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
Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant (Dim Sum) - Monterey Park
Yum Cha Cafe (inside the San Gabriel Superstore)
1635 San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776