The Unvegan

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‘Dim Sum’

Searching for Shangri-La

Dim sum noodles.
Dim sum noodles.

Strangely situated in the middle of West Bloomfield, Michigan is one very authentic Chinese restaurant. It’s called Shangri-La and has the endorsement of not one, but two Chinese/Taiwanese people I know that have been there. It also has the endorsement of all the other people that show up on the weekends for their dim sum.

A Bacchanal Buffet Without Borders

Did someone say mini burgers?
Did someone say mini burgers?

In my mind, no trip to Sin City is worth it without committing the sin of gluttony. There are many outlets for said gluttony, but none better than one of the city’s amazing buffets. And perhaps there is no better buffet than the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. As an added bonus, for brunch they throw bottomless mimosas on top of their mess of food. And what a beautiful mess of food it is. The place is simply huge, with each station being big enough to house an entire buffet at any lesser establishment.

Too Much to Handle at Sun Penang

Points for visual aesthetics.
Points for visual aesthetics.

You know how some restaurants don’t seem to have an identity? You know, like Jack in the Box but in full restaurant form. Well, Sun Penang in Squirrel Hill is one of those restaurants. The only identity it really has is “Asian,” but Asian covers a lot of groups and so does Sun Penang. From Thai to Dim Sum to Malaysian, it is a hard place to choose a meal, but choose I did.

Real Chinatown at Rainflower

Mmm breakfast.
Mmm breakfast.

Chinatowns are an interesting phenomenon. And not so much in the fact that a group of people from a country showed up to a new country and settled in one area, but in the way that they no longer really seem to be representative of China. Case in point: while in Vancouver, I knew there was good Chinese to be found, and rather than point me to Chinatown, my hotel pointed me to Richmond, which he called real Chinatown. By real, he meant that the Chinatown on the map was simply no longer authentic, if it ever was. By recommendation, we went to a place called Rainflower to devour dim sum before undertaking the long drive to Jasper.

Dim Sum with the Sea Empress

I'll siu mai if you siu yours.
I’ll siu mai if you siu yours.

Anyone who lives in LA knows that Chinatown isn’t really Chinatown. Sure, there are many Chinese people to be found there, but the most authentic Chinese experience is further east in the San Gabriel Valley. Yet, the Torrance and Gardena area is often overlooked when it comes to Asian food, despite the fact that it sports the Toyota and Honda headquarters. And I don’t just mean Japanese food, it also has its fair share of Chinese. One of these is Sea Empress (you must check out their amazing website from 1966), which is all about dim sum.

Getting Some Dim Sum at Star Ferry

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Do these look Chinese to you?

It seems like going to China without eating dim sum is on par with going to Italy and not eating pasta. But in truth, dim sum is really a specialty of Hong Kong and Guangdong (formerly known as Canton). Fortunately, in this day and age, you can find Cantonese restaurants all over China. In Xi’an, we found a place called Star Ferry near the Bell Tower. The interior of the restaurant was decorated like a boat, and I later found out that it was named for a ferry company operating in Hong Kong.

Doing Dim Sum at the Empress Pavillion

The shrimp potstickers are a must.
The shrimp potstickers are a must.

In the old Chinatown of downtown LA, there is a massive restaurant called the Empress Pavillion. The restaurant consists of a giant ballroom filled with chairs and tables.

In the mornings, the room becomes packed with hundreds of Chinese and westerners alike, all clamoring for a taste of the dim sum. Chinese women (whose command of the English language varies from non-existent to mediocre) push carts of plates around with varying dishes. If something on the cart looks good, you stop the lady, point to the food and she sets it on your table. Afterward, she takes out a stamp and presses it somewhere on the card on your table. You look to see where she stamped, but can’t really tell what anything means because it is all written in Chinese. Luckily, I can read some Chinese, and

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf

determined that the stamps go in different sections, meaning small, medium and large. There are more complex symbols, but at least those make some sense to me. Through this mysterious stamping system, they are able to determine how much you owe.