An Ode to Dim Sims
It’s one of those inevitable small-talk questions when you’ve been on the road for a while: what do you miss from home? You’ll say you miss your family, your friends; they’ll say they miss their dog, who is like family, and you’ll both pretend to give a fuck. The ice is broken, the purpose of the question served, and you go down to the bar, down a dozen beers and have crazy adventures together. Hooray for travel friends. But the fact is that there probably is some shit you really miss, and they’ll probably have to deal with that after your 10th beer when you decide to emotionally divulge it. For me (as I imagine is the case for many others) it’s dim sims. The love that I have for the dim sim is certainly greater than I’ve had for any pet and probably greater than I’ll have for my firstborn child. I will go to exceptional lengths to track down a dimmy abroad.
There’s nothing more infuriating to a dim sim connoisseur than when some naive cunt confuses a dimmy with what I like to call a false-lead. A false-lead can be any one of the following: a wonton, a dumpling, a momo, a moneybag, a gyoza, a dim sum or any other shrivelled white meat-packet that bears some kind of resemblance to an albino’s testicle after a long bath. So you’re overseas, you’ve not seen a dimmy in weeks, months, years. And then, into the 20th minute of your rant about steamer withdrawals, someone in the conversation pipes up: they had a great dim sim close-by recently – you should check this place out. And so off you run, handwritten directions shaking in your mitts, palms sweaty, heart racing, only to find one of these bastards on the menu.
A false lead. Sometimes you catch a false lead before your hopes get too high, simply by asking for the name of the venue, or enquiring as to whether they have eaten dim sims in Australia.
“Oh yeah, I love dim sims,” they say. “I go to Shanghai Dumpling all the time – Tattersalls Lane is where it’s at.” I have no words for these people. Dumplings are not dim sims, you filthy peasant. Dumplings are fucking fantastic, I know that. And Tattersalls Lane IS where it’s at. For dumplings and for a place where you can BYO goon sacks and listen to the Happy Birthday song every halfa. But NOT for dim sims. I wouldn’t send you to the Cheesecake Shop when you’re after a spud cake, so don’t send me to Momo Palace when I’m after a dimmy.
There are three components to consider when judging the quality of a dim sim: the skin, the parcel and the process. The skin is presented in one of two ways: steamed or fried. Ask any true dimmy fan what their preferred style of skin is and they’ll tell you they’re a steamer fan. Frieds are of course not to be forsaken; frieds are great. But you’ll often find that those who claim to prefer frieds over steamers are those who would be just as happy to down a chiko roll; these people are wildcards and are an unreliable source of company.
Moving on to the parcel. The parcel is the processed mishmash of animal and vegetable parts formed into the holy grail of the fish ‘n’ chippery kingdom. Always good in a steamer, risky business in a fried, the quality of the parcel will depend on how well it has been protected by the skin and how long it has been left sitting in the bain-marie prior to consumption. To ensure a moist parcel, purchase your dimmy as close to the lunch-time rush as possible. Go at 5pm and risk your parcel being served as dry as a nun’s cunt. Finally, and arguably most importantly, the process. Everyone’s process will differ slightly; I like to begin by peeling the skin off the parcel strip by strip and consuming it salty side to the tongue. Some will find joy in peeling the entire body of skin off in one go, garnering the same sense of achievement one would in a successful mandarin peel. From there, I like to ensure ample sauce has made its way to the parcel before consuming it bite-by-bite as one would a cocktail frankfurter or miniature quiche lorraine.
So where to go to wrap your gob around this aesthetically bankrupt but wildly delectable slice of heaven? South Melbourne Dimmies? The big kid of the dim sim world? Absolutely not. Now I might lose some friends over this claim, but hear me out. South Melbourne Dimmies are just not the best on the market. Don’t get me wrong, they’re alright; I’ve been known to take the tram one extra stop on my way to work just to purchase one of these steamers for breaky. But their drawbacks are unforgivable. Dressed up as a blessing, the size is what unravels the product. Personally, my favourite part of the dim sim experience is the skin-peel process, and the skin to meat ratio of the SMD is a quick way to ruin my day. Because of the excessive girth of the parcel, the skin seems thin and underrepresented and ultimately the whole thing feels cheap. Call me traditional, but that’s just the way I see it.
The second is a misdemeanour in comparison and there is a quick fix: it’s the packaging. While I can appreciate the environmental aspect of the paper bag, it’s just not dimmy proof. Anyone who has purchased a South Melbourne Dimmy can tell you horror stories of having to peel the dimmy skin from that thin, flaky paper. It sticks so firmly that you have to flip the bag inside out and scrape at it with your fingernails or teeth. Eventually you give up and accept that the only option is to consume the part of the bag that has now become one with your steamed dimmy skin. Furthermore, the paper is so delicate that any sauce your dim sim has not immediately soaked up will be dripping its way through within 20-35 seconds. At that rate I may as well just pour the soy sauce into the palm of my hand and be my own dimmy dipping pool. A simple plastic insert could easily resolve these issues.
My advice: If you’re spending some time in the land of the dim sim, do as the locals do. Sample the produce of the fish ‘n’ chippery in your ‘burb, check out a small footy club canteen, and if you’re desperate and brave enough, get to boiling your own frozen steamers from the bag. Go while you can on a dimmy crawl around your city, cross the country in search of the ultimate dim sim — the world is at your fingertips. As is often the case with travel, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s 15 000km away. And when you’re a long way from home, a steamy Skype sesh with a piping hot dimmy is much less satisfying than it sounds.