Dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine prepared in small portions. It is traditionally served in baskets or on small plates. In very authentic restaurants, dim sum is pushed around on carts so customers can choose what they like while sitting down (AKA waiters place unknown food on the table that customers are forced/delighted to try).
Traditional dim sum foods include dumplings, boazi, steamed meatballs, spare ribs, congee and crispy fried squid. Philadelphia has a wide range of dim sum restaurants, ranging from the authentic to the trendy and from the high brow to low brow. But no matter whether you’re splurging on Stephen Starr’s Buddakan or BYOing Franzia at Dim Sum Garden, the dumplings never disappoint.
High Brow: Sampan
Michael Schulson transformed the traditional dim sum experience into a trendy one. His menu offers mostly small dishes and encourages sharing. The highlight of Sampan’s menu is by far the edamame dumplings. These magical creations are filled with a creamy edamame puree, wrapped delicately in a steamed dumpling and bathed in a truffle broth – a spin on the traditional soup dumpling.
Sampan also offers General Tso Soup Dumplings, mushroom dumplings, chicken and pea shoot dumplings, and shrimp dumplings. Sampan stylizes other traditional dim sum items: the boazi becomes chicken bao buns, steamed meatballs turn into short rib meatballs, spare ribs are beef short ribs, and crispy fried squid is a kale and calamari salad. P.s. don’t miss out on their infamous fish bowls.
Mid-Brow: Bing Bing Dim Sum
Go to Bing Bing Dim Sum if you are looking for dim sum that won’t break the bank, but is still high quality. This restaurant’s motto is, “Our food is often informed by tradition, but never defined by it” and some reviews comment that it has a “Jewish twist.”
Bing Bing serves the typical pork soup dumplings, shrimp dumplings and Taiwanese style beef dumplings, but it also takes a stab at a vegetarian “scarlet” dumpling made with beet, tofu and crispy garlic. The “Jewish twist” comes into play with the Everything Pac Man Buns filled with lox, cream cheese and cucumber.
I recommend the sweet and sour Brussels sprouts and the General Tso’s rice cakes. The Brussels sprouts are perfectly crispy with a kick from chile that really compliments the sweet and sour dressing.
Also, don’t miss the short rib congee. Inspired by the traditional dim sum congee, which is a sticky rice porridge, Bing Bing’s version includes an egg to break into the congee coupled with pickled onions and a hint of truffle. If you happen to be in East Passyunk between 5 and 7 pm, be sure to stop in for their happy hour where they offer $5 dim sum and $6 drinks.
Low-brow: Dim Sum Garden
Dim Sum Garden, located in China Town, is one of the more authentic Shanghai style dim sum experiences you can get in Philly. This place is perfect for rowdier group BYOBs. Fun Fact: Chef Shizou Da, founder and head chef, is a fifth-generation descendent of the chef who created the very first xiao long boa (soup dumpling) in China.
Dim Sum Garden is thus most famous for their pork soup dumplings. The food is pretty similar to what you would eat in China, so Dim Sum Garden also boasts other traditional items like fried rice, wonton soups and noodle stir-fry.
Whether you’re in the mood for du jour dumplings or classic congee, Stephen Starr splurges or dollar items, Philly’s dim sum scene has it for you.
#SpoonTip: Not in PA? Check out this list of the best dim sum spots in every state.