I love yum cha. I love the variety. I love the speed. I love not having to make choices. I love small food. Although there are a number of restaurants serving yum cha in Northbridge on a Sunday morning, we regularly head to Dragon Palace on Frances Street. It has a few things in its favour, one being its size, meaning that it can seat a lot more diners at once. And if you have ever wandered down Frances Street at midday on a Sunday, you will understand why that is important.
Yum Cha actually means 'drinking tea' in Cantonese, but in Western culture, the terms refers more to the food that is served with the tea, rather than the tea itself. And there is plenty of food at Dragon Palace, but chances are – you won't even see most of it.
A typical lunchtime yum cha experience is sitting at your table, enjoying the Chinese tea, watching the trolleys laden with steaming dishes come around. You point at what you want, and it is immediately dished up on to your table. A little stamp is marked on what will eventually become your bill, the trolley moves off and you eat. Simple.
But beyond the 23 steamed dishes, 14 fried dishes, 10 rice flour dishes and 9 or so desserts that will come to you on the carts, are also a number of speciality and 'lunch' items that you can order specially. But only if you know about them. For example, you need to specially order roast duck and BBQ pork (both $12.90) but they are pretty common. What about jellyfish or stuffed capsicum with bitter melon and chilli? (both $9.90). Now we're talking.
Even if you stick to the food that comes around on the trolleys, you can pleasure almost any palate, from the ubiquitous BBQ pork bun, to salt and pepper squid, to chickens feet to pan-fried turnip patties. Most dishes come in multiples of three or four and range in price from $4.50 to $12.90. The majority of dishes cost between $5.20 and $5.90, but the thing is, you don't actually know how much each dish costs in advance. So if you are on a budget, you need to combine some serious studying of the menu with your best bird-watching detective skills.
As a general rule – anything you have to order specially will cost at least $8 and up to $13. Most steamed dumplings will cost less than $6 and most fried dishes are around $6. Desserts are less than $6 each. Four of us spent two hours picking our favourite dishes with abandon including quite a few of the more expensive special order dishes, and even desserts for everyone we spent only $26 a head. As usual, we all felt we ate too much and none of us went home hungry. We all went home and took a nap.
I hate giving secrets away, but it is best to get there early. I know, it's meant to be 'lunch' but if you plan on turning up at midday, be prepared to wait for a table. However, since Dragon Palace seats up to 400 diners at once, the wait shouldn't be too long and is always worth it.
One more piece of advice – wear elastic waisted pants and a loose shirt.