Dim Sum is one of my all time favorite meal experiences. I’ve been going for brunch for years, but still nowhere near as much as I would like. Chau Chow City in Chinatown (not to be confused with Chau Chow in Dorchester, MA, which is unrelated) is one of my favorite places to get dim sum. I love it so much that I even started making steamed shrimp shumai dumplings at home (click for the recipe).
A meal at a traditional dim sum restaurant is not only delicious, but it’s also fun, affordable, and a unique experience. My first time going to dim sum left me dizzy from all of the carts pushed around us and my friend ordering items more quickly than I could process. A couple of visits later and I was a pro at ordering myself. The meal pictured below was my brother’s first time having dim sum as well as a few other friends (the morning after my bachelor party) and it was their turn to get stunned. Regardless of the initial shock, everyone leaves feeling full and satisfied as long as they are up for something a little different.
Chau Chow City
83 Essex St.
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (617) 338-8158
Dim Sum Hours: Daily, 8:00AM – 3:30PM
Service and Atmosphere
Like many traditional dim sum restaurants, the food is shuttled around on carts by servers making the rounds. Yes, there are menus and some other items you can order that way, but I never bother with the menu. Sticking to the carts is the way to go (if you go to a dim sum restaurant that doesn’t have carts, just leave). The servers sometimes speak English, but they often don’t and they can come off as a little brusk. Nonetheless, don’t worry! Grunting and pointing at what you want is perfectly acceptable. Think of the carts as a picture menu with no words. Also, feel free to waive away carts that you don’t want anything from. It’s all part of the fun though!
The dim sum at Chau Chow City is pretty excellent overall and the prices are very affordable. Newcomers can find the process of ordering food a little intimidating, but once you know what to do, it’s all fun after that. Below are my top recommendations for dim sum items. See the cheat sheet pictures below to get a sense of what each item looks like. You’ll notice in the pictures that my friends have their hands in the photos because waiting even 1/1000 of a second for a picture is too long with that much delicious food in front of you!
Shrimp Shumai Dumplings – These shrimp dumplings are my favorite items to get from any dim sum place and the touchstone by which I judge the restaurant. It is very easy to tell when these are made from frozen packages or made fresh in-house. The frozen stuff is usually small, flat on one or two sides, and tastes more like celery or bean sprouts than actual shrimp or pork. Chau Chow City has the good stuff. These steamed dumplings are practically all shrimp and taste wonderful.
Pork and Shrimp Shumai Dumplings with Flying Fish Roe – These pork and shrimp combination dumplings are my second favorite item on the menu. Once again, it’s pretty easy to tell if they are made fresh or frozen. The fresh ones come in a steamed yellow wrapper that is open at the top and almost bursting with filling and sometimes topped with mild flying fish roe.
Scallop or Lobster Shumai – At Chau Chow, the scallops and lobster dumplings actually contain legitimate pieces of seafood. This isn’t some mystery meat dumpling and the quality shows.
Taro Cakes – A crispy outside and a hot soft inside are signs of a good taro cake. These often contain little bits of shrimp or pork inside and come served with a side of dark, sweet sauce.
Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaves – If you love fried rice, then the sticky rice in lotus leaves is right up your alley. It is steamed in the leaves and forms a thick ball of rice that is flavored with Chinese sausage, pork, and other delicious items. Unwrapping this little treasure is always fun. Don’t eat the outside wrapping though!
Tripe – This isn’t for everyone, but I personally love tripe done right. What is tripe you ask? Well it’s the stomach or intestine of an animal (in this case beef). The tripe at Chau Chow is mild, clean, as well as flavored with ginger and scallions. It’s not a strong flavor and is mostly a texture food that is a bit like chewy calamari.
BBQ Pork in Bean Curd Wrappers – Another steamed dumpling-like item is the bbq pork in bean curd wrappers. The pork is tender and mildly sweet, while the bean curd is soft and offers a different texture from the other dumpling wrappers.
Pork Buns – Some people love pork buns, which are steamed rice flour stuffed with BBQ pork. Personally, the big puffy rice flour bun is a little too doughy and bland for me, but I will say that Chau Chow City actually puts a nice amount of pork inside. Some places skimp on the filling so you just end up with a mouthful of steamed rice flour, but for the bun lovers out there, this is a good option.
Miscellaneous Fried Items – Again, this is my personal preference, but other than the taro cakes, I don’t really recommend any fried items at dim sum. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good items, but the stars of the show for me are the steamed dumplings. I almost always have a friend who wants to try a fried item and who is usually disappointed when comparing the fried stuff to the delicious, fresh, steamed items.
Highly recommended as one of the best (if not the best) dim sum in Boston’s Chinatown. I’ve been going here for dim sum only for years and never leave unsatisfied. Go mostly for the steamed items and you can’t go wrong.