As the steam carts roll by, I caution my dining companions, "Never pick from the first one that comes along."
Eating dim sum is like a game of strategy and patience. The goal is to fill up on the good stuff, which usually means waiting as the cold and lifeless items pass by.
"Never pick the first?" my best friend asks. "Isn't that almost like dating? If you're too quick, and just pick the first thing you see, you might miss out on something even better."
"Well, it's not quite that simple," I said, as I surveyed the expansive dining room of one of my city's best dim sum joints.
Amid the chatter and din of eager diners getting their dim sum fix, are teetering stacks of bamboo steamers filled with Cantonese delicacies like steamed buns and dumplings. And that's exactly what you want to be on the lookout for - precariously stacked steamers on the verge of tipping at any moment stuffed with the freshest and hottest goodies.
Gobbled up in seconds, these delicious ready-to-eat delicacies require the skilled hands of a master chef.
Take for example, the ubiquitous dumpling. Each pleat, each pinch of the dough is a mastery of technique that requires patience and practice to perfect. Filled with chicken and scallions, or pork and shrimp - one never really knows what's inside.
Like that tattered book whose pages house a story of mystery and intrigue, one should never judge a dumpling by its appearance. Even the most unassuming morsel may have something special buried deep inside.
We just have to look a little closer, take a chance, and take a bite.
Are chicken feet a favorite? Or is it the old standbys of Shu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) and Char Siu Bao (roasted pork buns) that satisfy the palate?
Or does one forego the usual, and take a leap of faith with something like Lo Mai Gai (sticky rice and sausage neatly wrapped in lotus leaves)?
As cart after cart passes by, our eyes first light up with anticipation, and then slowly lower with disappointment. "No, those beef balls don't look as fresh. No, those spring rolls look too cold.."
And then...jackpot! We find the holy grail of all steamed carts containing all the dim sum varieties we love and crave.
"See, it took a while, but we finally have everything we want," I said with a satisfied smile -- table overflowing with little plates and conversation. With a little luck, and a couple of good friends with adventurous palates, there's something for everyone.