On a recent visit to Houston, I had dim sum with my daughter and my siblings at Yum Yum Cha Cafe in Rice Village (2435 Times Blvd., 713-527-8455, no web site). Dim sum, sometimes called “Chinese tapas,” are bite-size dumplings, buns or tofu filled with meat, seafood or vegetables. Houston’s Chinese food aficionados know that most of the city’s dim sum restaurants are clustered in the southwest area’s Chinatown, so Yum Yum Cha, nestled near the Museum District in the 610 Loop, is a rare find. Even better, Yum Yum Cha also serves dim sum on weekdays and most evenings— traditionally, this diminutive treat is only served during weekend brunch-time.
Also, I must confess that as a Cantonese Chinese-American, I don’t even care for dim sum that much! (I’d sooner go for Spanish tapas!) But I’ve gotta say Yum Yum Cha’s fresh and tasty delicacies live up to their name! (By the way, “yum cha” means “to drink tea.”) Besides over 50 dim sum items listed on the checklist menu where you place your order (much like old-school sushi houses), there are several fragrant teas to wash it down. There is a menu “picture book” that shows each item, unlike the traditional rolling cart found in most dim sum restaurants, which stops at each table and you point at what you want. Since the tiny restaurant holds less than a dozen tables with little aisle space, that’s a very good thing!
I ordered Nor Mai Guy (Sticky rice with chicken and bits of pork and shrimp wrapped in a fist-sized lotus leaf) and Yong Kai Jiu (Eggplant stuffed with shrimp), and also sampled my vegetarian daughter’s Ja To Fu (Fried Tofu with shrimp) and Jai Chong Fun (Vegetarian Rice Roll). I wanted to try her So Chow Wall Tet (Vegetable Dumpling) and also my brother’s Hueng Sai Gau (Cilantro Shrimp Dumpling), but they were so delectable that there was none left on the plates by the time I got to them! The portions are generally served 3-4 pieces to a plate, so they’re made for sharing (if you care to!). The standout dish for me has to be the Yong Kai Jiu— the shrimp is wrapped around the eggplant with a fried, tempura-like coating for a crunchy-outside, buttery-soft inside texture. I would definitely recommend the Nor Mai Guy for tamale lovers—it’s similar in composition. Be sure to dapple on some chili sauce and a bit of soy sauce (both available at each table) for good measure!
If you think dim sum in Rice Village might be pricey, the 10 dishes shared by our party of five totaled just over $26.00. Houston’s sweltering summer heat didn’t entice us to take tea with our meal, but it wouldn’t have added more than a few dollars to the cost. One other item nixed due to weather that my sisters were tempted to order, jook, traditional Chinese rice porridge, is available on weekends.