We went and checked out Emperors of China the other day to try the dim sum.
We brought along the Fonger, our Chinese food expert and veteran of many a dim sum restaurant in Phnom Penh for a bit of yum cha education.
Going for dim sum, or yum cha as I call it, is a great weekend treat to share with a large group of friends and family. Yum cha, in Cantonese, literally translates to “drink tea” and is commonly used to describe a Chinese brunch. In China’s past, sipping your favorite tea at a tea house served as a relaxing pastime. Over time, little snacks were offered at the tea houses which we all now come to know as dim sum. Tea, however, is still the main focal point of yum cha. If you ever walk into a traditional Cantonese dim sum restaurant, the first thing the staff will ask you is “what kind of tea would you like?”
I’ve been to countless yum cha, including a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, gathering of family members back home in San Francisco. It became clear to me that this tradition needed to be brought over with me to Phnom Penh. Finding good dim sum isn’t easy. The better dim sum restaurants in town hire their head chef from Hong Kong or Guang Zhou. Of the 8 or so places I’ve tried in Phnom Penh, my favorite dim sum restaurant is Emperors of China. It is here that you will be greeted by their friendly manager, Dick Wong. If you’re lucky, he’ll be wearing one of his many flashy, and sometimes translucent, shirts.
Some of my staples include the following:
1) Ha gao: Shrimp dumpling
2) Siu mai: Pork and shrimp dumpling
3) Cha siu bao: Pork bun
4) X.O. loh bak goh: Turnip or “radish” cake (X.O. is a spicy sauce made with chili, dried shrimp and scallops, garlic and other seasoning)
5) Wu gok: deep fried taro dumpling, which includes some minced pork inside
6) Xiao long bao: Those infamous soupy dumplings. To eat them, try picking up the tip of the dumpling, where it is less vulnerable to tear, using your chopstick and simultaneously scooping using a spoon with your free hand. (check out the pic below)
7) Woh tiep: Pot stickers
A general rule of thumb when trying to organize a yum cha group: the ideal number of people is 6 to 8 (the amount required to be seated at a table with a lazy susan, an integral tool for enjoying and sharing dim sum). But don’t fret if you end up at Emperors of China with only two of your buddies – knowing your personal favorite dim sum dishes ahead of time will allow you to quickly make decisions and avoid making experimental choices such as chicken feet, or an unsatisfying dinner menu choice that isn’t traditionally dim sum. Don’t worry too much about what you order, though. You dim sum and you lose some.
– Shirley Fong
Shirley (a.k.a., the Fonger) has been talking about how good the dim sum at Emperors is for quite a while so I was really excited to give a try. The place is a bit crazy in the PP-riche sense with SUV’s crowding the parking and fancy decor but the dim sum menu is surprisingly cheap and the food was great. All of the dumplings were great but the xiao long bao or soup dumplings were the stand out for me.
I’m a bit of a dim sum novice but I really liked everything we ate. The non-dumpling dishes we had were pretty good but none were really memorable. Overall, the place was clean and nice and if you stay away from the entrees menu, it’s really not too expensive. We almost ordered the peking duck but it’s $38!
4 out of 5 nyamies
Dim Sum has always been a Sunday morning activity for me when I lived in Orange County, California. Though others would disagree, I have always thought that the best Dim Sum restos (yes, I said it….) in SoCal were in Westminster. Not only because of their proximity to my house but also because of the great characters that man the dim sum carts.
Ornery middle-aged Vietnamese ladies come up to your table, grab any random plate with their tongs and stick them in your face (kinda like the sunglass sellers in Russian Market). If you decide to only pick half of what they offer, they proceed to berate you in Vietnamese slang that would make a sailor blush whilst placing your selection onto the lazy susan.
Okay, where was I?? Oh yeah, Emperors of China.
The dim sum at Emperors of China is excellent quality and the place itself is very clean. The only thing I think it was lacking was a bit of character. I miss the carts and the crazy ladies driving them. Granted, I don’t think there are any carts in any Phnom Penh dim sum restos (again!) so I can’t fault Emperors of China for being the only one.
I also have to admit that I wasn’t able to try over half the dishes at the table due to an allergic reaction to shrimp. But I will say that the pork buns were delicioso and the xiao long bao were the tastiest I have had in Phnom Penh.
3 out of 5 nyamies