Okay it's time to spill the tea. Well at least to those as culinarily-clued out as I was. No more Richmond-inspired trips to Vancouver, no more burning bamboo steamers on a gas stove, no more settling for frozen premade dumplings... that's right, Kelowna has a legit weekend dim sum – old school carts and all!
Unbeknownst to me, Yamato on Highway 97 has been serving up dim sum each Saturday and Sunday for the past seven years, so when a foodie friend told me about it this week, I had to check it out stat.
To be honest I had my reservations. A previous attempt at dim sum in downtown Kelowna was massively disappointing, Yamato's Japanese branding and daily menu sent mixed messages, and given that the proprietors own the Asian supermarket next door I thought, uh oh prefab. However, my fears were allayed almost instantly.
When we arrived around noon the place was packed (and not just with white folks), and as soon we were seated, we were met with friendly and knowledgeable staff, and proprietors Don and Mei Pham who all apprised us of the plethora of delectable little handmade steamed and fried goodies. Don made a point to let me know that, while they have a huge (and delicious) variety of frozen dim sum next door, that all comes from machine-made or Vancouver factories, the hand made goods are only available hot and fresh from the Yamato kitchen. Ok so on to the dim sum...
The Dishes: Steamed and Fried Treats
My litmus test for a new dim sum place is usually the Siu Mei – juicy, not too tightly packed – and the cuttlefish (either fried or stewed/steamed) cannot be rubbery. Yamato passed both easily. Pleasing me to no end, I found my favourite dish on the first cart – I've often waited and waited for the delicious Fu Pei Guen (tofu skin rolls, usually minced pork or chicken and mushroom and some nice carrot or water chestnut crunch) to the annoyance of my stuffed dining companions. I really liked their take – very meaty (it was pork). Other hits: the shrimp-stuffed eggplant, bbq pork-stuffed rice noodle, Har Gow (shrimp dumpling), sticky rice, bbq pork buns, and the lone mandatory veggie dish: Gai Lan in oyster sauce. Oh and man do they do a light and fluffy Lo Bak Go, that fried turnip (or radish?) cake studded with pork, and nice streaks of the root veg – texture city. My only quibble was with the hot mustard, it seemed like the powdered kind and so lacked the acidity and kick of that prepared Chinese mustard I crave with my meaty treats.
For you deep fried lovers, I'm afraid I can't offer much insight. Generally avoiding the rich fried treats to make room for more variety, I can however tell you there were plenty of nice golden parcels fresh from the fryer on offer. Check out the pics of spring rolls, the spicy squid (wait we had to have that, it was awesome), fried dumplings and more just below.
Comfort Food for the Fam
The social aspect of dim sum is part of what makes it so comforting. Often a routine event that brings friends and family to the sharing table, it is also just comfort food in and of itself. Newbs need not be scared off by the more challenging tripe and chicken feet, as it's really just soothing food to enjoy for weekend brunch, like hash (Lo Pak Go?), pancakes (green onion cake?), grits (congee?) and bacon (all the bbq pork everything). But texture and contrast is really what keeps dim sum from being too comforting – mushy and bland is always averted by a nice crunch of veg or prawn, a fresh green onion (those power-packed Chinese super-chives), a crispy skin, a caramelized pork, or a nice flash finish on the griddle, to balance the soft pillowy rice flour stuffs.
The Atmosphere: Smaller on Space, Big on Efficiency and Coziness
First off, I gotta say, I'm a carts fan. Sure the more fancy, finer and made-to-order dim sum is often found in places with the card menus, but I dig the traditional vibe of carts with their cabinets of delight vibe and the idiosyncratic form of ordering they induce. Sure the pitfall is sometimes cooler-than-desired dishes, but Yamato nicely avoids this because the place is way smaller than your average banquet hall-sized dim sum joint – they have all the mainstays in one or two carts and then servers come round with trays of other goodies. Gone is that cart constantly peddling the same selection two or three times past your table, ditto waiting for your faves to show – especially when you're so hungry that you take whatever comes your way first. So what the space lacks in that large bustling hall vibe it makes up for in efficiency.
And while the space is small, on a dim sum scale, it still has nice big tables (and booths) to accommodate that large group sharing experience dim sum is known for. The feeling is cheery, even with the rather generic black/greige/frosted glass/wood laminate aesthetic indicative of many a neo-Asian restaurant, due to the friendly staff, large windows, and eclectic and busy energy bouncing around the place. Yamato is one of the more diverse, vibrant and community-feeling places to dine in town for sure – with folks of many races, and ages (from like 84 to 4 – my friends with kids always swear by dim sum because the buzz and din drown out the kiddos acting up) feeling right at home here. And honestly that alone made it feel instantly comforting to me.
Yamato serves dim sum every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 2pm. All dim sum cart items are $4.75 each. Note: their West Kelowna location does not serve dim sum.