Dim Sum for shellfish allergy
Hey chowhounders! My wife and I are planning a trip to NYC and we're interested in getting some dim sum. What I want to know, it is easy to spot the shellfish? She has a shellfish allergy and we would like to aviod the stuff.
Also - if anyone has a recommendation, please let me know.
You really needn't worry. I have had a shellfish allergy for 20 years and still have dim sum regularly with no problems. 95% of dim sum dishes have no shellfish. Your biggest chance of getting something with shellfish is anything that has shrimp. Just ask the server if the dish has shrimp or maybe crab. Most everything else is beef, pork, or chicken.
I'm on the complete other side on this matter. I developed a shellfish allergy in the last 5 years and I've stopped eating dim sum. In my experience 75% of the items contain shrimp. Almost all the dumplings, har gow shui mai, etc have shrimp. Unless you speak Chinese, which I do, it is often very difficult to communicate with the servers and they sometimes don't take allergies very seriously.
I think it depends on the extent of allergy your wife has. If she is mildly allergic, you should be fine.
If she is very allergic, to the point that she has an epipen and could die from exposure, I am not sure I would take the risk. There is a fair amount of seafood used in dimsum, and the possibility of cross contamination is significant.
Sources of shellfish include the obvious shrimp filled dim sum, but there are also scallop dim sums, and combined pork and shrimp dumplings. The combined dumplings are usually obvious once you bite into them, but depending on your ability to communicate with your server, it may be hard to know until you bite into it. Some establishments love throwing shrimp into many of their dumplings, so it also depends on the restaurant.
Another possible source of shellfish exposure: oyster sauce, which can be occasionally used.
Not related to dim sim: Korean kimchi can have traces of shrimp paste in the sauce as well, depending on the recipe. And Thai/southeast asian recipes can include dried shrimps as an ingredient. We had a mango salad with dried shrimps on top (fortunately, our friends were not allergic, but they did try to avoid shrimp for other reasons. They were not aware these were shrimp).
So if the allergy is mild, you may want to risk it. But it can be hard to find all the sources of shellfish in restaurants, especially in Asian cuisines.
There's plenty of dimsum choices that don't have seafood in them... but watch like a hawk for cross-contamination! The kitchens are terribly busy and it's easy for stuff to get mixed up. Don't believe me? DH found a shrimp in his chicken roll (thank goodness before he actually ate it...) and I found a large shrimp buried in the middle of an otherwise-standard pork bun. Once upon a time that would have seemed like a nice 'bonus' but since DH is deathly allergic it's more like a nightmare now... once would have been okay but twice made me decide that dimsum isn't worth the risk. I don't want to be a widow!
I'd recommend you go to Dim Sum Go Go in Manhattan for several reasons. It is one of the better dim sum restaurants in Chinatown. I would say it's probably my favorite I've had in Manhattan. There are no carts -- everything is off the menu so everything is piping fresh. They've got a great selection of vegetarian dim sum (you can get a platter where they offer one of every kind) -- where one is 100% sure there is no seafood. But probably the most important reason is that I've found them to be more fluent in English than the other places around. So if your wife's allergy is severe and you need to avoid cross-contamination, oyster sauce, etc., they will probably understand your needs a lot more than some of the other dim sum parlors.