27 Nov A Shrimp Siu Mai Affair
The bamboo steamer lid opens to reveal the little meat purses inside. The best ones are the ones that have a little shrimp tail or tobiko at the very top. The smell and steam rising from the bamboo is intoxicating. I hear Marvin Gaye in my head as I prepare my mustard and shoyu bath for my little babies. The world disappears around me as I reach out my chopsticks and pick up a siu mai delicately from the paper at the bottom of the steamer. A brief little wade through the mustard sauce and then the first bite. The wonton pi is the delicate and comforting wrapper encasing the rich, fatty, and flavorful pork and shrimp mixture. The shrimp has permeated through the pork and wrapper and has a springy texture that is so pleasing to my mouth. The water chestnuts have a slight crunch to them giving the fatty, spongy morsel another layer of texture. From the appearance, its seems pretty simple but their is some ancient Chinese magic going on in these little buggahs. I am obsessed with siu mai.
The perfect little morsels of sharing, family, love, and memories. I was obsessing over these siu mai as usual on my way to the dentist this morning trying to figure out how to get Chef to add them to the menu at the Tavern. Why? 30% of me just wants to have it there so I can have it all the time and know that its made with good ingredients and handled with care. The other 70% is because I believe that everyone should be allowed this same opportunity. Maybe 10% wants to highlight the fact that these little meat presents are so woven into the fabric of Hawaiian food culture that you can get them at 7-11. Yes, I do eat the 7-11 ones and they aren’t the best but at least I can satisfy my craving.
As I was driving and thinking about siu mai. I realized how these dumplings have been with me every step of my life.
I grew up in Aspen Hill, Maryland with my large Filipino family. My mother has some Chinese in her blood and Filipino culture is very intertwined in Chinese culture. My parents took us 9 kids traveling back to the Philippines every couple of years to visit family. One of my favorite stops was Hawaii, which on one particular trip I had made up my mind up to live here but that’s another story. Long before island 7-11’s had siu mai in their food warmers, every grocery store in Manila had them right next to Siopao (origin: Char Siu Bao) known in Hawaii as Manapua in the steamer case. Siu mai is not just a Sunday brunch thing, I can have them as snacks! I can even buy them frozen and cook at home (not recommended).
My first real memory of these little darlings is from Taipei. My family was visiting there when I was very young maybe 4 years old. We went to this restaurant and had the most comical time ordering food as none of us spoke Chinese and none of waiters spoke English. We finally resorted to pointing, which worked great. My parents got some dim sum which included the siu mai. The one lesson I have learned from being the youngest of nine is get the food on your plate as fast as you can or you won’t get any. This was a major challenge as I had not mastered chopsticks yet. The lazy susan keep spinning and food was being consumed. I stopped that lazy susan and speared a siu mai with my chopstick LOL! So gratifying to defeat the odds and think out side the box. That siu mai was so tasty.
The next prominent memory was going to Hong Kong and eating at a dim sum restaurant at the Star Ferry port in Tsim Sha Tsui. My paternal Grandmother was with us or Lola is what I call her which is the Filipino word for Grandma. We walked into the restaurant and could see diners behind a wooden folding screen. The host asked us to follow him to our seats, we came around this screen and the sound hit me. Everyone was so loud. They were talking, slurping, munching, crunching, and burping. It smelled great! As we followed the host, the room seemed to get larger and larger, we rounded a corner and it was the size of a ballroom filled with tables, diners, and dim sum carts. It was a sensory overload. My Lola was in command of this host demanding good seats and freshest dim sum and ordering already before we even sat down. She was calling out to the ladies with the dim sum carts to come now already taking an inventory of what they had before their arrival. Within minutes, we had food and drink in front of us and my Lola demanding that we eat already, we have schedule to keep. LOL! She was so amazing! Spouting off Chinese and keeping up with the cacophony of sounds and pace of this enormous eating establishment. I remember thinking to myself that this is what real dim sum is like. She then got herself an order of chicken feet. My brothers were snickering on the side about the chicken feet. Lola gave them stink eye and dove right in. Oh the carnage! This beautiful intelligent woman with so much poise and heir about her ripped right into these things. Okay, now I see the Filipino from the island of Negros. Her mouth was twisted about the little claws and turning and ripping and gnawing all concealed by her closed lips and out would come a bone that she’d grab with her chop sticks and place on her plate all demur like. What! Mind blowing! My Lola is awesome! She ate just a few of these and as soon as she was finished, we all had to be finished. She barked at us all to finish, her treat, she’s getting the bill, got to stay on schedule to catch the Star Ferry.
