Of the many famous Cantonese foods, dim sum is quite possibly the most well-known around the world and, as a result, was very high on my to-eat list in Guangzhou.
While in the UK dim sum restaurants are open for both lunch and dinner, it’s apparently much more customary in China to eat such meals with morning tea or lunch at the very latest. As someone who isn’t a huge tea drinker, the idea of two small dim sum and a pot of tea wasn’t exactly the most appealing combination, but when in Rome and all that!
There are a number of famous dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou and the reviews tend to range from “OMG BEST DIM SUM EVERRRR” to “Nah avoid, overpriced and rude service”. After a morning’s sightseeing I found myself not too far from Panxi – one such restaurant with a big reputation and polarising reviews – and my decision was made.
My initial impression was that, judging by the outside of the place, I’d struggle to get a table at midday on a Sunday. It was a fairly unassuming place and didn’t look all that big.
What’s that old phrase about not judging a book by its cover? Well, in this case it was clear you should never judge a restaurant by its entrance. Upon entering I was led through a series of twisting paths lined with greenery on one side and a lake on the other; the sheer size of the place was incredible!
It seemed to keep on going forever before I was finally seated in one of the many huge dining halls, among many other people with the same idea. The place was abuzz with chatter and the clanking of teapots. I daresay if you came with company you’d need to raise your voice just to be understood. Afternoon tea in London, this was not!
As I mentioned I am far from a tea connoisseur and back home it would be incredibly far down on the list, so when I was handed a traditional Chinese tea set and a pack of loose tea I had absolutely no bloody idea where to begin. Thankfully, help was at hand as one of the waiters came along and got to work on brewing up!
Thankfully the menu contained pictures so it was nice and easy to order. I decided against the traditional two pieces and went with a much larger order of what I’d been recommended: har gao (shrimp dumplings), red rice rolls (a sort of crispy, rice-stuffed spring roll type thingy), chicken feet and egg tarts.
First to arrive were the chicken feet. I’ve never quite understood why people eat these as I’ve found the effort far outweighs the pay-off, however I’d been told they were a must-eat in Guangzhou so here they were sat in front of me.
I decided to dig in without waiting for the rest to arrive and had a real struggle navigating a chicken foot with chopsticks! I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to use my hands in a place like this but in the end I was left with no choice. My usual grumble about chicken feet is that there’s too much tendon and not enough actual bloody meat on them but I have to say this particular batch seemed to have a bit more about them than usual. Maybe they were fat chickens. The sauce was great too!
The egg tarts arrived next but it seemed a little strange to have sweet in between savoury so I waited for the shrimp dumplings to arrive. The pastry was thin and chewy, perfectly steamed and they were packed to the point of bursting with shrimp. Simple yet very effective.
Last to arrive were the red rice rolls which – despite not being outstanding and a little soggier than I expected – did the trick. Perhaps a little filling for one person, but as I say whenever I want to justify being a greedy bastard: when in Rome.
Speaking of pure gluttony, I put away all three egg tarts too. Imagine a Gregg’s egg custard, minus the bit of skin on top and you’re in the right ballpark. A light dinner was on the cards later that evening – after a visit to the beer museum with free samples, that is!
After one more pot of tea, I settled the bill which came to a fairly reasonable 120RMB (£13.29) and went on my way. Apparently I’d been seated in a room which included an extra 10% charge with no apparent explanation. I’d play the ‘foreigner tax’ card, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one in there that wasn’t Chinese! Just another example of China logic.