Since my mom is from the Philippines and my dad is from the north, we don't have a lot of family living nearby (here in the south). Luckily, when I was young, or possibly even before I was born, my mom became good friends with a distant cousin of hers who also lived in the states, and our families began hanging out since I can remember. They lived in Canada, but would make long trips in their big van to visit us all the way down in Florida. They are a full-Filipino family (my Dad is American, so I guess that makes us "half") so it was really nice for my mom to have someone to talk to in her native language and someone to cook the familiar foods that they grew up eating. Not sure if you know any other Filipino people, but we like to eat...a lot. I mean, we really, really like to eat, so it was always a fun family foodfest whenever our two families got together.
Eventually, around the time I was in middle school, my cousins moved to Atlanta, GA, so we started taking trips to visit them (a few times a year). We would play video games all day and take trips to theme parks and water parks. It was the best...some of my favorite childhood memories were spent with my "distant" family. My cousins, especially the one my age, became like my brothers. We had the best fun just being kids together exploring those water parks, playing board games, and even playing their keyboard (my cousin was extremely into music and still is to this day...now he prefers to play guitar) to the pre-programmed sounds, like House of the Rising Sun and Hey Jude.
Every time we visited them in Georgia, we had this tradition that we would go to the Dim Sum restaurant for a goodbye lunch. We'd get there very early...before the restaurant was even open. You have to do that with the good Dim Sum restaurants because you will not get a table if you don't go early. Dim Sum is like a Chinese brunch with tapas-style, family-style food. It's much more authentic than many American-ized Chinese restaurants and it's absolutely delicious. Anywho, every time we went to Atlanta, we had to go to Dim Sum. We would get one of the big round tables they had for large families, we'd share food off of the huge lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and we'd eat and talk and eat and laugh and eat all afternoon. I have such fond memories of our Dim Sum outings, so when I found out there was a Dim Sum restaurant in my SO's hometown and that my SO's sister liked Dim Sum (it's not for everyone and not traditionally popular with Americans), I hoped that we would be able to go this past weekend and we did!
For anyone who's never had Dim Sum, here's how it works:
Check reviews or with locals to see if the Dim Sum restaurant is good (has a good reputation). If it does, you will need to get there up to an hour before they open. Get there at least 30 minutes early if you don't want to have to wait for a table to open up. People often will sit and eat all afternoon.
Once you get your table, the waiters and waitresses will push little carts around the room and stop by your table to show you all the yummy foods they have to offer you. Many times, they will not speak English, so you may have to choose your dishes by looks only. This picture features a cart with steamed foods. Inside these containers are a variety of delicious dumplings. You point at the ones you want, the waitress places your selection(s) on the table and marks your check. There are three parts of the check for the various dishes, which are priced by size: small (around $2.75), medium (around $3.75), and large (around $5-ish). They mark an X in the appropriate box(es), which will be tallied up when you check out.
In this picture, you can see some of the dishes we selected: sauteed brocollini, calamari, eggplant & green pepper, turnip cakes with pork, and steamed pork buns. Towards the back, my SO's sister is opening a grapeleaf package, which contains sticky rice with an egg, pork, and shrimp filling.
Same dishes as before except towards the front are some steamed shrimp dumplings...one of my favorites.
My plate...with a bite taken out of the steamed pork bun (another one of my favorites) so you can see the barbeque pork filling. It's not barbeque like you'd probably be familiar with, but it's a slightly sweet taste...trust me, it's good and one of the first Dim Sum I started eating as a too-picky-kid, so it would be a good one to start with.
Though it may not look like it, this is dessert - sesame balls. Balls of dough covered in sesame seeds, deep-fried, and with a yummy bean paste inside. The paste is sometimes yellow-ish, but the red bean paste is the best!
Overall, the Dim Sum was excellent! Just as good as I remember from my childhood. I had such a fun time chatting with my SO's sister and her husband and my SO. I had told my SO's sister about my family tradition with my cousins and she had a similar tradition with her friends growing up. So, as we were finishing our brunch, I was thrilled to hear her say, "Maybe we can start a new family tradition?" I quickly resp0nded, "I would love that. Let's do it!"