If you enjoy meals with a variety of foods but don't enjoy the buffet experience, there is another way — that doesn't involve a sneeze guard. That way has a name, and it is dim sum.
Dim sum can be found at Grand House China Bistro, 2701 N Classen, and Fung's Kitchen, 3231 N Classen, in the Asian District every weekend.
Dim sum is traditional Cantonese cuisine, akin to Spanish tapas. Small dishes with a wide variety of fillings are offered by servers pushing carts and carrying trays. Traditional ordering is cast aside as diners choose foods as they roll or walk by. Thai and Kathy Tien's Grand House China Bistro offers more than 50 assorted dishes that come in small, medium, large and extra large. Prices start around $3 per plate.
When you're seated, the hostess will leave what looks like a scorecard on your table. Servers push carts or tote trays of food directly to your table, give a description and await a go-ahead to leave a plate or two or three with you. If you take one, they stamp your scorecard and move along. By the time your small plate, perhaps a dumpling or a couple of steamed pork buns, is finished, another server will appear with different choices. The options will be presented early and often, but there is no obligation to take a dish each time one is offered. If you did, your meal would be over in about 10 minutes.
"This is a part of Chinese culture," Thai said. "Large groups or families gather together for dim sum. It's very traditional."
The experience can be a drag race or a tiptoe through the turnip cakes. Like the buffet, diners can try a variety of foods. Unlike it, that sense of urgency that creeps into us all as we see people crowd around the feeding trough is alleviated because not only does the food come to you, it's being made fresh in the kitchen constantly. The servers parade out of the kitchen to the tables until their foods are gone, then return to the kitchen for reinforcements.
"Dim sum is served every day in China," Kathy said.
After going for dim sum, it's easy to see why that's the case and has been for perhaps 1,000 years. Thai said the tradition dates to the Tang Dynasty, which was from the 600s to 900s.
The Tien Dynasty began in Oklahoma City when Thai and Kathy opened Grand House as the disco era was in its death throes.
Thai came to Oklahoma City by way of Boston in 1980, where he lived for four years after his initial immigration from Hong Kong. Kathy's parents left Hong Kong the 1950s, first moving to Vietnam, where she was born. They then moved to France and from there to the United States.
"We moved here in 1982," she said. "We had a friend who owned a restaurant here. She told us to come to Oklahoma City because it was cheaper to live here and had few Chinese restaurants."
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