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Mama Ji's Pop-Up Does Dim Sum 101

While traditional-style San Francisco dim sum has been a presence in the Avenues and Chinatown forever, recently a small crop of new Chinese spots is starting to break those physical boundaries. M.Y. China and Hakkasan are both high-profile, grandiose projects slated to open downtown in November, and we've already got the new Shanghai in the Castro, just blocks away from the five-week-old Mama Ji's dim sum pop-up at Queen Malika Cafe (4415 18th Street).

If you don't know your way around a dim sum cart, it is time for a vocabulary lesson. Here now, a back-pocket guide based on a deluge of noodly nuggets sampled yesterday at Mama Ji's.

Har gao (shrimp dumplings): Delicate, translucent, slightly sticky dough pockets filled with shrimp. 

Char siew bao (barbecue pork buns): Wonder Bread-fluffy bread rounds stuffed with sweet diced barbecued pork. 

Jiaozi (pan-seared potstickers): Ground meat or vegetables inside thinly rolled, unleavened dough that is pleated on one side to form a cresent shape. These dumplings are steamed first and then finished with a hot sear in the pan so that one side is brown and slightly crispy.

Shumai (round pork dumpling): Cute and curly around the edge, these dumplings sport unleavened dough that is pleated around a filling of ground, seasoned pork. Shumai normally have a colorful garnish, which can range from shredded carrot to chopped scallions.  

Ham sui gok (fried pork dumplings): Deep-fried glutinous rice flour dough gives these dumplings a taffy-like chew, stuffed with shredded pork seasoned in various ways, depending on the restaurant. 

Lo mein: Tossed noodles, often with vegetables, sometime with meat as well. 

Lo mai gai: A fragrant lotus leaf infuses a mound of glutinous rice and morsels of chicken with a robust flavor reminiscent of steeped tea. 

Ji dui (sesame balls): Glutinous rice flour pastries, filled with red bean paste here, are an addictive sweet and chewy bite. They are usually around the size of a ping pong ball. 

* This post is written through the eyes of a non-native-Chinese writer! Comments from readers with dim sum traditions in their families are greatly encouraged.