Now that I’m a newly engaged man, I must come to terms with my fiancée’s shortcomings: namely, her disgust for dim sum.
"I’m not going to eat dim sum with you. It’s so greasy," she says, wrinkling her nose in a manner I might find cute if her words weren’t so hurtful. "Not all dim sum is greasy," I rebut, extolling the pleasures of feather-light cheung fan rice rolls and steamed, shrimp-stuffed har gow. But her eyes glaze like a Krispy Kreme cruller, another a.m. eat she shuns for Kashi cereal—gerbil feed, as far as I’m concerned. "I’d rather you make me poached eggs," she suggests instead. "How about that?" Mmm… no. Nothing elevates my serotonin like a Saturday spent at Sunset Park’s Pacificana (813 55th St., at 8th Ave., Brooklyn, 718-871-2880) or Chinatown’s Jing Fong (20 Elizabeth St., betw. Bayard & Canal Sts., 212- 964-5256), snatching willy-nilly steamer baskets stuffed with translucent dumplings and fluffy buns packed with roast pork. Dim sum is a communal experience that’s part spectacle, part uncertainty: What edible mysteries are those cart-pushing ladies peddling? What do they cost? And will I save enough space to have a second round of steamed spare ribs?
Like a solitary pervert popping into a peepshow, I must get my dim sum jollies by my lonesome. I take my pleasures on Fridays. That’s when I toil at my magazine copyediting gig in Midtown, ensuring that celeb names are properly spelled. Trust me, Hayden Panettiere is hardly an easy stroll through the alphabet. Since I toil near Rockefeller Center, my preferred trains are the B or the D. Traveling from Brooklyn, the first Manhattan stop is Grand Street. This quadrant of Chinatown, far from the whispering salesman hawking knockoff Gucci, is my culinary playground. Within a five-block radius, I can stuff my craw with Far East eats tailored to my mood.
If I’m head-crushingly hungover, I’ll hit Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food (77 Chrystie St., betw. Hester & Grand Sts., no phone). Less than three bucks buys a palm-size aluminum container bursting with rice, cabbage and enough caramelized, jerky-like roast pork to make me oink all afternoon. For a soothing start to my morn, I’ll decamp to the northwest corner of Elizabeth Street and Hester Street. Till 2 p.m. daily, two friendly ladies man a cart vending madeto-order steamed rice noodles. A wide, shallow tray is filled with rice-flour batter, topped with your preferred ingredients (shrimp, pork and, my choice, eggs) then steamed to squiggly perfection. Several squirts of thick soy sauce seal the $1.75 deal. For a quick bun pick-me-up, there’s nothing finer than the fluffy porkand-veggie specimens sold at narrow, helter-skelter Deluxe Food Market (79 Elizabeth St., betw. Grand & Hester Sts., 212-925-5766). If I crave a fleshfree bun, then I’ll cut a rug to Queen Bakery (150 Mott St., betw. Grand & Broome Sts., 212-966-8998) for one freighted with mushrooms and nubs of mock meat. It equally pleases my taxed arteries and stomach.
Despite these eateries’ gut-stuffing glories, I count myself lucky to have recently discovered Lucky King Bakery (280 Grand St., betw. Forsyth & Eldridge Sts., 212-219-8434). Like similar establishments lining Grand Street, the bakery welcomes a steady clip of wizened men, who enter empty-handed and toddle off toting cups of milky coffee and flaky pastries. For years, I slunk past the shop without so much as sampling one morsel. Pressed for gotta-get-to-work time, I typically beeline to my roster of favorite restaurants. But a few weeks ago, I found myself with a few extra minutes to explore. That’s when I spotted the wispily mustachioed man leaving Lucky King, his mouth wrapped around a cloud-like bun spilling out roast pork. My stomach grumbled. I was tractorbeamed inside.
I first encountered glistening baked goods stuffed and topped with frosting— not my jam. I tiptoed deeper into Lucky, past tables filled with patrons perusing the newspaper, and gasped. There was a towering steamer brimming with buns and all manner of dim sum delights: scallion pancakes, spare ribs, rolled bean curd skin crammed with mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Nothing cost more than a couple bucks. Chinatown: The land where cheapskates go to heaven every day.
"What do you want?" asked a young counter girl wearing a smock and a smile.
"Everything," I moaned in my bedroom voice. Her smile froze as if she were spritzed with liquid nitrogen. "Sorry," I said, composing myself and placing my order: siu mai dumplings constructed with shrimp, shiitakes and pork; a porkand-vegetable bao; spare ribs; and the aforementioned bean curd. I brought my treasures to an empty table, near a Chinese grandpa wearing New Balance sneakers. He gave me and my gluttonous repast the ol’ hairy eyeball.
"You like dim sum?" he asked. "I love dim sum," I said, popping the bao between my full, expectant lips and biting into bliss.