Welcome one and all to another spectacular edition of Mastication Monologues! Today finds me absolutely freezing my toes off, but that hasn’t changed much from the previous week or so since the weather has been less than tropical. January in Chicago, go figure. However, today’s post will put you in a sunny mood if you are craving Dim Sum right now or ever for that matter. I mean, can’t go wrong with Chinese tapas! Variety is the spice of life. If you have been to Chinatown in Chicago, you’ll find that their dim sum menus are often reserved for dinners starting roughly after 5 pm. However, at Furama in the Edgewater/Little Vietnam neighborhood, you can overdose on the little plates of goodness from 9:30 am to 8 pm!!! The prices for each choice range from $3 for extra small plates to $7 for extra large plates.
The exterior doesn’t look like it has changed in 50 years, and I was alright with that. Inside, we had to climb stairs, similar to Three Happiness in Chinatown, to the main dining room. It was spacious and somewhat filled with people on a Sunday morning. There was a stage in the front of the dining room which raised my hopes for some live entertainment, but sadly no one came out to bust a move or serenade us. No matter, the food was plenty of fun by itself. First, there are an army of servers zooming around with carts like some sort of culinary chariot race calling out what they have to offer in both Chinese and English. We could mark down what we wanted on a card, and they could get it for us, or we could just pick something off their cart. We opted for the latter, and the first thing we picked was the 猪肠粉 or rice noodle roll ($3.50). I must warn you that if you do not have excellent chopstick skills, this slippery mass will be extremely difficult to eat. After living for a year in South Korea, I thought I was the Mr. Miyagi of eating with chopsticks, but these noodles were so hard to pick up. The shrimp inside were cooked perfectly, but the slippery and savory soy drenched noodles had to come later when I used Mr. Fork to be less than cultured. Next, we got an order of the pork chow mein noodles ($9.25). They were crispy but a bit too greasy for my liking. In the background you can also see the pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings/韭菜虾饺 ($3.75). Those were great since the crispy rice skin gave way to chunks of shrimp and plenty of verdant onions. The 蒸餃 spinach and shrimp dumplings were really eye-catching. I had never seen a spinach-infused dough used before in dim sum, so we helped ourselves to a plate ($3.75). The spinach in the chewy dough didn’t make much of a difference, but the greens and shrimp found on the inside were very lightly seasoned which left the earthy veggie tones come through and blend nicely with the shrimp. Our next stop on our dim sum adventure was my call when I heard them shout “叉燒!” or “Char siu!” ($5.60). I may not know a lot of Cantonese/Mandarin, but I know that this pork option is off the hook or more like off the fork since more like it since char siu literally means “fork-roast”. What makes it so great? Well, consider this the ancient form of barbecue where they use a molasses-based rub that creates a sweet crust on the pork skin and permeates throughout the meat. It is then treated with some red food coloring to make it really stand out along with a bath of spices and wine on certain occasions. When all of these ingredients come together, you get a plate of pork chunks that are both savory yet sweet that no Western pit boss could get close to. We then stepped it up to get 叉烧包烤 or baked cha siu bao which are Cantonese baked pork buns. I had tried the 蒸 (steamed) bao in Hong Kong, and I think I prefer them over the baked version. Still, these buns were delicious. Their shiny exteriors concealed a moderate pocket of the aforementioned sweet meat, but I feel like they skimped on the meat and focused more on the bread. After we had our fill of savory treats, we hit up the dessert cart. We got 煎堆 (Jin deui) or sesame buns ($3.50), sweet rice pastry ($3.50), and 蛋挞 egg custard tarts ($3.50). I had the sesame buns before, and it’s probably the only time I’ll willingly eat red beans in Asian cuisine (click here to see my reaction to red bean in Korea). I think it’s because it’s surrounded by sweet, super chewy mochi (rice dough) and drowned out by savory sesame seeds. I really was a fan of the sweet rice pastries which utilized the same rice dough in the shrimp rolls we got to start this entire meal. Instead of floating in soy sauce, they were coated with coconut and filled with chopped peanuts and sweet syrup. Talk about decadent yet not really. It was a Taoist dessert with a mix of sweet yin to the subtly savory yang. Finally, there were the egg tarts that were competently made but nothing like what I tried in Macau or Lisbon where they are originally from. These tarts made their way into Cantonese cuisine in the 1940s via the Portuguese colony of Macau, and now they are served in dim sum halls from San Francisco to NYC. By the end, we were stuffed like the dumplings we just destroyed yet in a Buddha state of bliss.
So if you want some delicious dim sum that you can get any day of the week at reasonable prices, definitely make the trip up to Furama!