceous dewiness. As you can see, the beautiful green of the bamboo shows through the delicate membrane, and the filling is so lightly handled, it practically sprays with juice as you bite.
Last but definitely not least: Xio Long Baos, the ever-elusive juicy bun (aka soup dumpling)
Juicy dumplings are the Bigfoot of foodstuffs around here— everyone has seen them at least once, or at least they think they did, but then whey you go to bring your friend to that very same place ("I swear, I saw them here!") poof! They’re gone.
Like much of dim sum technique, this one is difficult to master. The soup must be chilled, which then makes it a gelatinous near-solid, which is then bundled in with the ground meat (in this case pork) inside of the wrapper.
Once steamed, the soup melts, and with proper eating technique— it’s kind of a one-two maneuver-- the soup is enjoyed almost as a little mini appetizer. It’s fun, delicious, and special.
Here’s the technique:
Lift the dumpling with your spoon, so as not to lose any of the broth if you happen to tear the wrapper before it hits your mouth. Now, bite a tiny hole at the edge of the dumpling, and let the broth flow into your mouth. Here, it’s rich, complex, with ginger and scallion aroma completely worthy of a standalone soup.
Now, the choice is yours whether to pop the whole dumpling, or pause to drizzle in some of the ginger and black vinegar sauce accompanying it (highly recommended). Now, slurp any remaining soup off of your spoon, and dive in for another.
Some purists will say it’s better to bite the top off of your soup dumping first, and then blow into it to cool off the soup, and then proceed to eat the whole of it, but I like my method and I’m sticking to it.
This is most certainly not a definitive list, and as mentioned above, the dim sum selection will rotate. We also spotted steamed buns with sweet roasted pork tenderloin filling so satisfying and innocuous that even a kid could dig it, and things for the super-adventurer like beef tripe and satay beef stomach, plus many things in between.
730 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
Pro tip: Don’t be alarmed if you visit and the dim sum trolley isn’t traveling around. They are saving that amenity for when the restaurant is very busy (you want your items hot and fresh) and that will likely be on the weekend. Instead, ask for a menu and point away.