Annals of Dim Sum Innovation: Jin Fong and Very Tong Vie for Supremacy
Three years ago, the city was in the dim sum doldrums, a condition that had persisted for a decade or more. What you got when you traipsed into one of the football-field-size dining rooms was a procession of carts bearing tidbits that were gummy, gluey, and stale-tasting, made with shrimp redolent of iodine and meat-paste stuffings that might have been library paste. Now, all that has changed.
Not only do we have great dim sum in all the standard configurations -- from shrimp noodles to braised tripe to fluffy pork-stuffed bao to two or more kinds of chicken feet -- but we have them at a half-dozen standout places in Flushing, Sunset Park, and Manhattan's Chinatown. And now great dim sum can found in Forest Hills, Queens, and Borough Park, Brooklyn, and more will certainly follow in far-flung places. Theories vary as to the reason for the bounce-back, but my favorite is that middle-class Chinese-Americans who had moved to the suburbs are returning to Chinatowns, assimilated children in tow, to show them just how wonderful dim sum is.
While all the standard varieties are still available, dim summeries are now vying with each other in a race to innovate, as it's done in Hong Kong. In Manhattan's Chinatown, Jin Fong (20 Elizabeth Street, 212-964-5256) fashions dyed sweet-potato starch into carrot shapes and stuffs them with peanut butter -- and the kids go crazy. Using Chinese sausage and pastry something like a cross between a bao and a croissant, they also make a tasty version of that cocktail classic, pigs in blankets.