There’s honestly nothing more frustrating than blind-ordering when out to eat, except maybe to find out that what you ordered is something your whole table dislikes.
A good friend of mine had suggested that we get dim sum over the weekend. Beyond a basic description of “soup dumplings,” they didn’t give a clear picture of what the experience was going to be like. But as a white female raised on Americanized Asian fusion, I had unconsciously set an expectation of what dim sum was going to be like.
Our dim sum was going to be a simplified caricature of the authentic thing, something that would be tailored to my tastes and something easy for us to partake in.
Dim sum is a type of a social dining experience where small portions of Chinese food is served in steamer baskets or plates. It’s traditionally served with endless tea, called yum cha, as breakfast or brunch. It has Cantonese origins that go back to travelers along the Silk Road.
The items were wheeled past us on carts, the attendants told us the Chinese name of the dish, lifting up the tin lid and letting the steam clear. In spite of all the accommodations, the experience was turning out to be increasingly stressful.
Our table had no idea what to do besides choosing items from the cart, after which our bill was stamped depending on the size of the dish. As the person who could see what the cart had to offer, it was my duty to try and pick something. Within the first ten minutes, we ended up with four different unknown dishes. My friend claimed the place where she had gone to before offered an English menu that told you what was in each dish, something that wasn’t available at our location. As the table descended on the mystery selections, I was met with looks of disappointment. Nothing was like what we expected, and it was me who had chosen the wrong ones, so it was my fault that our bill kept increasing with little reward. I was frustrated and infuriated with dim sum, thoroughly displeased. Until I realized I had absolutely no right to be.
It was from a point of privilege that I was trying to force dim sum into my expectation of what Asian food was supposed to be like. I didn’t want the actual traditional experience of Chinese dining, and was instead looking for it to accommodate my Americanized version of what it should have been. If I had taken the time to learn what was usually served, we would have known exactly what was on those carts, what we wanted to order, and would not have had to go through so much trial and error. To think that I could be angry over something I had brought on myself, left me looking directly at my own privilege, and where I had passed over the opportunity to learn more about a culture that I thought I was familiar with.
In future dining adventures, I think it’s important to learn about the origin of the food you’re eating, how it’s prepared and what it means, instead of trying to make it into what you expected it to be. And in regards to dim sum, we’ll definitely be going again.