Eating & Drinking

DesBrisay Dines: Hung Sum

The recent re-opening of Hung Sum has been greeted with mixed emotion, judging from what I’ve read online. Some writers are delighted by the food, the service; others are mad as hell for having to wait too long to receive either. I’m more in the first camp, though I’ll admit to heeding the warnings/whinging about queues and delays, and planning my Hung Sum visits carefully. No weekends, no Labour Day Monday, no peak hours. My experience?… I was seated immediately in a half-filled room and had tea and turnip cakes in ten minutes.

Dim sum at Hung Sum
Dim sum at Hung Sum

As I was leaving, however, I began to see the snags others have described. Still, let’s just say a big ol’ Hurrah! Hung Sum is back.

Some history: Nearly two years ago, in November 2015, the family-run dim sum restaurant closed, much to the consternation of many. I was among the hand-wringers. In the intervening months, I thought someone, somewhere, surely, would step up and fill the gap, but I’ve not found anything in this city to rival the delicacy and craftsmanship of Hung Sum’s dumplings. They aren’t fancy, adorned, or particularly creative… but they are delicious, filling and affordable. I’ve missed them.

Guessing the kinks that come with a bigger venue and new kitchen might linger for a few weeks after their re-opening (they do; read on…) I decided to give Hung Sum 2.0 three weeks – that was all my craving would allow – before I visited its new location a few blocks west, at 939 Somerset.

The menu, so far as I can see, has made the move unaltered. It tours the typical dim sum staples: Turnip cakes, made with daikon radish, the soft squares studded with sweet chewy ham; the open-topped siu mai with pork and leek, and others with shrimp and chives; steamed pork buns (char siu bao); chewy-spongy chicken feet with black bean sauce; rice noodle rolls filled with beef (or maybe I had the pork, can’t recall), drizzled with a sweet soy sauce; steamed squid, super tender, with strings of leek and ginger; pork potstickers, a cut above; lo mai gai (lotus leaf wrapped around sticky rice); Chinese broccoli with garlic; the translucent shrimp dumplings with shiny stretchy skins called har gow; and my favourite, the crunchy dumplings with those same translucent skins, filled with sweet diced pork, chunks of shrimp and peanuts. There’s also congee and stuffed eggplant, beef tripe and spicy chicken wings… but I didn’t get to those; those for another visit.

Turnip cakes at Hung Sum
Turnip cakes at Hung Sum

The old Hung Sum location was far too small for trolley service, and though the new place is bigger, we are still served in the Hung Sum style – straight from the kitchen to the table, so the product is super fresh and super hot, none of the steam escaping, as it would were the baskets allowed to weave around a room on a trolley.

And therein may lie one problem: perception. At traditional dim sum service restaurants, food carts arrive pretty much the second you are seated. Often before you’ve shed your coat and the ubiquitous pot of (inferior) tea lands on the table. Not the way here. At Hung Sum, you place your order on a sheet of paper, and you wait for the kitchen to make your dumplings to order. As for the tea, there’s an 80-cent charge — get over it. There’s a choice of quality loose leaf teas, and for that, I’m happy to fork out a pittance for a better-than-usual pot.

As I was chop-sticking-up the last siu mai and wondering if I had room for egg tarts (not a hope), the queue at the Hung Sum door had grown. One server was patiently explaining the menu to the family of four next to me – ‘What had peanuts in it? What was gluten free? Was anything spicy? ‘- and the other was hand-writing receipts for a table of six men, each one paying separately (honestly, guys…?!?), laboriously figuring out the separate cheques on her calculator while the bell was ringing in the kitchen for pickup. Ten minutes before, the room had been perfectly well managed by these two women. Clearly they need more servers, particularly as more and more folk who don’t know the ABCs of dim sum are flocking here.

So here’s what you do before approaching Hung Sum: go online and look at the menu. Anything unfamiliar, google it. Know what you want before you arrive. Bring cash if you can. Extra toonies to plug the metres. And for now, until the system is fully operational, don’t come on a Labour Day Monday at 6:30pm. If you do, don’t whine about the service. Take a breath, slurp some tea, and learn for next time.

Welcome back, dear Hung Sum, say I.

939 Somerset St. W., 613-680-3228
Cash and debit only