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Dim sum items you'd never eat...or never thought you'd eat, but liked?

This year, I had 3 different co-workers come to San Francisco to work for a few weeks. They were all 25 to 30 year old, and from the Sacramento area. For lunch, I brought them each to a dim sum restaurant. Two of them had tried dim sum once or twice before, but one never even heard of dim sum. They all liked the basics such as shrimp and pork dumpling, baked pork buns, rice rolls, fried items, etc.

For two coworkers, I ordered a few "exotic" items, including tripe and mochi, and both hated it, especially the tripe. Thus, when I went out with the third coworker who never had dim sum before, I stuck with "safe" items. One coworker said he had tried fried calamari before, so I ordered the dim sum version But he did not like the dim sum version because the calamari pieces were too big. He was used to small calamari circles. I assume that if the dish came with the tentacles (which it did not), all three would have been disgusted...

Wanted to ask Chowhounders whether there's dim sum items you or someone you know would never eat or items you have eaten but would not eat again. Conversely, are there items you thought you wouldn't like, but ended up liking it?

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  1. I have a friend who is very uneasy around unusual textures. She doesn't like the idea of dumplings with mystery items hidden inside. Dim-sum for her was a disaster. I love it, but there are definitely a couple of items that I won't touch, namely the mixed stewed tripe dish and the book tripe dish. Oddly, I like the honeycomb tripe. I just strongly dislike the other types. There's also a heady bile-like thing going on that turns me off. I also avoid the riblets, be they beef or pork. I find them gristly and unchewable, most of the time. Beyond that, while there are items I don't order because I am not a fan, I'd try most anything. As for what I never thought I'd eat, but liked, I'd have to mention thousand year old eggs with pork in congee. The preserved eggs work in that dish. Very tasty. Chicken feet are another. They're not appetizing looking, don't offer much in terms of eating, but boy are they tasty when stewed with 5-spice! This isn't a dim-sum item, but at Chinese BBQ places there is often a steam table with sundry pig parts that have been stewed in a master sauce. I have to admit I've been won over to the intestines and pig tongues. The pig's ears didn't thrill me, though. Too much crunch.

    To people that turn up their noses at the weird variety of delicacies served up at dim-sum houses, I always suggest that they try at least one bite of everything, before declaring that something isn't of interest to them. How can they know until they've tried it? Dim-sum is probably the chief reason I eat pork. I never used to care for it much, but knowing that many dim-sum items have pork in some form incorporated into them made me take a stronger look at pork's versatility and ability to carry flavour. I'm a total convert now.

    1. The first time I ordered curried squid, I only did it because I was hungry, and that seemed to be the only cart that was coming around. Now, it's one of my 'must-have' selections when I go out for dim sum.

      1. I assume those three fellows you brought out to dim-sum were all gwailo. (What is it about these kinds of 'less usual' dishes that squick out chaps like them?)

        A food blogger (caucasian) here once wrote about how utterly repellent a dim-sum item in a local restaurant was in smell and taste...the best guess I could come up with as to why (after revisiting the place myself and sampling (again) said dish as described in the blog; and an exchange of comments with the blogger) was the inclusion of dried prawns [har mai] in that version of loh mai fan. Odd. I found it fine but clearly the blogger and her dining companion did not.

        I myself generally eat all types of dim-sum. None are ever repulsive to me although some are preferred over others. At times, depending on the restaurant, some items are pushed aside unfinished but that would be because they were poorly made or were of poor quality, not because they were unpalatable just merely for being what they were.

        1. -Jellyfish

          -chicken feet

          Okay, I wouldn't go as far as to say I liked them, but I thought they were interesting and fun and didn't think they tasted badly. I enjoyed watching the Asian folks eat the feet with their chopsticks. How they would bite off a toe and then spit out the bones, catching them with their chopsticks. Impressive!

          4 Replies
            1. re: huiray

              Me too. Didn't start out eating them but they're one of my must-haves now. I cheat and stab the foot with my chopsticks or it gets away from me.

            2. re: lynnlato

              I agree on the chicken feet. Not something I would ever develop a craving for, but it was unique!

              1. re: lynnlato

                I love chicken feet. I grew up eating them in a Jewish context.

              2. I am gwailo, but grew up eating a wide variety of food, and my mother loves offal. But dim sum remains somewhat exotic as I have been less than 10 times in my life. Tripe I have tried in the past but didn't like it, was like chewing on rubber bands that would never break down, basically did not seem edible to me. I should give it another try. Chicken feet, the first time I had them were kind of a 'dare' and I thought they were okay. I wasn't really looking to enjoy them and just found them edible. I had them again recently and thought they were amazing. I've always liked rich, fatty, collagenous meats but only more so as I get older.

                I still find dim sum overall as a meal very heavy and lacking in vegetable and acid flavours to cut the fat... are there items I should be ordering to break things up a bit?

                4 Replies
                1. re: julesrules

                  Most dim-sum places ought to have kai lan (or gai lan) [chinese broccoli: Brassica oleracea Alboglabra group] available as part of dim-sum service, blanched in oiled water or briefly cooked similarly and drizzled with some sauce, usually "oyster sauce" or a preparation including "oyster sauce". Ask for it if it does not appear in the circulation of trays/carts.

                  1. re: huiray

                    At one restaurant I tried duck tongues. Interesting flavour, but didn't love the cartilage crunchiness in each tongue. I've see duck webs (feet) on a couple of menus. I didn't have the guts to order it for fear that I wouldn't like it and would leave the dish uneaten. With a few adventurous friends, I'd be willing to sample them, though.

