You know you're getting old when queuing for food is no longer an option.
I realise this when Billy and I somehow hijack group yum cha plans and make a case for an earlier start.
"Eight people? At 1.00pm?" I repeat, horrified.
"Too late!" chides Billy.
"We'll have to queue for ages," I mourn.
We may as well throw in a head-shaking grandmotherly "ai-yah" in there as well.
And so we wangle an 11am start, arriving punctually. Escorted immediately to a table, we wait patiently with pots of tea whilst the rest of our our party drift in slowly.
Wu gok taro dumplings
Because whilst the chaos of yum cha is half the fun, the view of a packed dining room is better appreciated whilst seated. Marigold Restaurant, spread over levels 4 and 5 of the Citymark Building, is one of the Chinatown's more popular yum cha haunts, a clatter of chopsticks and porcelain bowls beneath red lanterns and the Chinese-restaurant luxury of natural light from the skylights above.
Gai lan Chinese broccoli trolley
Service at the Marigold sits halfway between the sing-song cajoling of China Grand and the subdued politeness of Palace. A wide variety of dishes is always on offer, with regular dim sum classics trundled alongside less traditional yum cha dishes. Mud crab, roast duck, pippies and barbecue pork rotate the room although these are mostly ignored by the Chinese families who prefer to keep their yum cha experience pure, particularly as these dishes are usually priced at a premium.
Gai lan Chinese broccoli
We start with wu gok taro dumplings, flaky pastries that crumble in the mouth to reveal a soft centre of mashed taro, enclosed around a spoonful of saucy pork mince. A dish of gai lan is always a welcome palate cleanser, the Chinese broccoli blanched for only the briefest of moments until the stalks and leaves turn a vivid green, then cut into lengths with scissors and drizzled with oyster sauce.
Pigs blood jelly
Pigs blood jelly is less intimidating that you would think. The cubes of pigs blood, steamed until it takes on a crimson-chocolatey colour, are firm to the touch but splinter easily. Rich in iron, pigs blood is inordinately good for you (because my mother told me so), and any slight metallic taste is tempered by the chilli soy it sits in, and the lengths of fragrant garlic chives piled on top.
Billy and I take advantage of each other's predilection for offal and also order the mixed tripe, a bowl of assorted intestines, liver and honeycomb tripe, braised slowly in garlic, ginger, chilli and soy until soft and fragrant. I cannot adequately describe my affection for this dish, a slippery chewy adventureland of textures that have soaked up so much flavour during the cooking process. The honeycomb tripe is always my favourite.
Char siu bbq pork baked buns
We continue with a bonanza of dishes. BBQ pork baked buns have a sticky glaze that match the huddle of chopped char siu inside.
Fun gor pork and peanut dumplings
Steamed dumplings form the backbone of any yum cha experience - the connoisseur will closely examine the dumpling skin to make sure it's not too thick, chewy or soggy. Fun gor are parcels of pork mince, dried shrimp and shiitake mushroom with surprise encounters of crunchy peanuts.
Hoi sin gao seafood dumplings
Gow choi gao garlic chive dumplings
Seafood dumplings are an elegant combination of prawn and scallop, but my chopsticks hover over the gow choi gao instead, garlic chive dumplings that are interspersed with chunks of prawn. It's only now that I realise we somehow missed out on har gao prawn dumplings, a serious oversight on our behalf.
Ham soi gok combination dumplings
In the interim, we have ham soi gok to contend with, another one of my sentimental favourites, these football-shaped combination dumplings filled with a morsels of saucy stir-fried pork mince and shrimp. These golden beauties are not admired for their filling but their pastry, ideally blistered on the surface and deep-fried enough so there's a thin veneer of crunch that gives way to a chewy starchy inner that's ever-so-slightly sweet.
Har cheong prawn rice noodles
We all coo over the snow pea garnishes on the har cheong prawn noodles, an unusual splash of colour on this traditionally noodle-and-prawn only dish. Variations like these are always noted. The fresh rice noodles, soft and slippery, are a silky tunnel around the whole prawns inside.
Fung jao "phoenix claws" chicken feet
We continue with fung jao, poetically translated as phoenix claws but chicken feet by any other name. I'm impressed by these, deep-fried until puffy and then cooked with enough black bean and chilli to give them a salty chilli kick. Is there anything more satisfying that slowly dismantling a chicken foot into separate bone and sucking them clean of skin, sauce and tendon? I say not.
Pai gwut pork ribs with black bean and chilli
Pai gwut pork ribs are another winner, these fat-ribboned lengths of pork soft and tender with a background of garlic and soy. The bits with bone are always the best.
Char siu bao barbecue pork steamed buns
Char siu bao are a favourite with kids and adults alike. Having made poor versions of these at home, I am always in awe of the pure whiteness of these buns, and how gloriously fluffy they are with their perfect laughing mouths that crack to reveal glimpses of the sweet barbecue pork filling inside.
Lor mai gai sticky rice in lotus leaves
In our family, lor mai gai is always ordered towards the end, a final carbohydrate filler for anyone still unsatiated by the table offerings so far.
Lor mai gai sticky rice in lotus leaves
Unwrapping these tiny parcels is much like opening a present at Christmas. Inside you will find a small amount of sticky rice, hot and comforting, and flavoured by its steaming dalliance with chicken, mushrooms, bits of Chinese sausage and often a globule or two of luscious melted pork fat.
Gai lan Chinese broccoli trolley
Dan tart egg custard tarts
Do dan tarts make everybody smile? Their sunny yellow centres, glistening under the lights, are like edible tarts of sunshine. The custard is supremely eggy and its base of pastry should be visibly multi-layered and so flaky that crumbs should rightfully get into the corners of your mouth, across your lips and down the front of the shirt in order to be considered a success.
Pouring syrup onto our tofu fah
Tofu fah silken tofu with syrup
In contrast to the rich excesses of dan tart, tofu fah is a more austere although no less sensual affair. Carefully transferred by hand from the rustic-looking wooden barrel in which it has been cooked, the shimmering silken tofu is collected into a bowl and then bathed with syrup.
This is a dessert that demands to be slurped, albeit softly. The smooth and fragile tofu glides effortlessly down the throat, bland but for the sticky syrup that's faintly scented with ginger.
We exit at 1.30pm, past the hoardes of hungry people waiting patiently in the queue. We're full and tired - a nanna nap is the next stop on our old folk agenda.
Yum cha trolley laden with dimsum bamboo baskets
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Level 5, 683 George St, Haymarket, Sydney
(the Citymark building)
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 3388
Open 7 days
Yum cha 10am - 3pm
Dinner 5pm - midnight
Yum cha prices as at March 2010:
Extra large $5.80
Poached seasonal greens $8.50
Chinese tea per person $2
Chrysanthemum tea per person $2.50
Public holiday surcharge $2 per person
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Yum Cha - China Grand, Haymarket
Yum Cha - Dynasty, Belmore
Yum Cha - East Ocean, Haymarket (Oct 08), (Aug 06), (Aug 05) and (Oct 04)
Yum Cha - Hung Cheung, Marrickville
Yum Cha - Palace Chinese, Sydney CBD
Yum Cha - Regal Restaurant, Sydney CBD
Yum Cha - Zilver, Haymarket (Jan 07) and (Feb 06)
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3/25/2010 02:55:00 a.m.