Coming from Toronto which is a huge metropolitan city with a large Chinese community, I really took Chinese food for granted. When I first moved to Charleston, IL I was a little shocked at how the only Chinese food you could really get was in buffets. Soon enough I was yearning for many of the dishes I could get so readily in Toronto, and two of them were Chinese BBQ and Dim Sum. While I've yet to find a Chinese BBQ joint (that's a topic for another blog post), I was ECSTATIC that we managed to find a really great place for Dim Sum in Champaign-Urbana called Saigon.
While the restaurant is primarily a vietnamese place (we'll have to blog about their vietnamese fare after another visit!), they have a bunch of Chinese dishes on the menu, along with a dim sum menu they serve until 3PM. For the uninitiated, dim sum is sort of like the Chinese version of tapas or brunch - small servings of various appetizer-like dishes, usualy served with tea. Traditionally dishes are just marched out onto little carts while the waitresses call out what they have and you pick things off the cart, but here things are made to order. You lose a little of the dim sum experience this way, but at least you know what you're getting is fresh. While they don't have every single type of dim sum I'm familiar with, their selection is very good and the quality is quite excellent! Now onwards to the food!
Here is one of Mollie's favorites. I'm not sure what the real name is (I'm not fluent in Chinese), but I've always called them breadstick rolls. I think they called them bread stick crepes on the menu. They're crispy deep fried bread sticks wrapped with a soft, thick rice paper roll called cheung fun, topped with green onions and drizzled with a sweet soy sauce. The contrasting textures and the sweet and saltiness mixes together into a pretty addictive package.
If you like calamari, this dish is right up your alley - curried baby octopus (though I believe they're actually cuttle fish, but I could be wrong). They're steamed in curry sauce and the result is an extremely tender texture with just a little bit of bite to it. The best thing is biting into the cap part of having the curry sauce explode in your mouth. Don't be scared away by the tentacles!
Next up we had something I *believe* is called something like Oo Gok, but it was called a Deep Fried Taro Dumpling. I affectionately call them "hairy balls". The dumplings are made of taro which is a root vegatable sort of like potato, but stickier. It's stuffed with ground pork and fried in some sort of batter that becomes super fluffy as you can see. YUMMY!
Next up was stuffed eggplant. I believe they're stuffed with deep fried minced shrimp and covered with a chicken broth-based sauce that had subtle hints of ginger and soy and finally topped with green onions.
Here is one of my favorites, a steamed BBQ Pork Bun, aka Char Siu Bow. These morsels of steamed heaven are filled with a sweet and savory BBQ pork that will instantly ignite your appetite when you crack one of these bad boys open and let the steaming aroma fill your nostrils.
These are called Shu Mai and they're steamed pork and shrimp dumpling wrapped in a wonton skin. I believe there's also a little mushroom mixed in with the pork and shrimp. They're a staple of any Dim Sum menu and you can't go without trying them. They're perfectly cooked and tender, and you'll find yourself wanting more after you've quickly popped them all down.
Here's my favorite - steamed shrimp dumblings (aka har gow). shrimp is stuffed into these little sticky rice flower pockets and steamed. Again, this dish is a staple of dim sum meals that I simple MUST have every time we go. This last time they might've been a tiiiiny bit overcooked (usually they're completely emaculate), but I still wolfed them down like there was no tomorrow.
We finished off our meal with these steamed egg sponge cakes that are topped with a few sesame seeds. They're extremely fluffy, but have a little elasticity from the eggs and are the perfect way to end a meal.
So, all in all, for this transplanted Chinese-Canadian Toronto native, Saigon's dim sum is a godsend that I highly recommend for people in central Illinois looking for dim sum, or people totally unfamiliar with dim sum who want to try something new that's not your usual Chinese buffet fare. Trust me, you won't regret it!
1333 Savoy Plaza Ln