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Photo by Collins Laatsch

Big Flavor in Little China

You may be accustomed to the theatrical tradition of dim sum—the bustling of food carts piled high with steamed Chinese cuisine cruising in and out of tight quarters to accommodate hungry guests, the sounds of Mandarin or Cantonese shouted loudly from the patrons, voraciously selecting each dish off the cart before they move onto the next table. It is an experience that seems to be straight out of a Kung Fu flick, the one where the muscled protagonist uses the food cart as a conduit for a daring escape.

For the uninitiated, dim sum is a Chinese full tea brunch, with origins in the tradition of yum-cha (literally translating to “drink tea”), and having a historical lineage stretching back to the era of the Silk Road. The fare consists of primarily of Cantonese dishes, mostly steamed, and often in dumpling form, as well as the all important tea, green, black, oolong, and dried chrysanthemum being the most popular. Before we go any further, perhaps a brief geography lesson is in order.

Where did it start?

Cantonese, when used to refer to people, language, or food, references those that have their origin in the province of China known as Guangdong, China’s most populated province, tucked beside the South China Sea in the extreme south eastern corner of the nation. Containing two of China’s largest and most important cities, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and having close proximity to two notorious “special administrative zones,” Hong Kong and Macau, Guangdong is one of the most significant pieces of real estate on all of planet earth. And what better way to become acquainted with its significance than to stuff one’s face with the delectable dishes of one of its most heralded culinary traditions? 

What’s it like?

When done right? It can be a pleasurable assault on all your senses. A crowded restaurant may be the bane of brunchgoers, as long waits seem all the longer when in need of a hearty meal at the end of the week, yet it is an essential requirement for the proper dim sum experience. “We get between 300 and 400 people on a Saturday or Sunday just for dim sum alone,” Danny Wann boasts, owner of Fortune Chinese Restaurant, located off of Sawmill Road on the far Northwest side of town, “We have the busiest dim sum service in town.

The offerings of delicious dumplings, tarts, buns, and congees are wheeled out of the kitchen on carts at rapid succession. This is where the crowd comes into play, competition for desired dishes can get intense when a legion of hungry diners are all vying to fill their tables with the freshest, tastiest dishes, occasionally leading to uproarious jubilation when a party is lucky enough to snatch up the last tin of their favorite dish. This tableside cart delivery mechanism perpetuates the logic that the table closest to the kitchen door is the best seat in the house.

Upon being seated at your table you will be given a piece of paper, similar in appearance to a scorecard, on which your brunch trek will be charted, with each dish you select, another stamp will be added to your scorecard, delineated by value. Restraint during dim sum is rewarded—it’s important to not fill your table with offerings from the first cart you see, remain patient, and as you eat more and more, carts will be wheeled beneath your nose, indubitably containing some dish you must try.

How does it taste?

But what of the food served up at Fortune Chinese Restaurant? What are the must try dishes for that quintessential dim sum experience? If the idea of eating Cantonese food (a culinary tradition with heavy emphasis on seafood) for breakfast seems too adventuresome, fear not, you will invariably find a range of flavors with which you are already familiar, and if not, anyone will surely find something that tantalizes their pallet. And fortunately for us, everything is prepared fresh that morning.  “We carry all the very popular items, all homemade and made from scratch. Even the dough we make from scratch, everything is in house,” boasts Wann.

First there are the buns—soft and gooey, each packing a warm flavorful surprise, Steamed buns are the dim sum dish that will have you running back to Fortune every weekend. With a wide variety of bun offerings, including chive, mushroom and chicken, and three types of egg, steamed custard, baked custard, and the Golden Lava bun (an egg yolk encapsulated in a delicious doughy bun), the one you’ll hope to eat everyday of your life is the roast pork bun. Each bite into a new bun releases an explosion of warm marinated and roasted pork butt from the spongy case of dough, making for a delectable treat so tasty, you’ll be tempted to jam extras into your pockets to save for later.

Similar to buns—and presumably closely related to buns in the phylogenetic lineage of the cuisine—is the dumpling, and at Fortune, you’ll have no shortage of dumpling options. With an equal number of entrants for both vegetarian and seafood filled dumplings, as long as you have a taste for such flavors at such a time of day, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re looking for the ultimate dim sum comfort food, or you’re in need of the perfect hangover cure, then look no further than the array of congees offered up at Fortune. Congee is a thickened rice soup, a porridge or gruel perhaps the closest touchstone for western palates, but to describe it only as this would be a disservice. Seafood and scallop congee are offered up at Fortune, but the one with all the bells and whistles is the minced pork with preserved egg congee. The preserved egg is really what sets this congee off. You may be more familiar with its other alias, the thousand-year-old egg. An extreme flavor no doubt, the preserved egg imparts a stinky, sulfurous, almost chemical flavor, which when mixed within the otherwise flavorless bland rice congee, and the soft, fatty, minced pork, creates a necessary harmony of flavors. This may be best suited for mature tastes; the preserved egg congee fulfills a role similar to vinegar and strong cheese, awakening long-paralyzed taste buds, and delivering a strength of flavor unmatched by anything else on the menu.

Finally there is the sweet. Much like brunch in the western tradition, dim sum wouldn’t be complete without offering up several saccharine possibilities. Coconut cake, a gelatinous cube reminiscent of a sweet tofu, or a thick, firm jello, seemingly consists of nothing but coconut milk and gelatin, and will surely be a hit with any table, but especially so if they’re of a youthful disposition.

These are but a few of the dim sum offerings being served up every day at Fortune Chinese Restaurant, and once you’ve caught the bug, you’ll be incapable of stopping until you’ve tasted everything on the menu. Not discussed here but definitely worthy of your dim sum table are chicken feet, a litany of rice cakes and rice rolls, and the illustrious crispy and baked durian cakes. Dim sum may seem a daring brunch to some, but given a chance, and an appropriate level of immersion, you’ll soon find that not only is a style of brunch worthy of addition to your weekend plans, but a type of cuisine as familiar as it is foreign.

Fortune Chinese Restaurant is open six days a week, with dim sum served every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (cart service only at the Dublin Granville location). For more, visit columbusfortune.weebly.com.