China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated later this month, is the second most important traditional festival in China but it is much less well known than Chinese New Year overseas. The harvest festival is celebrated in China and other East Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Singapore on month 8 and day 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar.
Since it is only a short break people typically no longer make dishes at home but book a meal in a restaurant instead to save time and spend more time with their family. One great place in Brussels to mark the occasion is Dam Sum, a quietly unobtrusive and small Chinese restaurant in a particularly bustling part of Ixelles. Traditionally, moon-cake is a characteristic festival food and Dam Sum may have something special on its menu for the occasion on and around 25 September.
But, irrespective of whether you visit specifically for what is also called Moon Festival, you can sample all kinds of classic Chinese cuisine here, in particular, really delicious dim sum.
For the uninitiated, dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. There cannot be any better place in Brussels to try it than here. And what a choice! No less than 14 different types of dim sum are on the menu, all very tasty and, notably, very cheap as well (prices start from a mere €4.5!).
Examples include Xiao Long Bao Pork, a delicate pork dim sum with soup inside – one of the signature dishes. Another classic is Xiao Long Bao Wagyu Beef, the world-renowned beef which, intriguingly, comes with what is called a “secret” ingredient.
Also recommended from the choice of dim (or “dam”) sum are Chao Sou (steamed beef dumping in vinegar sauce); Har Gao (a translucent shrimp classic); Xiao Long Bao crab and pork (pork and fresh crab with soup inside) and, last but not least, vegetable dim sum (a find combination of vegetables and herbs). In each case, the dish comprises three pieces and, particularly considering the quality, is remarkably good value. A top tip is to order a few, say 4 or 5, of these dishes and share them around the table.
They are pretty filling but it would be a shame not to also sample something else off the menu and, again,there is a great choice. There are four soups including Wanton Soup (a refreshing dim sum soup with shrimp) which you can order as a medium or large portion.
The same principle also applies to the four excellent selections in the mains section which include Gom Bao chicken (wok fried chicken with peanuts and spicy oil sauce); black pepper beef; sweet and sour pork and crispy lemon chicken (chicken strips tossed in a tangy sweet lemon sauce). There is also a brand new dish on the menu: pineapple chicken fried rice, a Singapore classic with chicken, pineapple and raisins and priced from as little as €9.
While each can be ordered as a “medium” or “large” portion be mindful that the “medium” portion is already pretty generous. You can, of course, also order noodles, rice and veg, including an especially mouth watering vegetable Mapo Tofu (braised tofu in a “bracing” spicy sauce). If you’ve still room after such fabulous feasting,you really should try a desert, possibly a newcomer on the menu – Pistachio Ice Cream Bun (number 34 on the menu). This is pistachio ice cream with a red fruit sauce in a deep fried bun.
For the health conscious among readers, it’s worth also bearing in mind that all Dam Sum’s dishes are glutamate free. The fantastic food can be accompanied by either a beer (there’s a Chinese one available) or excellent wine.
The interior is just as impressive as the food. One of the most sought after tables is right in the middle of the restaurant (sitting up to eight people) where you are accompanied by staff rolling the dim sum right in front of you (before it is dispatched to the kitchen for cooking).
There’s some artistic Chinese-style drawings/paintings on the walls along with Chinese newspapers (for the Mandarin readers out there).
Dam Sum has just celebrated its third anniversary and it will soon have a “sister” in the shape of “Canto”, a new place serving mostly Vietnamese cuisine which is due to open near Place Luxembourg later this year. This will be open at lunchtimes with a takeaway delivery service in the evening and will also serve “bubble tea”, a rather refreshing fruit-flavoured Vietnamese cocktail.
Everything here is expertly overseen by the very welcoming French-born Renaud and his energetic and friendly team. It makes for a great place to taste some authentic Chinese food, whether it’s for the Moon Festival or any other time!
GOOD TO KNOW:
- Location: Parvis de la Trinité 11, Ixelles / Belgium
- Contact: 02 538 0810