Nothing takes the sting out of Chicago winter like steamed dumplings in vast amounts. That's the dim sum ethos, a brunch-y Chinese food ritual focused on shareable small plates wheeled around sprawling dining rooms on food-laden carts. Here's where to get your fill of dim sum in Chicago.
One of the most venerable dim sum destinations in Chinatown, Cai is a ballroom-sized parade of dumplings, buns, porridge-y congee, and jiggly gelatinous desserts. Some of the best bites are the baked creamy egg yolk buns. These marshmallow-soft buns are warm and tender, filled with sweetened egg yolk custard on par with vanilla pudding. It's dessert masquerading as a meal, and it's entirely worth the splurge. Barbecue pork buns are another solid standby, wherein doughy bao buns are brimming with succulent, smoky pork.
Another dim sum winner in Chinatown is MingHin. This one's even more massive, with the added bonus of a late-night dim sum option. Here, the dim sum menu is a little less biblical and intimidating, with a focused selection of well-executed essentials such as luscious shrimp dumplings, stuffed sticky rice, pan-fried turnip cakes, and deep-fried taro puffs. Puffy egg custard tarts make for a fine and illustrious dessert.
The dim sum tradition is alive and well at Furama, especially at its Uptown location, where the banquet-like space recalls Chinatown San Francisco. Here, servers practice the dim sum tradition of wheeling carts full of food by each table. When you want something, simply point and order it. Make sure and restrain yourself from ordering too much, however, because there's an endless stream of carts and you don't want to fill up too quickly. Fried sesame balls, coconut pudding, shrimp toast, pot stickers, stuffed eggplant, and steamed custard buns are just some of the many salacious options for dim summing at Furama.
The most elegant interpretation of dim sum can be found at Shanghai Terrace, the majestic Chinese restaurant inside The Peninsula Chicago. Dim sum here is a regal affair, curated by well-appointed servers with ninja-like precision and attention to detail. The essential philosophies of dim sum are the same, but presentations and ingredients are pristine. Try the barbecue pork buns, prawn dumplings, shrimp spring rolls, and ginger custard buns and feel your taste buds come alive.
Vora offers a slightly different take on dim sum, by way of a Taiwanese accent. Many of the dishes are similar to standard dim sum, such as fried sesame balls and shrimp dumplings, but there's a palpable change in technique and presentation in dishes such as pork belly sliders, Taiwan meatballs, and chive pie. The quintessential winter comfort creation is Vora's xiao-long-bao, pork- and soup-filled buns encased in a thin flour dumpling. Pop ‘em in your mouth and feel them erupt with warm soupy goodness.
Photos: Chelsea Ross (Cai), Furama, The Peninsula Chicago, Vora