If you don't mind, I am straying off course this week. Thank you, in advance, for indulging me.
If you're frustrated that I have yet to visit your preferred pho burb of Garland, Carrolton, or Haltom City, please remember that this is a long-term weekly blog about one very specific bowl of noodles. Take comfort in knowing that I eventually will exhaust all of your pho options in Dallas/Ft. Worth.
That being said, you may have noticed that I am neither a Nguyen nor any other Vietnamese surname. This is because my father is Chinese, making me a very peculiar half-Chinese/half-Vietnamese mut, whose parents actually met and wed in the U.S. Although this series leans heavily on my maternal side's heritage, in actuality, my personality is more Chinese.
This is in part due to my paternal grandmother. Having grown up with two extremely hard working parents, who were always sweating away long shifts at one restaurant or another, my grandmother relocated from Taiwan to the United States when I was a very young age to assist my parents in raising my brother and myself. She reared us, selflessly and emphatically, as if we were her only purpose in the entire world.
My love of eating was instilled by my paternal grandmother. Don't get me wrong, my parents are amazing chefs in their own right, and my maternal grandmother made my favorite meals. However, Grandma Yang was the one who cooked my meals every night and day. Her seasoning and flavors informed my palate.
She loved cooking for us, because that was her way of adoring us. After school snacks consisted of minced pork noodles and dumplings. Needless to say, I was a fat kid. Yet, it's OK. I lost the weight, but I never forgot her food.
The one afternoon a week she never had to cook was Sunday. Every Sunday was dim sum day. My grandmother, who wore the same house clothes every other day of the week, would put on her jewelry and dress in her finest threads. My parents would then load us all into the van for our trek from Fort Worth to Richardson. My grandmother has always been a very emotionally contained person, but her excitement, though she tried to hide it, would bubble over on Sundays. She'd laugh a little more or borrow my mother's fancy shoes.
After all, when it came to dim sum, Grandma Yang was in her element. She was born and raised in Hainan Dao, an island off the coast of China, in the South China Sea. Aside from their main language of Hainanese, the second most spoken Chinese dialect in the Hainan Islands is Cantonese. Since all of us in the family only know Mandarin, my grandmother relished Sundays because she could speak to the Cantonese waiters and food servers in her native tongue.
Dim sum, a cuisine originating from the heavily Cantonese dominated regions of Southern China, can best be described as Chinese tapas. The small size of the portions can be credited to its humble beginnings as side dishes in tea shops along the legendary Silk Road. In present day terms, the food is now the main attraction, with dim sum restaurants becoming a popular craze in unto themselves, sprouting in Chinatowns all over the world. While one still can find genteel teashop like dim sum settings in Hong Kong or in a five star hotel, contemporary dim sum restaurants are more like mad houses.
It isn't unusual to see a sprite old Cantonese woman walk directly up to a food cart, grab several little steaming dishes of food, and walk back to her table, feeding her kinfolk as if she is a mother bird bringing back food to her baby birds. My grandmother never fell into such behavior. Instead, she opted for an uncharacteristic regal nature, morphing into a courtesan of the dim sum restaurant. From knowing exactly what to order for the whole table to joking in Cantonese with the restaurant staff, we all fell under her spell.
My grandmother suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor this week. Instinct or nostalgia led me back to the location of all those Sundays with my grandma. I remember the restaurant from my childhood as Hong Kong Royale, but nowadays it's known as the extremely popular Kirin Court.
While there's still the undeniable bustle, the environment is a little less lively than I recall--and the food a little less intriguing as I once remembered it to be.
Channeling my grandmother's love of overindulgent ordering, our table for two soon carried enough food for five. Stopping almost every cart that passed our way, each dish I ordered represented a piece of my childhood: Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), Shu Mai (steamed pork dumplings), Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, Puffed Pastries filled with barbecue pork, Steamed Pork Ribs, and my grandmother's favorite, Rice Porridge (Kirin Court makes an excellent version) just to name a few.
Although I left brunch with a full stomach, it was bittersweet. I will always have my memories and access to all of my grandmother's favorite foods, but I'll no longer be able to share these things with her.
Growing up, I think I took eating so well for granted. Little did I know that my love for food would form a great deal of whom I am. For that, I am forever indebted to both of my grandmothers.
221 W. Polk Street, Richardson
Dim Sum served Saturdays and Sundays, 10 am- 2 pm
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