The real Portlandia, featuring brunch.

This past weekend, it rained. It was rather off-putting at first to wake up and see a stormy, dreary sky with rain pattering down in an annoyingly steady rhythm, but the weekend was not wasted!

Saturday afternoon, I braved the rain to go all the way to the east side of Portland just to nom on some dim sum at HK Cafe. This is a new hotspot for the classic Cantonese fare, and the place was a swarming mess. Customers waiting about, empty tables still cluttered with messes. The service sucked, too. But it was dim sum. Who can say no to it?

What’s the origin of dim sum, you might ask? Well, I just know that I’ve always grown up eating it as a routine, familial shindig–it’s comfortable, a taste of home, a salute to my roots.  But honestly I didn’t think much about why we cherished it so fiercely, until now.

It’s essentially the Chinese version of English tea. It’s a staple in people’s lives.  It can be eaten either at the crack of dawn or as brunch. A versatile meal, totally bad for your body, but delicious. It originated on the Silk Road as rest stop fare for travelers, meant to be taken with tea. Later on it blossomed into this giant cultural passion. Grandmas and grandpas will fight tooth and nail to snag their dim sum brekki.

I love everything about this food. Like the aggressive waitresses who shove their carts around and look visibly disgruntled when you refuse their offerings.The steamed dish carts, the fried food carts, the rice porridge piping hot in vats. Weird jello desserts with paper umbrellas quivering in their bowls. The dirty china that needs a large helping of tea to help clean.

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So last weekend I took advantage of the rainy day and sat down for some old school dim sum.  Dishes ordered consisted of classic favorites: the ha gow (shrimp dumplings in gelatinous rice skins), siu mai (weird pork/mushroom/shrimp dumplings), chicken feet (in a sweet red sauce), fried seaweed rolls stuffed with vegetables and shrimp, custard buns, heaping portions of chow mein and fried fish. Yikes, we ate a lot.

And note: quality custard buns have a runny cream, none of that paste nonsense. It’s supposed to dribble all over your fingers in a cascade of sweet glory. I learned this truth when my mom told me that HK Cafe’s buns didn’t have that runny consistency–so if you want the good ones, maybe you won’t find them here.

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Shrimp dumplings.
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Siu mai.
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Fried seaweed roll.

So if you’re a newbie at tackling dim sum fare, I’d highly recommend these three–maybe even chicken feet too if you want a well-rounded experience. Ah, better throw in the sticky rice and the shrimp rice crepes (“cheung fun”). Or just try everything. And don’t worry about the whole chopstick thing–I just stab a chopstick through a dumpling and eat it like a marshmallow on a stick (I promise I’m a refined eater).

Sunday, I went hiking. A leisure hike, mind you–1.6 miles round trip to and from Pittock Mansion, with a pleasant view and a surprise to see the Oregon Regency Society dressed up in Jane Austen clothing and hobnobbing with friends.

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View from Pittock Mansion.

And what’s the best thirst-quencher after hikes? BOBA. I hit up my Portland favorite, Little Boba Truck, for some of its original milk tea with sweet honey boba. The tapioca had a chewy, tender texture and soaked in natural honey. Its sweetness infused into the tea, which was a strong black brew swirled with cream and sugar.

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Boba sentinel with lychee jellies flanking either side.

The best part? It started raining right as I got home. Crisis averted.


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