Tag Archives: dim sum

Does Columbus have any ‘real’ Chinese food?

This question finds its way to us with increasing frequency, both online and in person, from dismissive newcomers to Central Ohio as well as jaded locals. We have plenty to say about it, but first, lets talk about this idea of what’s ‘real’. 

‘Real’, in this context, is almost always used as a synonym for ‘authentic’. To the extent that anyone has the authority to categorize any Chinese food as authentic, it certainly isn’t us. 

What we can do, though – with a little help from our friends – is to distinguish the restaurants that are cooking menu items for the Chinese palate from those that are not. In other words, while we’re not fools enough to believe that we can measure any given restaurant’s success in maintaining absolute fidelity to Chinese culinary tradition, we do believe that our merry band of grazers can discern the intent to appeal to a Chinese audience. And, we can share our thoughts on what we enjoy.

OK, so back to the original question. We have to admit that it evokes a mild sense of indignation in us, as we’ve been enjoying the fruits of many of the city’s delicious Chinese kitchens for years – often with Chinese dining companions – and have felt some measure of pride in the range of options available to a city of our size. I mean, ‘Are there any?’ Of course! How many? 

Time to make a list. 

This was a process full of surprises. Once we made our initial list, and then continued searching, we were astounded by how much it grew. There’s an awful lot out there, and far more than we’ve had the opportunity to experience.

Sounds like a new food adventure to us! Over the next year, we’re going to visit/revisit each one of the restaurants on the list (linked below), and we’re going to try them with as many people as is practically possible so we can try as broad of a range of dishes as possible. We’ll post a brief accounting of each here, and hopefully put that pesky question to rest once and for all. 

The List:

Well, almost there. Please bear in mind that while we’re trying to be complete, we may not have caught everything. If we missed something let us know! Also, please understand that some of these restaurants will only have Chinese-American offerings shown on their website. You have to explore their broader menu in person to get the full story – which is exactly what we intend to do.

After the full list (which also includes markets and bakeries), we’ve taken our first stab at categorizing restaurants by their specialties. This will be refined as our adventure progresses, but is intended to illustrate the breadth of regional and culinary specialization found among the city’s Chinese offerings.

Columbus Chinese Food Guide 

Sunflower Chinese Restaurant and Lounge

dim sum in columbus, oh

Cuisine: Chinese

7370 Sawmill Road, Columbus 43225
For dim sum cart experience: Saturday & Sunday 11am-3pm

Click here to map it!

If you are looking for an alternative to your usual brunch of eggs, bacon and pancakes, might we suggest trying some dim sum. Dim sum is an assortment of small plates of savory and sweet things dishes or sometimes the combination of both. We won’t go into too much details regarding a how-to of dim sum since Columbus Alive did a pretty good write up with some help from the crew here at Alt Eats.

best dim sum columbus ohio
One of the more authentic dim sum experiences in Columbus can be found at Sunflower. Most of the food is served via trolley; to order just wave the trolley lady over and order by pointing at the various plates and steamers.

dim sum at sunflower columbus

Char siu pau (left) is a steamed bun filled with chinese bbq pork. This can also come in a baked form (the exterior will be brown). Sunflower’s char siu pau meets the basic criteria of fluffiness and the balanced sweetness of the pork. The other two things that you will see on every table are siu mai (center) and har gau (right). Siu mai is a steamed dumpling that is made out of minced pork and a little bit minced shrimp encased in a wonton like wrapper but the top is exposed and usually topped with some crab or shrimp roe. There is a beef version of the siu mai, but you have to specify beef because the default for siu mai is pork/shrimp. The har gau is shrimp encased in the delicate rice flour dough that becomes translucent when it is steamed so that you can actually see the shrimp through the wrapper.

dim sum sunflower columbus ohio

The ‘must have’ at Sunflower is the fried cheung fun (left). It is steamed rice crepes that have been rolled into a cylindrical shape and then pan fried with  some sweet soy sauce. The combination of crispy, soft, sweet and salty is amazing. The steamed version of this is stuffed with either pork or shrimp. Other fried dim sum options are the fried mochi dumpling also known as ham sui gok (center). The exterior is made out of glutinous rice pounded into a paste and them rolled out like a dough. This is stuffed with pork and mushrooms and then deep fried. To the far right of the pictures above is the wu kok or yam pastry. This crispy dumpling is yam stuffed with the same pork and mushroom filling as the ham sui gok. The difference is that that outer coating of this dumpling is very crispy due to the bird nest like breading and it uses yam as an encasement for the filling.

sunflower dim sum

Other typical dishes are the fried radish cake (lor bak ko), which is shredded radish combined with lap cheong (chinese air dried waxed sausage) and steamed into a cake. Then it is cut into rectangular sliced and pan fried on the griddle (pictured above). Below is Lor ma kai, a steamed package of rice with chicken, mushroom and chinese sausage encased in a lotus leaf. The filling varies by restaurants.

rice in lotus leaf, dim sum

If you are feeling adventurous, try the foong jow (chicken feet). It is deep fried first to get the skin and tendons to puff up away from the bones and then it is braised an sweet and salty combination of salted black bean, fermented bean paste and soy sauce. There is no dainty way of eating this, just suck the skin and tendons free from the bones, spit the little bones out and repeat.

Sunflower offers probably the best replication of an authentic dim sum experience in terms of both food and ambiance. There may be a dish or two that is of better quality at other  dim sum locations but for overall breadth of dishes and quality, Sunflower comes out on top.

Note: Dim sum is not vegetarian friendly as most products have either pork or shrimp in them.

Little Dragons

Cuisine: Chinese
1508 Morse Road (Morse and Karl)
Open 7 days a week. Sun-Thursday 11-10pm, Saturday & Sunday 11-11pm
Lunch specials 11-3pm, Dim Sum Saturday & Sunday 11-3pm

Click here to map it!

Like many Chinese restaurants Little Dragons has a split personality. On one side it has a busy take-out counter offering standard Chinese-American fare with Kung Pao, Orange chicken and General Tso representing. On the other side a more authentic Chinese menu with such exotic ingredients as sea cucumbers, conch and balsam pear (bitter gourd).

We opted for some of the more standard offerings from the Chinese menu: snow pea leaves (the menu calls them leeks) sauteed with garlic, spicy crispy tofu, and double fried cooked pork.

The double fried cooked pork, made with slices of pork belly, was unsurprisingly greasy but very flavorful. The belly was stir fried with carrot, cabbage, onion and bamboo shoots, and seasoned heavily with 5 spice powder and hot oil. Good with steamed rice.

I love snow pea leaves and am always pleased to see them on a menu. Little Dragons’ version seemed as much steamed as sauteed and with very little oil, lots of garlic and very fresh tasting. A good antidote to the pork belly.

The tofu with snow peas and pak choi was sound but unexceptional.

The only disappointment of the batch was the scallion pancake which was overly bread-y and insufficiently scallion-y. The typical scallion pancake should almost resemble an Indian paratha in texture with more scallions incorporated into and between the dough.

Little Dragons has a fairly large, partitioned dining room, decorated with fairly typical Chinese decorations and is very clean. The service on our visit was little lackluster as we spent some of the meal trying to flag down our server.  Nonetheless, the food arrived promptly and they were more than willing to answer questions.

Little Dragons serve a selection of bottled beer. If you are grabbing a takeout menu, be advised that there are two versions of it. One has the standard Chinese-American fare and the other includes the authentic dishes listed.