“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a plate of squishy round green balls coated with flaked coconut.
I asked that question often at the Joy Tsin Lau Chinese Restaurant, where the plate was one among many containing small portions of traditional Chinese dumplings, rolls and other dishes called dim sum.
A young woman stopped the stainless steel cart with neatly stacked plates next to our table. The Chinese server looked at me and smiled, not able to find the English words to describe what those green balls were. I looked across the table at my mother and shrugged.
“Ok, we’ll try it,” I said, skeptically eyeing the green orb.
The woman marked the card on our table and pushed her cart to the next table in the row. Her cart was only one in a long procession pushed around the restaurant so customers could make their selections.
Maybe the server had difficulty finding the words to describe the small black beans hidden in the middle of the green balls. Or maybe it was the mild lime flavor. Regardless of what they were made with, it was a good thing those gelatinous green balls were dessert. Mom was looking slightly bloated. I should have known that an adventure in Chinatown would be too much for her Pennsylvania Dutch palate. As it turned out, though, the intimidating green balls ended up being pretty good.
But we had tried a lot of food: fried shrimp wrapped with bacon, steamed eggplant stuffed with pork, sweet rice with pork and chicken steamed in lotus leaves, mussels baked with cheese, steamed shrimp dumplings and steamed vegetable dumplings.
My favorite was the baked barbecue pork bun, which could otherwise be described as barbecue pork wrapped in a thick, spongy, white bread. We eagerly selected as many items as we could from each cart that passed the table, knowing that if a particular cart passed our table again, it might not offer the same assortment.
Although the quality of food was excellent, much of the food was fried or otherwise greasy, and even the steamed dumplings were densely filled with vegetables, meat or seafood. With my normal salad-based diet, I was not used to eating foods that rich.
I was glad I hadn’t invited my pseudo-vegetarian sister to the restaurant, since most of the selections contained meat, poultry or seafood.
But in addition to feeling stuffed, Mom was suffering from sensory overload, and we needed to leave as soon as possible. It was close to noon on a Sunday, and the restaurant was packed. It was noisy, and even though it took a long time for our water glasses to be refilled, the servers who tended the tables moved at what seemed to be supersonic speeds. Tables were reset for the next customers as soon as they were vacated. The bright lights in the restaurant dimmed the calming atmosphere created by the red décor accented with gold and black, and the Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
The bill totaled $30. Each plate contained about four pieces and ranged in price from $1.95 to $3.35.
As we stepped out the door onto Race Street, Mom actually relished the quiet of a city street for the first time in her life.
Dim sum is offered at Joy Tsin Lau Chinese Restaurant, at 1026 Race St., Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. In order to beat the crowds, dine at the beginning or the end of the times that dim sum is served, but be aware that latecomers may not have as wide a selection as people who visit the restaurant early in the day.
Mindy Ehrhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.