Chau Chow City Restaurant
Location and Contact Info
|Address||83 Essex Street|
Gigantic Small Plates Emporium
In the heart of Chinatown, just blocks from Boston Commons, lies Chau Chow City, a local institution that serves dim sum to hundreds of people every day. It's a heck of a show to watch, and a real cultural treat.
On the first floor, Chau Chow offers conventional Chinese fare. It's pretty good, but not the main attraction.
Bound up the stairs to the seccond floor, and you enter a sacred hall of Chinese small plate deliciousness. There's room for several hundred, and on weekends, the tables turn quickly.
If you are unfamiliar with dim sum, you are in for a treat. Dim sum is an experience, not just a type of food. The food is distinctive - small plates of steamed or fried buns and dumplings which contain beef, chicken, shrimp, pork, or vegetables. You usually get 3-4 items on each plate, and they count the plates to tally your bill. The food is served from a nearly continuous stream of metal carts, with servers who speak broken English imperfectly. You can cover your table in plates within minutes - fast food can't touch this place.
The drink of choice is tea - dim sum originated in Cantonese tea houses. Dim sum is very social. Everyone shares the small plates, family style, and you will see very large extended Chinese families with 4 or more generations at a table. Families bring kids, to catch up with each other, discuss the news of the day, and enjoy some "us" time.
Because of the way it is delivered, you may see the dessert cart first. Be patient, as the range of product is staggering and the next cart may have 4 of your favorites. You pretty much just eyeball what you want - potstickers, siu mai, shrimp dumplings, Char siu baau (BBQ pork bun), Shanghai steamed dumplings with pork or shrimp, rice noodle rolls filled with your choice of ingredients (get extra sauce, because it's killer), lotus leaf rice, spare ribs, and of course dessert. The servers will describe everything, but much will get lost in the translation. Let your eyes be your guide.
They also have some othe items that may not appeal to you like Congee (a thick, sticky rice porridge with a meat), chicken feet, and some things with a blood sauce that would frighten even Anthony Bourdain. This place is the real deal.
While not at all a dim sum item, we always order some hot and sour soup, which they must order from downstairs. Order this first, and you will have it in time for dessert. When it magically appears, everyone beams proudly like they have pulled off something really special for you. It is some of the best I've ever had, and always leaves me sweating.
Be prepared for a wait. It's worth it. The food is outstanding, and you can feed a family of four for about $50.
Warning - while I find this food delicious and relatively bland, I have taken some dim sum newbies there and they were grossed out. So choose your company carefully.
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