When I finally settled in Hawaii, I lived in Kapahulu and quickly discovered Eastern Garden (now gone) and Hee Hing which might also be gone. I hardly go to town anymore. Anyhoo, my now husband and I were hungry and I had a craving for dim sum as it was Sunday morning. I suggested dim sum and asked if he would like it in a polite way finding out of he ate Asian food. I was delighted to find out that he worked under Mrs. Wong’s tutelage at Indigo making siu mai and half moons. Be still my heart! You had me at siu mai! LOL! We proceed to Hee Hing and are seated. The waiter refused to speak to my Caucasian brunch partner and only addressed me. He then asks me if my friend would like a fork! This still cracks me up. Adam is turning red he is so pissed. The waiter leaves and Adam is ready to leave too. He can’t believe how rude the guy is to him. I’m like he’s not rude; he’s Chinese! We ended up staying and eating with chopsticks only as their dim sum was delicious. This little meal had so many meanings for me. I could see that Adam had pride and a sense of humor. I could see that he may not know too much about Asian cultures but was willing to learn and grow and he would eat anything. Definitely all marriage worthy characteristics, all learned while consuming my favorite little pork and shrimp angels.
Fast forward time, back in Hong Kong, now visiting my sister and her family who were living there at the time. My husband, two sons ages 6 and 3, and I went to one of the oldest Dim Sum restaurant in Hong Kong. We went to the Lin Heung Tea House in Guangdong. This was just as I remember the star ferry dim sum restaurant but older and way more local. There are only two dim sum restaurants left in Hong Kong that still have the push carts. Most places now just bring out the baskets from the kitchen. We are greeted and sat at a table that we must share with other people. Our sons are so confused. They almost touched and/or kicked the pot of tea boiling on the floor between tables. The older one is baffled that we are sitting down with strangers. He keeps asking who they are LOL! Meanwhile, the dim sum cart is getting bum rushed two aisles over from us. Adam sends me in, he’s got the kids. I rush over cause we are starving already. Adam’s blood sugar is low and the day is on the fringe of taking a downward spiral if we do not get food right away. I just start pointing and nodding and speaking what little names I did know char siu?, siu mai, har gau, look funn. I get three or four baskets and bring them over to the table. The kids and Adam are so happy to see me arrive with food. Triumph ….gotta take pleasure in the little things! So i get some kinda tripe thing that we do not mention just eat and some char siu bao and some siu mai. We gobble up the tripe thing, it was delicious even the kids ate it all up. Now a little calmer we wait for the cart to come back around to our table and get some tea etc. We finally now greet our table mates. They compliment how well the kids eat and we thank them. They ask how long we have been living in Hong Kong as we seem so natural already. We tell them that we are only here for a week visiting family. What an awesome compliment! I think I have graduated from dim sum elementary. It felt so good to give our kids the chance to experience dim sum in Hong Kong with the carts and in one of the oldest establishments.
Now in the present, I just gotta figure out how to sell Adam and the staff to make them everyday and put them on the menu.
Here is the latest recipe for them that I have made:
Makes a package of wonton wrappers, you can make them smaller if you get two packages.
7 26/30 shrimp, coarsely chopped
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts minced
1 package of the fattiest pork usually about 1lb
1 lemon rind, finely minced
4 tsp sugar
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp corn starch
3 tsp rice wine Xiaoxing prefered
2 tsp Hawaiian salt
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1/2 tsp baking soda
Black pepper and white pepper to taste
Package of wonton wrappers, preferable the yellow ones that are thinner
Tobiko for garnish
Fry a little of the filling to see if you like it that way or adjust if needed.
- Mix all the ingredients except the wrappers and tobiko in a bowl
- Wet the outer rim of a wrapper with some water. With one hand, form an “o” by touching you thumb tip to your index finger tip. Place the wonton wrapper on top of the hand forming the “o”. Take a spoonful of the filling and place in the center of the wonton. You want to push the filling down into the hole while cinching down on the sides of the wonton in a choking motion forming a sort of basket with a neck to the wonton. The dough will stretch so gently add filling till you get it the size that you want it. Make sure the top is flat and make sure the wrapper is covering the sides. Set it down firmly on a floured surface to make the bottom of it flat. Garnish with tobiko. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.
- Place the siu mai in a steamer leaving enough space between them so they don’t touch. Steam over high heat for 12-15 minutes.