One of the greatest pleasures in life is the Dim Sum experience. Imagine gathering around a table with noisy friends and family, flagging down food carts and indulging in a sea of small Chinese delights with smooth, hot tea. A weekend routine for many but a favorite pastime I jump on at any change I get. If you’ve never tried it, Lawd have mercy. Let’s get you up to speed. Dubbed by locals as the “best” dim sum in Montreal, La Maison Kam Fung is arguably the most popular destination to get it on and my first choice.
All of Montreal is here during the weekend rush. A slight exaggeration, but you get my point. Come 11:00-11:30 am, the house is jam-packed with a disorderly mob anxiously waiting outside to get in. Why? Most people want to sleep in, there’s more variety and the high turnover rate guarantees the freshest food. Even so, swap nightmare lineups for bearable ones by coming a little earlier. It can be intimidating for a newbie but take a number from the hostess and stick around.
Dim Sum is strongly centered around tea. At Kam Fung, they serve Jasmin, Oolong, Chrysanthemum and Pu-erh. Unless you make a request, they bring whatever’s readily available. Before getting started, pop up the lid and check if it’s steeped enough. If you want to get formal, always pour a cup of tea for everyone before yourself. When you’re all out, turn the lid upside down or leave it ajar to let the waiter know you need a refill.
There’s no menu. Instead, there’s a team of ladies working the crowd, pushing their carts while belting out what’s coming your way. I get a good whiplashing from goodies stacked high in bamboo steamers, deep in a mystery pot or exposed on a plate coming at me from all directions. So exciting.
The stamp card on the table is basically your bill. It’s blank at first, but each time you get something, the lady puts her initials in the appropriate box. Each dish features 3-4 pieces and prices range between $2.50 and $3.75.
It’s always best to have a Cantonese-speaking friend to ease the language barrier between the ladies and your party, especially for your first time, but it’s not necessary. If you see something you want, make eye contact and point at what you like. Chances are you’ll end up with a few dishes that’ll raise eyebrows but you might discover a new favorite! It’s perfectly fine to chase them down, bring your stamp card; I’m just too embarrassed to do it. When you don’t see what you came for, let someone know and if they have any left, they’ll bring it hot and fresh from the kitchen to your table. Speaking of the kitchen, the best seat in the house is at the table closest to it. Dibs on everything!
Dumplings, rolls, buns. Fried stuff, steamed stuff, weird stuff. There’s nothing quite like a mosaic of small, delicious dim sum dishes at the mercy of my chopsticks. Here’s a brief run down of some of my favorites.
Har Gow: I live for these steamed shrimp dumplings. Each piece, a cluster of shrimp, pink and plump, barely visible through thin, perfectly pleated, delicately chewy skin. What a tease. If I could get one dish and one dish only, this would be it.
Oh and, any dumpling wrapped in the same translucent skin used for Har Gow is a good bet.
Pork, Shrimp and Chinese Chive Potstickers: Flat and round dumplings made with a tasty mix of said ingredients sandwiched between wonton wrappers. Pan-fried but not to a crisp. Smear with hoisin sauce for a sweet touch. I can never stop at one.
Shrimp Rice Noodle Rolls: Fresh sheets of rice noodles, soft and elastic, rolled around whole shrimp. Also available in equally delicious beef, BBQ pork and fried dough. They’re tricky to handle uncut, so slice them in three parts with your chopsticks. Be sure to mop the sweet soy sauce with each piece for crucial flavor.
Steamed Spareribs: Coated with starch and steamed with fermented black beans, bite-sized chunks of ribs turn out slippery and moist. They sit in a puddle of their own juices and glisten with glorious fat. Watch out for bones.
Stuffed Eggplant: Pink and perky shrimp nestled in thick slices of mushy Japanese eggplant. Drenched in oyster sauce and dripping with oil. Yum!
When you’re all done, lay the propped-up stamp card down. That cues the waiter to tally everything up. If it doesn’t, just flag any waiter in black and white. I don’t necessarily think dim sum is best enjoyed with a large group because I can have a great time being ½ of the table. However, with more people you can try more dishes for an unbelievably small price. Assuming you’ll be splitting the bill and depending on the number of people, each person can stuff themselves silly for as low as $10.00 and no more than $25.00.
At Kam Fung, dim sum is available all week from 7:00am to 3:00pm and reservations can be made for weekdays only. If you get a hankering during off hours, a small selection of dishes are available à la carte for a higher price. But there’s no fun in that. Carts start rolling out at 10:00am or 11:00am and the hustle & bustle are part of the complete package. The unconcerned and sometimes impatient cart ladies too. No one’s going to kiss your ass here. It’s part of the charm. Knowing what to expect and loving what they do, La Maison Kam Fung rarely lets me down.
Dim Sum literally means “touch the heart”, and well, it certainly does mine.
La Maison Kam Fung
1111 rue Saint-Urbain, 2nd floor | map