My first memory of Dim Sum was from the 1988 movie Working Girl with Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver. Tess McGill, Melanie’s character in the movie impresses her boss, played by Sigourney, with a suggestion to serve this trendy food at a business reception. Next scene, Tess is pushing a dim sum cart around the reception and serving dumplings to the guests while her 80s frizzed hair is falling from the steam!
I didn’t really know what dim sum was then and had never taken the opportunity to search for it and try it. Then a few weeks ago I got an email from my friend Cassandra King, better known as Comedienne Joy, of Dining Out with Comedienne Joy, inviting me to a food blogger event she had arranged at The Black Pearl Asian Cuisine Restaurant in Homewood, AL. I jumped at the chance along with Russell and Amber Hooks of Happenin’s in the ‘Ham, Julia Sayers, Editorin-Chief at Birmingham Magazine, Chad Scroggins with Yelp and Shauna Stuart with AL.com. I don’t think any of us were expecting the feast that was awaiting us that evening!
As we all waited for the dim sum cart to appear, Cassandra ordered up some crab rangoon to try. I think I was the only one at the table who had never sampled these tasty appetizers! I wasn’t expecting it to be so creamy and I’m glad we were all sharing cause I could have devoured that entire plate! But…I needed to save room for the main course…or should I say courses!
Next thing we knew, a cart was wheeled out piled high with bamboo steamers to our table. I was desperately trying to take notes on my phone as the items were placed on the table. I thought I had a pretty good system in place – take a photo, write a description – but before I knew it there were so many different types of dim sum in front of us I just gave up! What helped was everyone pretty much sampling the same things together. We compared notes on the flavors of each dish, what we liked the best and what surprised us.
My favorites included the Lotus leaf wrapped chicken and rice. Cassandra described it as being like a casserole and she was right. This one took me the longest to eat because the flavors were so rich and it was so huge. It reminded me of a Mexican tamale with the way it was wrapped and I love a good tamale. Other favorites included the steamed shrimp dumplings – the dumpling part was almost translucent and so pretty, and the Sui Mai which were stuffed pork and shrimp. The Sui Mai were probably the prettiest to me with the orange topping said to be crab roe however I’m not sure if that was the case with these. (I need a return visit to investigate further!)
I also loved the steamed BBQ pork buns. I wasn’t really sure how these would taste because they looked rather doughy. Make sure to peel the paper off the bottom before eating! The taste of the dough was actually a little sweet which was a nice contrast to the BBQ. The steam egg custard bun was more like a dessert and looked like a boiled egg when pulled apart with the yellow custard inside. This dish was very light and not overly sweet which I really liked!
Now on to the more exotic dishes…the tripe was interesting. My dad always liked tripe but I never had any interest in trying it especially when I found out it was the intestine of an animal! But I was here to try everything so I put a little on my plate and gave it a whirl. It was actually more flavorful than I had expected but after one bite I was ready to go on to the next exotic item…the chicken feet! Yikes! They are actual chicken feet and this is quite a common dish in China we were told. Restaurant owner Michelle Mei mentioned that Americans are typically afraid to try this dish and generally asked us why we thought that was the case. I said I think we just can’t get over the fact that these are feet! Funny…we don’t seem to have a problem with the chicken leg, do we?
While I was preparing to try the chicken feet, my friend Cassandra was doing a Facebook live post of herself about to try the chicken feet herself. I was sitting right next to her so in her live post you can see my reaction to all this. It definitely made the experience fun and memorable! After she bit into her chicken foot, I did the same and surprise, surprise…it tasted like chicken! Ha!
After all this food, I couldn’t believe there would be more but then out came dessert in the form of coconut red bean jelly pudding and jasmine tea. Very light sweetness to this pudding and while you would think the coconut and red bean flavor would be overwhelming, those flavors were faint and pleasant.
Owner Mei wants people in Birmingham to know more about dim sum, what she calls “real” Chinese food versus American Chinese food. Dishes like sesame chicken and chop suey would fall into the American category but you won’t find these in China! Black Pearl specializes in Sichuan style dim sum which tends to be spicy. The restaurant’s Chef, Huanqun He, has been cooking up these delicious dishes for over 30 years and she was working at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas prior to moving to Birmingham. Now the dim sum cart is rolled out at the Black Pearl on weekends to the delight of those who love these authentic Chinese foods. During the week, diners can order individual baskets off of the vast menu. It amazes me that we tried so many types of dim sum that evening and yet there are so many more left to go! I’m thinking a weekend visit back to the Black Pearl is in order to check off the rest of the menu!