Rainflower Dim Sum: Award winning Durian Rolls and Steamed Buns with Lusciously Runny Custard Filling
3600 No. 3 Road, Richmond, BC, Canada
I’ve always loved going for dim sum. I like to think of it as the Asian version of high tea with dainty little pastries and dumplings, piping hot tea served in little round cups and lots of sharing – of food and gossip!
The literal meaning of ‘dim sum’ in Cantonese is ‘touch heart,’ in reference to the small quantity of food. Traditionally, dim sum was only a light meal, much like English high tea. You were only meant to nibble on just enough food to go with your tea, just enough food to lightly touch your heart, not stuff your tummy till you’re completely full. With the popularity of dim sum in Western culture, that has now changed. Dim sum is often a social gathering for Sunday brunch or even an early lunch during the week.
Now, if you’re ready to embark on a dim sum meal, there is an etiquette to follow. When you’re seated, the server will ask you what type of tea you’d like. I always order Shou Mei tea, which is a type of white tea, it’s light, fruity and delicate and a wonderful compliment to dim sum pastries. When you’re pouring tea at the table, make sure you pour some tea for everyone else, then, serve yourself last. When someone else at the table is refilling your tea cup, you’re to lightly tap the spot beside your tea cup twice to say thank you. This rule is especially helpful when you have a mouthful of dim sum!
When the tea pot becomes empty, to signify a refill to the servers, you’re to tip the lid of the tea pot open, balancing it on a slant on the tea pot handle.
There was one drawback at Rainflower, they don’t have dim sum carts. Like most modern dim sum restaurants, a checklist of dim sum menu items is placed at each table with a pencil, and you tick off what you want to order. Most old school dim sum restaurants push around dishes of dim sum on carts and you can see and smell what you want to order. I’ve always loved that. I suppose a lot of food gets wasted that way though.
The first thing that I checked off the list at Rainflower was the Durian Rolls, according to the checklist and from what I’ve read in local media, these little pastries were award winners. It’s noted on the Rainflower menu checklist as a recipient of the Chinese Restaurant Awards 2011. I had to try it, even though, admittedly, I cannot stand the smell of durian at all.
The first thing that came to our table was the celery and minced pork filled steamed dumplings. I have fond memories of these dumplings because I used to make them with my grandma. She had an age-old recipe passed down through our family, she made the dough from scratch from rice flour. Then she’d shape the dough into long, skinny rolls, cut off one inch pieces and let my brother and me press these pieces flat using a metal dumpling dough press. Then the flattened pieces of dough would be filled with minced pork, cinched along the side, and be ready for the steamer.
I am bias, but of course Rainflower’s dumplings did not taste as good as my grandma’s but they were a close second. The dough was springy and chewy. I was too excited about my first bite though and grabbed the dumpling from the steamer when it was still too hot. The delicate dough ripped in the bottom, the springy rice flour dough usually solidifies a little bit when it cools, making the dumpling easier to handle, and firmer to hold between chopsticks. The minced pork filling was delicious! Salty and flavourful, there was some crunch from the celery and water chestnuts too.
You can’t have dim sum without having steamed shrimp dumplings: hai gow, they’re called. They’re plump, succulent, juicy and delicious at Rainflower. I could tell they were quality shrimp dumplings by their thin, delicate but chewy, transparent skins. And the shrimp filling was pretty substantial, the meat was tender and tasty.
My other favourite dim sum item is steamed custard buns. Some restaurants bake their custard buns but I’ve always preferred fluffy steamed buns as opposed to baked ones with a golden crust on top. Recently, a fad has started in Hong Kong and has spread to Vancouver: custard buns with runny, syrupy, nearly liquified custard fillings.
At Rainflower, the steamed custard buns are filled with egg yolk and carrot juice. The buns are also orange coloured, which I’ve never seen before but I think it’s a great twist on a traditional dessert. When I tore the bun in half, the filling gave a little popping noise, like a small eruption and as soon as the bun was ripped open, the rich, luscious, creamy, golden filling spilled forth, smelling of sweet custard.
The actual bun was very soft and fluffy, and the custard was divine, incredible sweet, smooth and creamy with a very small hint of saltiness from the egg yolk.
Another popular dish is the pan fried Chinese radish cake, aka, turnip cake. This is made of shredded turnip mixed with water, rice flour and corn starch with bits of Chinese sausage and green onion mixed in. The cake is first steamed then pan fried to create a crispy, golden crusty top layer while the inside of the cake is springy and jelly-like.
Since turnips are pretty neutral in flavour, they are a great canvas for the salty, seasoned flavours of Chinese sausage.
Rainflower also has menu items for vegetarians, such as the steamed eggplant with garlic rice roll. This is a pretty unique item that I’ve never seen at other dim sum restaurants. Rice rolls are usually filled with shrimp, beef or Chinese donut.
The egg plant rice roll was a little blander than the rest of the dishes we ordered but it was still tasty. It was basically whole strips of egg plant wrapped in rice noodles and steamed. There was a strong egg plant flavour, and the egg plant was steamed to the point of being very soft and limp, great for dipping into soy sauce.
Now, onto the award winning Durian Rolls. They sat on the plate like three little cocoons, with their buttery and flaky shells.
As soon as we broke one open, we could smell the distinctive, pungent durian smell. It was mixed in with some cream and butter though, making a sort of durian custard. The consistency of the filling was more of what I’m used to in regular steamed custard buns (not the ones with runny fillings). And I have to admit, the durian custard filling was pretty delectable. It was sweet and creamy but still had a sort of lightness to it, I could taste the durian but having it in custard form is a lot less petrifying than eating it in its natural form out of the spiky shell in its bizarrely silky, slimy, fleshy clumps.
I have to say, I quite enjoyed the Durian Rolls. I didn’t think I would but I was pleasantly surprised! I would totally order them again along with more of those scrumptious orange coloured steamed custard buns with runny filling!