Until recently, if you wanted dim sum, it was off to San Francisco to either Hang Ah in the Chinatown section of Nob Hill, or Ton Kiang in the Richmond District. Hang Ah is a San Francisco institution, dating from the 1920s, which bills itself as the city?s first dim sum joint. Ton Kiang serves the best dim sum in town, but its success often means long lines waiting to get in.
Well, now the folks at Hang Ah have started a spin-off venture in Santa Rosa called Hang Ah Dim Sum in what was once an A&W root beer and hamburger stand on Armory Drive. Crook your arm at the elbow, make a fist, and jerk your arm backwards as you say, ?Yessss!?
Dim sum translates literally to English as ?heart?s delight? (or as ?little heart? or ?light of heart,? depending on whom you believe) but it has come to mean ?snack? in Chinese as well as English. At many dim sum restaurants, tidbits ? up to 80 to 100 different kinds ? are carried among the tables by the staff and offered to diners from a tray. The diner either accepts an item or declines. At the end of the meal, the finished plates are toted up, or a card on the table marked with the chosen items is tallied.
At Hang Ah in Santa Rosa, its 48 dim sum items are offered another way. You are given a menu with the items shown in color photos, along with a monochrome paper menu showing the same items. You circle the ones you want on the paper copy, and these come out of the kitchen as soon as they have them prepared. Then your bill is figured from the items you circled.
Most of the dim sum can be ordered as a small portion for $2.50, a medium portion for $3.50, or large for $4.50. This accommodates parties of any size.
Besides dim sum, Hang Ah has a full menu of Chinese dishes, including favorites like Kung Pao Chicken, General Tsou?s Chicken, and Peking Duck. Mandarin and Szechuan dinners at $15.95 and $16.95 per person respectively, along with a Hang Ah Banquet at $30 per person, are also available. But it?s the dim sum that?s most interesting.
You?re offered tea as soon as you?re seated, a tradition that goes back to the ancient Silk Road that carried silk from the Chinese factories to the Middle East and Rome. Travelers needed places to rest, and so tea houses sprang up along the Chinese end of the road. While travelers rested, snacks were made available and these became what today we call dim sum.
Hang Ah serves jasmine tea, but you can also choose among Tsing Tao beer, soft drinks and a small wine list. Service at Hang Ah is snappy, and you?ll soon find yourself amid a welter of dishes as your orders are brought forth.
The menu lists four kinds of dim sum: Northern China, also called Hakka after this northern culture that moved south and assimilated into Han culture. Then there are four items listed under Chef?s Pick, and five items under Chow Fun and Noodle Plates. The rest of the items are Cantonese in style, and priced as small, medium and large, as noted before. The different categories are indistinguishable in style to me, but probably not to someone acutely sensitive to the differences in Chinese regional or cultural cuisines.