A girl at the nearby table had clearly worn her New Year’s best: a gold thread-embroidered red jacket over bright pink pants and matching powder pink shoes. Her grandmother and I signed a conversation in the bathroom by which I learned her age: two years. Old enough to happily stuff her mouth with shrimp dumplings and watch bright-eyed as carts wheeled by.
Crowds may have flocked to Kirin Court and Royal China, but on this first weekend in the year of the rooster, we sought out the plain, worn façade with the ghost of former signage appearing faintly under the name “Golden Joy Chinese B.B.Q.” just above the window letters announcing dim sum everyday. Two blocks away, red lanterns throng the entrance of the Cali Saigon mall.
There is nothing fancy here, no highly sought-out ingredients or creative spins. But the bustling dining room is filled with regulars, steam rising from plates as the silver carts rattle by.
Barbecued pork buns (cha siu bao) are fluffy. Shrimp and chives are bright and flavorful under the translucent skin of steamed dumplings. There are scraggly fried taro haystacks with slippery oyster-mushroom filling; the pull and chew of plumper pan-fried chive dumplings; floppy rice noodle crepes to douse in seasoned soy sauce. There are egg custard tarts; red-bean filled sesame seed dumplings; juicy pork rolls wrapped in tofu skin. Could the ginger in the filling be brighter? No doubt. But this is old-school classic.
Turn the lid over on your teapot, and the ladies with carts will reach in between your blur of hands and replenish the hot water till the tea leaves are utterly spent. You leave with roasted duck from the lacquered ducks hanging near the cash register. The year is looking good.