Go on - treat yourself to chicken feet and fried tripe, says Food Critic Richard McComb
To the uninitiated, the dim sum menu at Chung Ying can appear daunting.
There are hundreds of dishes, incorporating all manner of meats, sauces and preparations. If you are indecisive and popping in for a quick lunch, you may want to clear the diary for the afternoon.
Fortunately, I am in the company of James Wong, who took over this city institution following the death of his father, Siu Chung Wong, in January. At one point, there was a question mark over the future of the place and its nearby sister restaurant, Chung Ying Garden. But in the end James decided he had to carry on the family business. Dim sum is in his blood – and 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the restaurant on Wrottesley Street.
Waiters bring a succession of dishes to the table, some of the food on plates or dishes, others steaming inside little dim sum baskets. The pan-fried king prawn and chive dumplings are an instant hit, as are the chicken feet in barbecue sauce. There is cuttlefish concotion, scallops and a king prawn cheung fun, the shellfish cloaked in an almost translucent roll made from light rice flour.
James explains that we are sharing “yum cha,” which is Chinese for lunch but translates literally as “drink tea.” I could get very used to yum cha, which typically comprises dim sum and cup after cup of green tea. It represents an economical way to eat out, made for our troubled times. Simply select three dim sum dishes and a plate of noodles and the bill for two should be about £20.
Dinner, says James, is a more substantial affair. “You might have a fish, a chicken, some vegetables, a casserole dish. You have a variation of tastes, something spicy, savoury, steamed,” he says.
The combinations are virtually limitless and all the diners at a table are encouraged to dig in and share. It still amazes me when English friends go out and order “their own dish” although James says such territorial (and frankly rather boring) eating is dying out. English diners are more prepared to be daring in their choices and you can be as adventurous as you like at Chung Ying, which was one of Birmingham’s first authentic Chinese restaurants when it opened in 1981.
At 2pm on a Tuesday, the dining room is busy. How many restaurants can say that at the moment? The customers include Western/Brummie diners but the majority of the tables are occupied by Chinese and Vietnamese. There are English and Chinese menus, the latter slightly longer than the former to incorporate dishes favoured by the Chinese community. You won’t find fish lips and ducks’ feet on the Western menu, for example. But anyone can have anything. You just have to ask.
And it’s not like the English penned menu is “dumbed down” to satisfy bland Anglophile tastes. The Traditional Taste menu features braised frogs legs with bitter melon and barbecue sauce; sliced “fatty” beef; stewed eel; fried ox tripe with ginger and spring onion; and salt and pepper stuffed pig intestine.
“Joe Public from the 1980s and today are two different people. Now when customers see things on the menu they are much more adventurous. Food has become more of a fascination,” says James.