…by Anura Guruge
Going for Dim sum, in Boston, in China Town, ‘early’ on a Sunday morning is another one of the cherished family traditions. We try to average about 6 times a year, going more often in Spring and always trying to be there for a Chinese New Year Sunday.
For those of you who have never done it, Dim sum is a traveling buffet where a variety of Chinese food, with an emphasis on dumplings, but ranging as far as crows feet, are brought to your table, on an ever rotating basis by servers pushing steam (or in the case of the sweets, refrigerated) carts. It is Spanish Tapas Chinese style — with considerable more variety and volume.
I can’t really remember when I got hooked on Dim sum on Sundays. [As far as I know, you can only get the ‘whole works’ [i.e., the full traveling ‘circus’ of carts], on Sundays, though nearly all of the restaurants in Boston China Town advertise Dim sum — though the term used loosely to mean a variety of dumplings from a menu.] I think I serendipitously stumbled into China Town one Sunday morning, in the ‘mid-1990s’, while in San Francisco and saw them doing Dim sum — and was hooked; I visiting S.F. at least once a month those days for my work.
In Boston, trust me (and we are experts), there is only one place for Sunday Dim Sum, China Pearl at 9 Tyler Street. It is a side street but you won’t miss it. Follow the crowds — plus it is not that far from the famous China Town arch. From the street it doesn’t look much — because it is not at street level. It is upstairs on levels 2 & 3. You have to negotiate a rather steep staircase to get to the restaurant — but that just gets the juices flowing. At the ‘recommendation’ of some Massachusetts friends, who also do Dim sum, we tried ‘Hei La Moon‘ last year. No comparison. Kids hated it. Never going back there.
China Pearl is where the locals eat. We have been there many times when there have been way, way more Chinese folk than non-Chinese. That is always a good sign. China Pearl also has a small, fixed buffet, serving specialty food like fried calamari and shrimp, in addition the food brought around to your table. There are two levels, 2 floor and the 3rd floor. The 3rd floor has windows. 2nd floor has no windows but has some impressive Chinese artwork. The 2nd floor has more ambiance. Most of the Chinese are given tables on the 2nd floor. You can ask for the 2nd floor and they will give you a table.
We have been there for Chinese New Year Sundays … and TWICE when Valentine’s Day also fell on a Chinese New Year Sunday. Suffice to say they were packed. Lines down the staircase. No reservations. But, they give you a number — but they don’t call out the numbers in sequence. It is still a lot of fun trying to work out who is going to get called. Many time all 4 of the kids make it to Dim sum — and of late they have been bringing along their friends, since Dad pays. The larger the table, more space, more food and more fun. Yes, you can get drinks though I tend to drink the green tea. Danielle, now that she is old enough, likes to order a cocktail.
It is not that expensive, though prices have been going up. Can range from $12 – $16 per head — plus you can, indeed, bring leftovers home. There are no listed prices. They just stamp cute little icons on your check. Then at the end they CLAIM to add it up. I am sure that they scan the volume of icons, the amount of plates on the table, the number diners AND their DEMEANOR and make up a number. Of late I have started telling them, and English is always a bit of a novelty at the China Pearl, ‘to be nice’ when they are adding up the check. Seems to work. Makes them, usually rather dour as only Chinese men can be, smile.
In Boston, on Sundays, street parking is free and if you can’t be bothered to do that there is discount parking for around $9 a day. We usually go straight to the Financial District, next door to China Town, and find a parking spot in what we call ‘Bank of America square’ — since a huge, fort like structure dominates that square. Then we walk. In Spring and Summer it is a treat. In Winter it gets cold.