I've been ruminating about what constitutes an authentic ethnic dining experience and I came to a conclusion yesterday during dim sum.
I ventured away from Chinatown and the upscale Chinese restaurants. Instead I took the advice from The Tablehopper's Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco and traveled to the outer Sunset district to S & T Hong Kong Seafood.
I am not a restaurant reviewer, sheesh I'd never want to be, but I have spent a lot of time in Monterey Park and have visited Hong Kong and China a few times. That's my way of saying I speak fairly fluent dim sum.
The line was out the door. Always a great sign.
We were the only Caucasians in the restaurant. Even a better sign.
After we were seated, the waiter arrived. He looked a little perplexed by my party of giggling teenage girls.
Then the fun began.
I ordered cokes.
"We only have tea here," he replied.
The girls were embarrassed. They're fourteen. Need I say more?
I saw the twinkle in the server's eye. He was toying with us. Kind of like a cat playing with a dead mouse.
I continued, "We'll need forks for the kids, please."
"Sorry, no forks in this restaurant. Only chopsticks."
This isn't the part where I recognized the authenticity, tea and chopsticks and all, but it is when I knew this place was a keeper.
The waiter's English wasn't great; my Cantonese is non-existent, yet the ordering was simple with the pre-printed menu card.
No carts here. I love all that bustle and pointing, however there is something special about each dish being cooked to order that makes up for it.
Everything was delicious from the staples of ha gow (shrimp dumpling) and siu mai (pork dumpling) to my personal fave yook chong fun (beef rice roll) served with sweet soy sauce.
And the authenticity?
For me it means not one iota of the restaurant or menu caters to tourists. Authentic is 100% genuine and true to the cuisine and culture.
No fusions. No kid-friendly options. No "nudge nudge wink wink" we can Americanize it for you.
Food in its purest form.
Xie xie!!!