Dim sum, the savory Chinese dumplings filled with meat or veggies and served up steaming with sauces for dipping, were born as the Cantonese response to British tea biscuits and Spanish tapas. They were originally served to as an after-work snack to agriculture workers at tea houses, long before they were served as a trendy meal to hordes of hipsters in cities around the globe.
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Ever since they discovered that the combination of tea and dim sum does wonders for digestion, Chinese would eat it immediately after morning exercises, thus contributing to its health-food appeal. In contrast, the tea houses on the Silk Road brought the dim sum to their local cuisine, thus creating variations in distant kitchens – variations that can still be found to this day.
Dim sum traveled West, in its current form, only in the 19th century, brought to that nation's shores by Cantonese immigrants in the U.S.
Dim sum has been available in Tel Aviv for quite some time, but it seems that only the last year, with the return of more health-conscious menus, it has gotten truly hot.
Now many of us have added words like "bau" and "har gow" to our lexicons. To keep it simple on these pages, and to focus on taste rather than terminology, we will stick to the generic name: dim sum.
Hardcore: Beef Bau at Neve Shaanan 26
Long before dim sum became a hit, a cross between a kiosk and a tiny anonymous Chinese restaurant was established in the heart of the most slandered pedestrian mall in town. If you manage to make it though the Chinese menu, you'll discover several soups and a wonderful Jiaozi, dirt cheap. Be advised to come without prejudice.
The dish: Beef Bau. One can find a smaller version, thick doughy bau, almost anywhere. Forget that. Neve Shaanan's bau is exhilarating, large and generous, and two of these should be enough to easily banish your hunger. On a good day you can choose between beef bau (preferable) and pork bau (more popular). In both cases the grounded meat swims in a gravy unparallaed anywhere in the city. This is probably due to the combination between of five spices and the light frying of the meat with loads of fried onion, or, perhaps, because the Chinese chefs know their job, and have no time to sell out.
Price: 7 NIS.
If you're already here: you might want to taste the chicken and ginger Jaozi. You can get a full plate for under 40 NIS. Enjoy.
Neve Shaanan 26
Closest to the original: Mix at Dim Sum Station
Dilma is charming Filipino woman who grew up in the Manila market, where she still owns a restaurant. Two years ago she opened Dim Sum Station together with Shalom Meidan, a volunteer with the Filipino community who had tasted and fallen in love with her dishes. Dilma abandoned Filipino cuisine here in favor of Hong-Kong style dim sum, which is better suited to the Israeli palate. She added a few dishes with noodles and soup, but this, undoubtedly, is the dim sum station.
The dish: Mix. You can chose between 10-15 variations of dumplings, in different forms and with different fillings, all prepared fresh on site. The dishes that stand out are those with goose fillings, chicken with cashew nuts, and beef with celery, but the very best are the vegetarian ones: asparagus, broccoli and leek, or spinach with peanuts and sweet potato with chestnuts. A true treat.
Price: 5 NIS each.
If you're already here: And you're still hungry? Try the pad Thai. Tasty and unpresuming.
Dim Sum Station – Yehuda Halevi 44, Tel Aviv
East-West: Silk Road at the Officer's Club
The Officer's Club was established almost six years ago as the crowning jewel of veteran restaurateur Rimon Ben Yakir, the man who established the beloved Asian-fusion chain Giraffe. Despite the name, everyone can feel at home here, regardless of his or her military past. The Club's menu leans on the Giraffe's best hits, with a few local treats, including dim dum, added in.
The dish: Silk Road. The Officer's Club has always said they prepare not Asian food but an Israeli interpretation of the cuisine. This explains the existence of such a brilliant dish, an homage to both dim sum and the Silk Road. It consists of a distinct version of Jiaozi dumplings, filled with beef and mutton fat, served with hot yogurt and lupin, which gives the dish some Iraqi influence. The final result: If your Iraqi grandmother made dim sum, it would taste like this. Not to be missed.
Price: 47 NIS.
If you're already here: And you want another wonderful dim sum, try the har gow truffle. Three steamed dumplings filled with sliced mushrooms and a lovely gravy based on truffles.
Officer's Club – Haarbaa 21, Tel Aviv
Surprises in dumplings: escalope with Shrimps at Shine and Sharp
Yankale Shine was the first to teach Israelis to enjoy medium-rare entrecote in the mid-1990s. He has since opened several steak houses abroad, and last year opened Shine and Sharp as his premiere meat restaurant. En route, he fell in love with dim sum and made it another excellent reason to come here.
The dish: Dim sum escalope with shrimps. This dish is both impressive and surprising, not only because this is a meat restaurant that prepares the dim sum on location. but also because this was the best seafood we've tasted. In order to use seafood in dim sum, a crystal-like thin dough is prepared. Sliced shrimp is wrapped with escalope, and some carrots and celery. The twist is added by a touch of turmeric, painting everything an orange hue and providing a very delicate taste.
Bottom line: We came for the meat, and fell in love with the dim sum.
Price: 54 NIS
If you're already here: Don't miss the boneless wings dish. You might end up addicted.
Shine and Sharp: Yigal Alon 65, Tel Aviv
Once a week: Vegetable dim sum at Boya
Before soulless consumerism took over the Tel Aviv port, it was Boya that opened the door for breakfasts on the beach, some 11 years ago. But this is a full-fledged Mediterranean bistro, so what is dim sum doing on the menu?
Well, exactly a year ago, Chef Ofer Avgirl brought Hong, his Chinese wife, into the kitchen on Thursday nights. And anyone who has had the good fortune to taste her dishes can understand why.
The dish: Vegetable dim sum. One of the striking things about Hong's dim sum is the thinness of the dough, which she pulls off by using a unique brand of flour. She prepares the dough herself, and prepares the fillings exactly as her parents do in China. The idea is to create delicate thin dough that won't dominate the filling, but also won't crack after eight minutes of steaming. We loved the beef dim sum, and the grouper dim sum, and were impressed by the vegetable root dim sum, but were absolutely awed by the vegetarian dim sum: a combination of shiitake mushrooms, leek and cabbage, spiced with star anise, Szechuan pepper and a touch of soy sauce. The final result is the most delicate and precise dim sum we've tasted. Undoubtedly a small dish that touches one's heart.
Price: 45 NIS
Boya: Hataarucha 3, Tel Aviv port