                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                      Cartilage? Did you eat the bone in the duck tongues? Usually people spit them out.

                      Duck webs are fairly similar to chicken feet in texture.

                  2. re: julesrules

                    The first thing I do is order vegetables, as huiray recommended. Pea sprouts, chinese broccoli, baby bok choy, whatever they say they have when we ask. I find the cart dishes filling but the tea, and taking your time, makes a big difference.

                  3. Many SF Bay Area / Northern California dim sum joints offer a room temperature chicken feet dish that looks blanched, but is actually very poorly executed and mostly marinated with vinegar. The texture, as a result of being prepared the wrong way, comes out more rubbery than chewy, which I avoid at all costs after having it once or twice (can't remember where exactly). In Hong Kong however, this particular dish is excellent, with the chefs even taking the time to debone the feet and properly marinating it with either 5 spice or ginger powder, at some Cantonese dim sum and also non dim sum Chinese restaurants. Some might go even as far as doing different preps of chicken feet, stewing or braising it with Chinese herbs (instead of deep frying then steaming black bean sauce with chilis version), or another version with abalone sauce (yet retaining the chewy texture).

                    I also tend to avoid restaurants that offer too many deep fried dim sum items, almost a sign that they don't do the steamed ones well, and likely the fried ones are not anywhere near perfect either.

                    Now beef offal in dim sum....in Hong Kong it is hardcore where they throw in all sorts of parts, some nastier than others. In Northern California, the stewed offal item with radish/daikon at most has honeycomb tripe, maybe another bit or two, and beef tendon, but rarely anything else. Not that this is a bad thing, as pancreas is definitely not my bag that I disliked eating as a kid and still to this day.

                    1. Chicken feet--I managed to convince a few non-Chinese friends to try it. They liked the flavor, but they thought it was too much work.

                      1. Depending on who I go to dim sum with is what items I will get. When I go with my Chinese friends, they like to get the chicken feet and tripe. I am not a fan of either one. I will pick at the tripe when I am in the mood but otherwise wouldn't touch it.

                        But I have grown to love jellyfish. I can't go to dim sum and not get it.

                        Hmm I think I will be having dim sum for brunch on the Sunday before my birthday.

                        1. I don't think I can answer this question very well because I cannot think of a Dim Sum dish which I refused to eat. Consequently, I cannot think of one that I never thought I would like and end up liking. I do think there are shifts in my preference. When I was much younger, I didn't have much appreciation of Shrimp Dumplings. I don't hate them at all, but I don't really appreciate them. I liked Pork Dumplings much better and still do to some extends. However, I grew to truly appreciate the Shrimp Dumplings in the past few years as I tried to learn to make Dim Sum. It is much easier to make Pork Dumpling than Shrimp Dumpling. The skin/warp of the Shrimp Dumplings are much more difficult to make and have no good commercial substitution. The fillings as well, there is a certain refinement of making the fillings of Shrimp Dumpling which I have not yet come close to master.

                          Not to dodge the question, but I would say that I have certainly shifted the way rank and appreciate various Dim Sum.

                          1. I have never ordered jook, and doubt I ever will. Why would I want to fill up valuable stomach space with rice and water?? Everything else is fair game, tho...

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ricepad

                              This is almost opposite from me. I almost always order Jook. I say 70% of the time.

                              1. re: ricepad

                                I either go out for jook or out for dim sum but never both for the same reason. I do get sticky rice which similarly fills me up, though.

                              2. My son and I try "exotic" dim sum whenever we don't have my wife with us. (we live in the DC area where there is good dim sum, but nothing like what you can get in San Francisco) We were not particularly enamored with the duck blood, actually it was boring. Loved the jellyfish, he likes tripe, I don't. The place we normally go always makes sure check if there are duck feet available since we both love it (it has been a favorite of his since he was 5 years old) and will make sure to let us know if duck tongues are available.

                                Most of what I don't like is not because it is weird or gross, but because I find it boring and uninteresting. Normally I don't like most of the fried items for that very reason. On the other hand, well made jook is wonderful.

                                1. I love all the weird stuff at dim sum, tripe being my favorite - the ginger scallion version.

                                  No one seems to want to eat chicken feet when I order it though.

                                  1. Durian pastry. Never thought I'd try/like it. Snagged it off a cart. Snarfed it. Would get it again.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Oh my. Where did you find that? With your recommendation, I'd try it.

                                      1. re: bobcam90

                                        I had it at a restaurant called Golden Ocean in Vancouver. Probably available at others but I haven't actively sought it out. If you get it, be sure to eat it while still warm as the durian-ness gets more pronounced as it cools :-).

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            I started seeing this a few years ago too in the Bay Area. Flaky, custard-y, gooey, chessy, smelly, all in a good way.

                                      2. Theres not much I don't at least try.
                                        I grew up seeing my dad eat tripe and wasn't a fan. Dim sum beef tripe w ginger & scallion was a surprise "like" - honeycomb not so much.
                                        I remember ordering bbqed pork intestine. Sure looked good with the reddish color. Tasted too butcher-block-floor for me.
                                        Beef tendon turned out to be a favorite - get it all the time. The waiters at our non-dim sum resto always put a bowl on the table for me, gratis.
                                        Innard stew, not so much.
                                        Chicken feet, winner and fun to eat (have yet to try the plain steamed version).
                                        I really don't care for the fried roll-shaped thing covered with a steamed skin.
                                        Sliced boneless pig feet also a goody, but jellyfish, just meh - not much flavor.