For someone who grew up eating dim sum brunches on Sundays, I have an obsessively high standard for Cantonese dim sum dishes. This is not only a review of the restaurant, but also my take on the top 8 dim sum dishes you should order as a novice! To my understanding, Fong Mei in Antwerpen is the ONLY authentic Cantonese dim sum restaurant left in Belgium.
What is dim sum 點心?
For those not in the know, dim sum 點心 is the Chinese Cantonese word for small dishes. It’s like tapas, but you eat it for brunches on Sundays. In the Guangdong (Canton) province of China, including Hongkong, this is done with great pride and tradition. Normally, the dim sum restaurants are packed to the brim, and dishes are served fresh from the kitchen on trolleys. You take what you fancy, each dish served in a bamboo basket.
For a long time, in Antwerp’s Chinatown – or rather China Street since it is only one street – there were 3 or 4 good dim sum restaurants. But as the children of the original hardworking Cantonese owners grew up and left the nest because they are some high-flying doctor or engineer, these restaurants are sold to newly-arrived non-Cantonese Chinese migrants. Footnote: Yes, Chinese migrant kids are super diligent and studious, they don’t wait for money to fall from the sky and they don’t blame everyone else for their failure under the pretext of racism or xxxxxxphobia.
So these non-Cantonese people took over all the dim sum restaurants in the Van Wesenbekestraat and they now taste horrible. If it’s not your food culture, to be honest, you will never be able to make it as good as someone who grew up in it. Some things can be taught, others need to be experienced.
So, the only one decent dim sum restaurant is actually located in the next street. It is still run by a family of old Cantonese migrants. Don’t think you will get good service, Cantonese people don’t do good service. They want you to repay them by ordering more and showing you like their food by stuffing yourself before they bestow you a twitch on their face to almost make a smile.
So, back to my obsession about dim sum.
You judge a dim sum chef by the traditional stuff. If he is not able to fulfil all the basic requirements, then he has not completed his training, and therefore not deemed as a proper dim sum chef. There’s no such thing as doing some dishes better than others: you’re either 100% proficient or you are bad. Period.
These are the 8 things you need to order in Fong Mei, and savour the amazing flavours of a true dim sum brunch, served with an bottomless pot of Chinese tea of course:
1. Char Siew Bao (叉燒包)
Steamed bun with fillings of roast pork and sweet sauce. The top should open up like a flower and the bread should be light and fluffy while the filling soft and gooey.
2. Siew Mai (燒賣)
Steamed cups of pork and shrimp. It’s a perfect balance of the two meats. If the chef tips the balance, it will taste either too porky or too plasticy.
3. Chok (粥)
Slowly brewed rice congee. It comes with either pork and century egg, fish, or chicken. It looks simple, but the art is not to burn it, the stock used to make the congee should be as flavoursome as possible while being as clear as water. This is the ultimate test of a good dim sum chef.
4. Cheong Fan (腸粉)
Thin sheets of steamed rice dough, rolled very quickly with hands (*ouch*) with fillings of shrimps or char siew roast pork. The art is not just burning your fingers into losing their sensation, but also creating a super thin sheet of rice flour that doesn’t break.
5. Lo Mai Gai ( 糯米雞)
Sticky rice steamed with Cantonese sausage and chicken, wrapped in dried lotus leaves. If you’ve done sticky rice before, you’ll know how resource intensive it is to infuse flavour into them.
6. Lo Bak Gou (蘿蔔糕)
Strictly speaking this is not Cantonese. It is originally a Minnan (Fujian or Hokkien) dish, adopted by the Cantonese through local Teochew migrants. It is a panfried daikon cake – crispy on the outside, soft and springy on the inside. The Cantonese added their own kind of bacon bits to the recipe giving it a great flavour!
7. Yu Kok (芋角)
This is a deep-fried dumpling using mashed taro (yam) as an outer coating containing a deliciously gooey minced pork filling. The outside is so fragile and fluffy and light yet it could withstand the weight of the heavy liquid filling. Not what an inexperienced chef can do.
8. Har Gow (蝦餃)
Steamed shrimp dumplings. The skin has to be as translucent as possible and the shrimp has to be extremely fresh.
Ready for your authentic dim sum? Head over to Fong Mei this weekend!
Fong Mei Restaurant 風味軒
Van Arteveldestraat 65-67
Tel: +32 (0)3 225 0654