Dim sum classes teach din­ers how to taste a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing

tra­di­tional chi­nese lunch of­fers va­ri­ety of small bites

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - By Ad­die Broyles

Elaine Hol­comb didn’t like ev­ery­thing she tried dur­ing a dim sum lunch at For­tune Chi­nese Seafood Res­tau­rant ear­lier this sum­mer (the tex­ture of the pork buns in par­tic­u­lar didn’t suit her tastes), but she en­joyed most of the food from the dozens of small plates that were passed around her large round ta­ble.

To cel­e­brate her 60th birth­day, the Ge­orge­town res­i­dent brought her hus­band and son along on a guided lunch and walk­ing tour of the nearby MT Mar­ket, on North La­mar Boule­vard near Braker Lane, with cook­ing in­struc­tor and cook­book author Dorothy Huang, who has been lead­ing sim­i­lar tours in Hous­ton for 30 years.

The Hol­combs are vet­eran trav­el­ers (they only re­cently moved into a per­ma­nent house af­ter years liv­ing and trav­el­ing around the U.S. in their recre­ational ve­hi­cle), but they wanted a lit­tle help nav­i­gat­ing the menu for dim sum, a Chi­nese lunch tra­di­tion of eat­ing a wide va­ri­ety of small snacks or bites that started more than 1,000 years ago in the Can­ton prov­ince, where Huang was born. Join­ing the Hol­combs were about 15 other dim sum new­bies from Cuero, Ge­orge­town, Schu­len­burg and La Grange, where Huang’s cook­ing classes fre­quently sell out months in ad­vance. (The next guided lunch and su­per­mar­ket walk­ing tours in Austin, which cost $40 and in­clude the price of lunch, are Aug. 21 and Sept. 25. To re­serve a spot or get in­for­ma­tion about her cook­ing classes in Austin and other Cen­tral Texas towns, e-mail her at chi­nese­cuisinedh@aol.com or call 281-493-0885. For­tune has re­cently started of­fer­ing monthly Dim Sum 101 lunch classes. Go to http://dim sum101au­gust.eventbrite.com for de­tails.)

Dim sum lit­er­ally trans­lates as “touch your

heart,” she says, but the mean­ing is more along the lines of “eat to your heart’s de­light.” “That’s what makes dim sum lunch so fun. There’s so many things to try,” Huang ex­plains to the guests seated around two ta­bles in the corner of the large din­ing room that was quickly fill­ing up with pa­trons on a Satur­day af­ter­noon. “If you eat lit­tle dishes, you can eat a lot.”

Huang knows Chi­nese cui­sine can be in­tim­i­dat­ing to Amer­i­can home cooks, so she al­ways starts these classes with the ba­sics: chop­sticks and tea.

“We drink hot tea to cleanse the palate,” she tells the group as the first small plates of dumplings, soup and rice noo­dles ar­rive. “It helps di­gest the food. The more hot tea you drink, the more you can eat.” (If your ta­ble runs out of jas­mine tea, leave the top to the carafe open to in­di­cate that you need a re­fill, she ex­plains.)

Af­ter Huang gives a quick primer on how to hold and use chop­sticks, Lori Hagemann of Ge­orge­town leans over to her mother-in-law, Char­lotte, an­other La Grange res­i­dent, who is about to pick up a piece of fried pork belly: “You’ll prob­a­bly get good be­cause you do all that crafty stuff.”

Across the ta­ble, Hol­comb is find­ing suc­cess with her wooden eat­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, which she’d only tried to use once be­fore. “I’m eat­ing with chop­sticks. How about that?” she says to her hus­band.

For the next hour and a half, as servers push carts loaded with small plates filled with fried won­tons, shrimp dump- lings, pot stick­ers and steamed buns around the din­ing room, Huang or­ders for the group. She ex­plains that you can ask for a spe­cific item from the server by num­ber or by name (the menu is printed in both English and Chi­nese, but some­times the num­ber is the most ef­fec­tive way of get­ting the dish you want) or just pick out what looks good from the cart.

“You can see the items first,” Huang says. “The vis­ual part is very im­por­tant to the ex­pe­ri­ence.” Steamed items are in metal con­tain­ers, and most of the items on plates have been pan-fried or deep-fried.

Huang’s stu­dents, more ad­ven­tur­ous by the course, spin the lazy Su­san in the mid­dle of the ta­ble so ev­ery­one can try the egg rolls, lo­tus-wrapped sticky rice, sea­weed salad, clams in black bean gar­lic sauce and fried noo­dles. “Chi­nese like to eat noo­dles at birth­day par­ties for longevity,” Huang says.

Hol­comb ex­plains that she’s cel­e­brat­ing a mile­stone birth­day the next day. “Well, you’ll have a long, happy life then,” Huang replies.

By the end of the long lunch, Huang in­structs the stu­dents, who by now are chat­ting jovially about their fa­vorite — and least fa­vorite — dishes, to re­con­vene at MT Mar­ket, lo­cated across the park­ing lot from For­tune.

With a copy of her cook­book “Chi­nese Cui­sine Made Sim­ple” (Pinewood Press, 2004) in hand and stu­dents push­ing a few empty carts be­hind her, Huang hits the pro­duce sec­tion first. She ex­plains how

to cook with bok choy, bit­ter mel­ons and mush­rooms with stems as fat as an egg­plant.

In a store as stim­u­lat­ing and full of for­eign sights and smells as MT, Huang knows it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. “The (largescale Chi­nese) su­per­mar­ket is a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence,” Huang says.

Stu­dents ex­plore at their own pace, so she gets to help them one-on-one with their ques­tions. Is light or dark soy sauce best? What about sesame oil? Which brand of hoisin sauce do you rec­om­mend? How do you use miso? What kind of noo­dles are best for the fried lo mein like we had at For­tune? What’s the best wok for an elec­tric stove? Which brand of dumpling wrap­pers should I use for pot stick­ers?

By the time the group has browsed all the aisles, the carts are full, stu­dents are wait­ing in the check­out lines and Huang is still an­swer­ing ques­tions.

Many of the stu­dents from out­ly­ing com­mu­nity thought ahead to bring cool­ers for re­frig­er­ated in­gre­di­ents they can’t get closer to home. When she teaches in small towns be­tween Austin and Hous­ton, Huang knows she’s bring­ing a piece of the eth­nic di­ver­sity of­ten found in large cities. “When I come and teach, they can ex­pe­ri­ence the tra­di­tional dishes that we have in the big cities,” she says, but it’s fun to host events like this that bring a new ex­pe­ri­ence to peo­ple no mat­ter where they are from.

Ad­die Broyles

Elaine and Don Hol­comb, with son Kevin, get a dim sum les­son from cook­ing in­struc­tor and cook­book author Dorothy Huang at For­tune Chi­nese Seafood Res­tau­rant.

Ad­die Broyles

Din­ers can choose from plates of dumplings and other dishes that are wheeled on a cart at For­tune Chi­nese Seafood Res­tau­rant.

Ad­die Broyles

At MT Mar­ket, Dorothy Huang, right, helps Suzanne Batchelder un­der­stand how to use Chi­nese in­gre­di­ents in her kitchen.

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