dim sum advice and recs...

a friend and i are going to see ‘american moor’ at the paramount center for a sunday matinee. we would like to go for dim sum beforehand.

i’ve never been, so would appreciate recommendations. also wondering how much time we should allow. we need be at the box office 1:30ish. how long a wait should we expect.

The tastiest dim sum I’ve had in Chinatown in Boston has been at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe (10 Tyler). You order off a menu, and the food (although, clearly prepped and made ready-to-cook beforehand) is notably fresher than at the “cart” places.

These cart places are larger palaces where carts (pushed by people) roam the aisles and you choose dishes by pointing at what looks good. I’ve now eaten enough dim sum to recognize most of the offerings, but if you are new to this business, pinkish filling inside translucent wrappers usually means shrimp (and I’d look for ones that also have a touch of green in them, suggesting a herbal counterpoint). The servers will usually be able to say of the others “beef”, “pork”, etc.

We eat a lot at China Pearl (9 Tyler, across from Winsor), only because they have a couple of dishes that others don’t (tapioca pearls in coconut milk, as a sweet offering, for example), but it is not necessarily better than places such as Hei La Moon (88 Beach). China Pearl usually also has a hot station that you can walk to and get greens, shellfish, etc. – stuff that does not circulate on carts.

At a cart place they stamp a card that they give you when they seat you each time you choose a dish. At the end they total the stamps. It’s always an exciting moment, waiting to find what the damages are (usually not that large).

You asked about the wait: hard to predict at Winsor, and it is usually not that long (20 minutes, tops, maybe) at a cart place. I might suggest you check out Winsor first, and if the wait seems too long check out China Pearl or Hei La Moon.

By the way, Great Taste Bakery (63 Beach) also has excellent menu-based dim sum, but it’s also a small place and can be crowded. But it is well worth checking out.


To add to what I said above, here are some things we generally enjoy (pretty much any dim sum place has them):

  1. Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves. As the name suggests these are leaf-wrapped packages, and they contain not just sticky rice but also some combination of chicken, sausage, mushrooms, etc.

  2. Taro (sometimes radish) cakes – flat glutinous-looking squares with meat, etc, embedded in them. If ordering off a cart, look for one that has a griddle on it, where fresh squares of this goodness sizzle.

  3. Steamed pork buns – fluffy white buns, semi-open, with a little brown porky-sauce oozing out of the top.

  4. Any steamed dumpling (you can tell which they are because they come in round stacked bamboo steamer containers on the carts). Get the chili sauce, especially with the seafood dumplings.

  5. To balance all the steamed stuff, a fried dumpling, or three. You can tell fried from steamed from the look – also the fried stuff is usually on plates.

  6. If you are adventurous, chicken feet and tripe.


Sundays late morning to early afternoons are usually the busiest times for dim sum, so if you are doing this pre-matinee, I would recommend trying to get their early to get a seat for two. Be open to sharing a table if you want it to expedite. No, you do not have to talk to your table-sharing seat mates, if you share a table. If they’re Asian/Chinese, they probably appreciate not having to make small talk while eating, to be honest.

If this is brand new, I wouldn’t rush the experience. Plan a good 1.5 to 2 hours. Waiting can easily take 20 mins during peak times. In all honesty, Boston dim sum isn’t exactly cutting edge, but it does the classics well enough:

In addition to what’s already mentioned (note: I’ll use Cantonese-based transliterations):

  1. Cheung fun – I like beef but usually shrimp or beef, and some places offer a vegetarian. Rice rolls with said filling, with a sweet soy poured on top.

  2. Steamed spear ribs – ribs are chopped into bit size pieces (bone in) and steamed usually with black bean sauce.

  3. Har gau – aside from pork shu mai, the quintessential dim sum dish. Shrimp dumpling in a translucent (should be thin) rice based wrapping.

  4. Stuffed tofu or eggplant – usually on a griddle cart, and you can mix and match. Eggplant or tofu stuffed with a fish/shrimp mixture, and browned on one side, and a brown sauce poured on top.

  5. Meat buns were already mentioned (several varieties), but I’ve always been more of a fan of the custard bun or egg yolk bun. The egg yolk bun is only available at a few places, Winsor being one of them, the last time I went.

  6. Fried stuff – fried spring rolls, fried taro/meat football shaped dumplings (wu gok), fried shrimp rolls, other dumplings…you get the theme. Not my favorite offerings, but I do like the occasional fried spring roll (note: not egg rolls) or the wu gok.

  7. For dessert – I usually go for tofu pudding, with light syrup on the side, if they have it nice and hot.

Also the bigger places always have specialty dishes, so to speak. These may be clams in black bean sauce, fried squid, noodles, or pigs blood and chives. Those are good to check out too, if you want the full experience. One of my favorites that can be hard to find these days is the mixed offal – this usually includes beef tripe (usually honey comb), spleen, pig skin, radish. I don’t think I’ve seen this in a while, so not sure it’s still offered.

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I agree with all the above- dim sum, if you’ve never been - is great fun and a fun, shocking, experience (not in a bad way). It can be a very “different” experience for non-asians - a little chaotic, loud, a little overwhelming - and I love all of that. So go and have fun - and roll with it. (If you go to a place with a menu instead of carts, it isn’t quite as chaotic). You’ll probably see people arguing with the hostess about how long it has been without being seated, people getting up and chasing down a cart for an item they want, waving of the sheet to get stamped for items taken, fighting over who pays - it is all just a little different (again not in a bad way).

Here is a link to a site (there are lots of sites out there, this is just one I found quickly) with pictures of lots of the dishes discussed above. I have found that many people pushing the carts can tell you what type of meat is in something but little else - so just having an idea of what some things may look like can help - since when the cart comes by, you’ll want to be ready to point!! :wink:

OP: Where did you go eventually? This site offer a lot of very useful suggestions.

the event is this coming sunday. however, when i discussed the possibilities with my friend (who’s coming in from the ‘burbs), she thought that since the wait time was such a wild card that we should just go someplace where we can get a reservation. she loves legal, so, we’re going to the downtown crossing location, which has an interesting menu.

thanks for all the advice. i’m in somerville and hope to make it to the great taste bakery soon.


My family has long been a devotee of chicken feet and tripe, much to the amusement of many servers. Some folks are put off by the need to spit out those chickie feet bones, but everyone does it, so just get down. Also, the tripe is always chewy – and that’s what we like about it; gingery flavor and chewy texture. I might also recommend the crunchy salt-friend whole shrimps on the steam table at China Pearl – and don’t neglect to eat the heads. Delish!