Chinatown in San Francisco rivals that of New York, and I always look forward to comparing restaurants and styles. As a huge fan of dim sum, my only complaint is that the variety and selection at most restaurants have narrowed. Dishes tend to look and taste the same, as less attention is put on branching out to other choices, and I don’t mean more chicken feet. At Ton Kiang, a restaurant on Geary Blvd. specializing in Hakka cuisine, my dim sum prayers were answered.
As could be read through their website, “The Hakka people originated in the far north of China over 1000 years ago. During the course of several great migrations they dispersed across China and throughout Asia. Many settled near the Ton Kiang (East River) Province. Hakka means “guest” and refers to people living in an area who are not natives. The Hakka people picked up dishes and ingredients from each of the regions through which they traveled and incorporated them into their cuisines.”
Therefore the menu offers a much wider variety of classic Chinese dishes. My bartender friend Jared at the W hotel suggested Ton Kiang, but stressed, “Go early.” I showed up at 11:00 am and had to wait an hour. From the looks of things I thought they were giving away something for free, or I was a tourist who didn’t know the code word for gaining access.
When I finally got in, what a sight to behold. A tantalizing parade of delicacies transported me to Hong Kong. The rapid fire attack of hot, fresh goodies never ceased. Every time I ordered a dish, the next one seemed more interesting. And everyone spoke a food competent English. No translation was necessary, though. Shrimp dumplings get pea tips, chives, spinach, napa cabbage, mushroom or scallops. There are pork buns, dumplings, roast chicken, duck, and sticky rice with meat wrapped in a leaf. I feasted on asparagus (asparagus!), long beans, bok choy, shrimp-stuffed eggplants and rice crepes. There were pig knuckles, clams, fried prawns, stuffed scallops, crab claws and egg rolls. It was a dizzying display of masterful dishes, not a melon in the lot.
As usual I ordered far more than I can eat, but with ingredients that fresh, and preparation that satisfying, who can blame me?
There was no time to talk, and I definitely skipped dessert. It was easily the most powerful dim sum experience I had ever enjoyed. Since then I have been lamenting in NYC. I’ve got dim sum on my mind.