In Cantonese, dim sum means ‘touch the heart.’ It’s a meal to be shared, an abundant sampling of items to fill your heart’s content alongside the company of family and friends.
If you think dim sum is just steamed dumplings served in bamboo baskets, you are probably missing out on 75 per cent of the menu. There should be something for everyone, with dishes ranging from steamed to fried, sweet to savory, and everything in between. This range, and the overall flavour, is what keeps me coming back to Southland Restaurant.
As you walk into Southland you will see a pastry case with patrons just swinging by to purchase dozens of freshly made egg tarts and pineapple buns to-go. This is a good sign that you too should be ordering these items when you’re seated.
When you’re greeted, tell the host you want the Dim Sum Menu (they have it in Chinese and in English). In Chinese restaurants during dim sum service servers are often not assigned to specific tables. Instead, front of house staff help take orders and bus tables collectively, which is how they do it here. This means you can flag down any of them to assist you during your meal – which you might have to do when it gets busy.
When you’re asked what you want to drink, I recommend “ pu-erh tea” which is believed to aid in digestion. Once it’s properly steeped it will look like the colour of watered-down coffee. At this point you can pour it out into your little white teacups. (Tip: You don’t have to flag down a server to ask them to refill your teapot. Simply move the teapot to the side of your tabletop, then either flip open the hinged-lid or take off the lid and place it next to the teapot to signify that you need a hot water refill.)
How and what to order
At Southland Restaurant the dim sum menu comes on a piece of paper. The first column states the item number, the second column identifies the pricing category (and not necessarily the ‘portion size’ of the dish), the third column is the item name, and the fourth column is where you write down the quantity you want (dumpling dishes typically come in 4 pieces; roll dishes typically come in 3 to 4 pieces).
No dim sum meal here is complete without #801 - har gow, aka steamed shrimp dumplings (shrimp in a translucent wrapper made of wheat starch and cornstarch/tapioca starch) and #805 - siu mai, aka pork dumplings featuring ground pork, shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms.
Also try #820 Chaozhou-style dumplings which are filled with pork, jicama, chives, and peanuts. These have a similar wrapper to the popular har gow while the texture of the filling is different to siu mai because you can see, taste & feel all these ingredients separately in your mouth.
For some fried goodness, order #838 deep fried shrimp spring rolls, #841 stuffed eggplant with black bean sauce, and #811 deep fried bean curd wrap (mixture of ground pork and mushroom wrapped in a thin layer of tofu).
Another great dish to share is the rice rolls which are steamed sheets of rice noodles that enrobe a variety of fillings such as #855 parsley beef, #856 BBQ pork, or #858 deep fried Chinese doughnut served with a sweet-savoury sauce. For those of you who are up for it, try #806 chicken feet braised in a mildly spicy savory sauce and #809 beef omasum (cow stomach steamed with ginger and garlic –– don't knock it until you've tried it!). This dish is steamed with small pieces of daikon and the omasum's layered structure gives it a soft-chewy texture that soaks up the ginger and garlic sauce.
To satisfy a larger or hungrier crowd, order HS5 –– the mixed meats chow mein. This dish is a bed of pan-fried noodles topped with a saucy stir-fry melody of vegetables, mushrooms, chicken, shrimp, squid or cuttlefish, and BBQ pork.
#812, lotus sticky rice, features rice, pork, chicken, and shiitake mushrooms wrapped in a large steamed lotus leaf, with two per order. Carefully unfold the delicious packet and do not eat the leaf! You may laugh at this caution, but I have witnessed some people trying to uncomfortably chew it in their mouths – this is not a cabbage roll or dolma. I like to order extra sticky rice, as it makes for an excellent lunch the next day by just popping it in the microwave.
And let’s not forget #829, those baked egg tarts and #825 pineapple buns. The buns have a sweet custard filling, but despite the name, pineapple buns don’t contain pineapple; the name refers to how the top of the bun resembles the texture of the fruit.
Know that when you order dim sum dishes, they will come out as soon as they’re ready, so don’t treat your dim sum experience as a structured meal. The beauty and flexibility of dim sum is that you can pick and choose to eat whatever delights your eyes and taste buds in that moment (and don’t be afraid to spy what other tables are having, and to ask your server ‘what is that?’). Want to devour those freshly baked pastries before your dumplings reach the table? Absolutely acceptable.
Southland Restaurant (20 – 2855 Pembina Hwy) is located within the Richmond West Plaza and is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The restaurant has special pricing for dim sum on Mondays to Thursdays (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and Fridays to Sundays (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.).