You'd think I would have learned by now. I've had dim sum, the uniquely Chinese meal of hot tea, steamed buns and other dainty nibbles served from carts wheeled through the dining room, more times than I can recall. It's one of my favorite ways to spend a late morning or early afternoon on the weekend, when dim sum is typically served in Chinese restaurants in America.
And still, I make the same beginner's mistake every time. Even though I know dim sum is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, selecting just a few items at a time from the succession of carts wending their way through the dining room, I order far too much from the first cart that's wheeled up alongside my table. I did it again just this past weekend when my wife and I had dim sum at Neo-Asia in Cary, one of the handful of Chinese restaurants in the area that offer dim sum.
I just can't help myself. When the server removes the lid from one of those stainless steel cylinders, revealing a trio of fluffy pork buns, how can I resist? Oh, and there's steamed grouper, a miniature still life of snowy nuggets of fish, straw mushrooms and scallions. Gotta have that, too. Beef chow fun? Siu mai? Yes and yes. And ooh, lotus leaf parcels stuffed with sticky rice, minced pork, chicken and black mushrooms - a must.
(Of course, I'm aware that the same cart will make another pass around the room, and if the particular dish I want isn't there the next time around, I can always order it from the kitchen. In the moment, though, that knowledge gets washed away in the drool of my Pavlovian response to the food before me. Figuratively speaking, of course.)
Our appetites were already waning by the time the second cart arrived. We took Szechwan string beans and pan-seared turnip cakes. I waved the next two or three carts on with an embarrassed smile, then finally succumbed to the temptation of crispy sesame balls. Filled with a sweet yellow bean paste, they're technically not a dessert, but they've served that purpose well for me on a number of occasions.
Dim sum is ideally suited to larger parties, who can sample more widely from the carts' offering. Next time, I plan on inviting another couple or two to join us. Maybe I'll leave the ordering to someone with more willpower than I do.