From the archives: August 12, 2016, Dim sum in Cairo

Sara Leikin Sara Leikin

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From the archives: August 12, 2016, Dim sum in Cairo
From the archives: August 12, 2016, Dim sum in Cairo

Dim sum. Just the phrase floods my brain with images, my mouth starts to water and my stomach growls at the thought of it. Dumplings filled with molten shrimp and pork. Emerald green sautéed bok choi. Chicken feet. Peking duck. Silver carts overflowing with bamboo steamers and porcelain bowls. 

My parents used to take my sister and me to dim sum in Cleveland's Chinatown and it's that rattle of carts and constant motion of servers and spinning lazy susans that I remember, not necessarily the food. It wasn't until I was older and searching it out on my own that the flavors and smells made sense to me and caused me to plan entire days around searching it out. Yank Sing in San Francisco remains a gold standard for quality, but a recent excursion to Fung's Kitchen in Houston and today's meal at Restaurant 8 in Cairo remind me what the true allure is. Dim sum, like crawfish boils, are social events. This is food meant to be shared. That energy that made such an impact on me as a kid wasn't about the food, it was about the loud, extended families gathered communally to pluck steamers and bowls from those carts and catch up with one another while devouring  shrimp har gow and molten xiao long bao. 

Most of my dim sum experiences reflect this tradition. Cairo is different. Restaurant 8 sits on the second floor of the Four Seasons Nile Plaza overlooking the always congested Corniche and the fast-moving Nile beyond. With its teak walls, velvet banquets and never-ending cups of jasmine tea, it is an oasis of calm. On Fridays, it hosts a dim sum brunch that has become a regular part of my routine here. No carts rolling up the aisles, but rather the restaurant sets up a buffet in the kitchen. The first time I came, I was disappointed. The presentation and quality were exceptional, but it wasn't the experience that I knew. As I put the familiar dumplings on my plate, I began to mentally cross it off my list: glad to have seen the beautiful room, but probably not to return. I was with colleagues and we were seated at a large round table in front of a picture window with a tremendous view of the Nile. There was a lazy susan and it was soon full of juicy Peking duck. Our conversation flowed from the Nile to work to our lives in the US. We walked together back to the kitchen for seconds. Then thirds. Other tables began filling with groups of friends and families. A quiet humming of happy diners filled the room as the staff silently moved between tables to clear plates and refill cups of tea. Although it did not have the trappings of the experience I knew, it was exactly the experience that I loved. Good food, shared with good people. 

My colleague, Deborah, joined me today at Restaurant 8. We talked about work, relationships, and doctoral programs. We sat in a corner banquet tucked in among several cushions and enjoyed dumplings, duck and crab claws. Across from us a mother was quietly and patiently helping her young daughter use chopsticks. The staff remembered us from our last visit and greeted us and walked us out with big smiles. 

(點心 ,is usually loosely translated as "touch the heart". It's a good definition for what an afternoon of dim sum will do for a person. 

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