Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yum Cha Cafe - San Gabriel

Growing up, my Lunar New Year rituals always included cleaning the house and helping my parents with the altar offerings to ensure a prosperous year ahead. Then on the day of the Lunar New Year, we'd get lots of visitors or go visiting ourselves.

So on the first day of the Year of the Pig, my siblings and I visited our aunts and uncles. As a child, in order to get li xi (red money envelopes) I'd have to cross my arms in front of my chest, bow, greet the elder with a proper salutation, wish them a prosperous year ahead and that they'd live to 100 years old. Now, I and they, are so Americanized a simple "Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year)" is enough.

But the real meaning of Tet (Vietnamese New Year) has always been about family. So I went out to eat with my brother and lil' sis and we spent the day visiting relatives.

If you're superstitious and want to start off the year with lots of luck, eat dumplings for wealth (because they resemble little money bags) and noodles for health (because they'll give you long life).

We figured all the dim sum restaurants would be packed with families and we didn't feel like dealing with long waits. So off to Yum Cha Cafe in San Gabriel we went. Don't know what yum cha means? Yum cha (drinking tea) in Cantonese is the custom of eating small servings of food while drinking tea. Sounds like dim sum you say? It is. I first heard the term yum cha in Sydney, Australia, when my cousins' family took us out for yum cha. Hello/G'day. Different words, same meaning.

Yum Cha Cafe is located inside the San Gabriel Superstore. If you've never been to the superstore, go. It's a large, well-lit, clean Asian grocery store with open-air stalls selling music, cds, clothing, dried goods, and dim sum.

Even though the dim sum is under heat lamps, there is quite a bit of turnover so the food is relatively fresh. Also, you can substitute one item for another if it's the same order. For example, an order of taro cakes includes three pieces, but I substituted one for a piece of turnip cake. And instead of three shrimp dumplings, I got one of pork. Same price, two offerings.

Everything below, plus three cups of tea, was about $9. Not bad at all. Everything was good except for the shrimp egg rolls, which were soggy. From top going clockwise: shrimp cheong fun (Chinese rice noodle rolls), char siu bao, shrimp siu mai, har gow, shrimp egg rolls, taro and turnip cakes, shrimp and pork dumplings.

The shrimp rice noodles were the real reason we came to Yum Cha Cafe. They're made fresh when you order, so you can see the batter being poured, the shrimp piled in a row, steamed, then rolled. Watch Henry Chan's video, which prompted lil' sis to request we go to Yum Cha Cafe in the first place. I had one order from the dim sum line, while my brother ordered two more from the fresh noodles line. Fresh makes a big difference. One order of three rolls is $1.39.

If you're still feeling superstitious, you'll also want to grab one of their free-range whole chickens, including head and feet. You don't want to cut it up or you won't have a completely prosperous year.

And since it is the Year of the Pig, a little roast pig seemed fitting.

Half a pound was $5.79. That's a little pricier than the $6.99 a pound price I'm used to at most other places. But I have to admit, this roast pig was really good. The meat was flavorful, the skin was crispy and light.

There's also a Vietnamese corner with banh mi and che, but I didn't see anyone venture over there that day.

Who else ate at Yum Cha Cafe?
Henry Chan's food video of the batter being poured and steamed for a freshly made shrimp cheong fun was what started it all.

Other dim sum restaurant posts:
Bon Marche Bistro/B Village Cuisine (Dim Sum) - Monterey Park

Capital Dim Sum & BBQ - Monterey Park
CBS Seafood Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Los Angeles (Chinatown)
Dim Sum Express - Monterey Park
Elite Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Monterey Park
Full House Seafood Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Arcadia
Lunasia Chinese Cuisine (Dim Sum) - Alhambra

Yum Cha Cafe (inside the San Gabriel Superstore)
1635 San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776


  1. Mmm... They have quite a few places like this up in Silicon Valley. Now you've gone and made me homesick.

  2. I've been wanting to try this place ever since I saw Henry's video. Thanks for the review. BTW, what are those things that look like fried pig tails.

  3. Able to mix and match, tt's good! What's the long thingy beside the pan-fried turnip cake in the 3rd pix?

    Roast pig looks so crispy! What's roasted pig without the crispy skin...hahah!

  4. Hi WC - They charged you to chop up the roast pork? What the heck....I hope it's not a trend that catches on.

  5. Hey CP,
    I remember when the 99 Ranch in Richmond opened up with a dim sum corner. Man, it was packed!

    Hi Elmo and Tigerfish,
    Haha. Those were the soggy shrimp egg rolls. I fixed it so all the dim sum items are IDed.

    Hi Kirk,
    I did the math and realized it was tax so I took it out. But I was confused b/c the guy said $5.35 and it's written on my box, then he distinctly said, cut up? And then came back with the $5.79 price so I thought he was charging for that cutting. Ah well, either way, that's kinda pricey eh?

  6. Dumplings for wealth and noodles for health? Now, that's a motto I could live by! I really enjoyed this post. Thanks so much!

  7. Hey Susan,
    You could eat gnocchi and noodle pasta for the Lunar New Year and have wealth and health too. :)

  8. Nice post....they recently opened up a location in monterey park, on atlantic blvd.

    Thanks for the info...this place looks great!

  9. Anon,
    I just noticed the Shun Fat location two days ago! Gotta check it out and see if they have freshly steamed cheong fun there too.

  10. WC - this looks amazing!

    But, I don't speak or read chinese - on the printed out menu do they also have stuff in English? Or can I just point?

    Many thanks for your great finds!

  11. oddlyme,
    I don't speak Chinese either, only the food words. ;) So just pointing is fine. I highly recommend the shrimp rice noodle rolls though!

    And thank YOU for reading!

  12. WC -

    The shrimp rolls are what started this whole thing - so of course I'm going to get those! I LOVE shrimp rolls, and those looked so tender. Yum

    And thank you too for letting me know that the international language of pointing works there : )

    You are such a help in my adventures!

  13. oddlyme,
    Have you been to any of the other places I've blogged about? I'd love to get feedback on your experiences.

  14. WC,

    I've emailed you previously - I did go to the pizza place by the dollar tree in Monterey Park and fell in love. I totally agree with your take on that. And I've adored Fosselman's for YEARS.

    This weekend I really hope to get to the Yum Cha cafe - I'll gave you my thoughts if I do!

    But as I live by Glendale - not Alhambra - there won't be much crossover in our places. Unless you ever decide to check out Porto's bakery - I'll give you tips on that place, yum!

  15. oddlyme,
    Ah, I think I know who you are from the Bollini's comment. You should have told me sooner since you didn't tell me what name you were going to comment under. And yes, I've saved your Porto's suggestions.

  16. Dear WC -

    I am sitting here with a full happy tummy - because I finally went to Yum Cha cafe in San Gabriel!

    It was packed (it was midday on a weekend after all) but they now have a numbers system, like a deli, and they were pretty stern about it. So as long as you kept an eye on the numbers and pushed foward at the right time, you were fine.

    The shrimp rice noodles were divine. So tender and fluffy, and so cheap! We pointed and begged and way overbought. And it was grand.

    Thanks so much for your write up, it helped us have a really fun day

  17. oddlyme,
    Ah! So glad you finally got a chance to check it out. You just reminded me that I haven't had the shrimp rice noodles in forever. So tender and luscious.


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