I went to yum cha for Saturday brunch with a large group of friends late last year.
This isn’t going to be a full review of the restaurant that we went to (Marigold in Sydney Chinatown in case you’re interested). Suffice to say that it does good, simple, honest, Cantonese dim sum, on par with what you might find in a family restaurant in Tuen Mun in the Hong Kong New Territories on a Sunday afternoon. The same kind of yum cha restaurant I went to with my extended family when I visited them in December.
That’s essentially what yum cha boils down to for me – memories of myself as a toddler being cared for by my grandmother in Hong Kong. She was the matriarch of the small close-knit neighborhood in Tuen Mun, and head of the equivalent of the Neighborhood Association. Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away two decades ago and she had raised seven kids single-handedly. They had all moved out and started raising their own families – my father, the youngest, was the only one to remain at home so my grandmother didn’t have to live alone. Hence, I was the only grandchild to live with my grandmother, and being the youngest grandchild with lots of older cousins, I was spoiled and petted by everyone in the family.
As a toddler, when my parents were at work, my grandmother would take me with her to yum cha every day with her friends and the other old people of the neighborhood. We would go to the same restaurant and be served by the same waiter every day. They would bring bowls of tofu pudding on the house, just for me as the only child with a group of elderly women. The women would feed me egg tarts and prawn dumplings. We would spend three hours at lunch, before dropping by the playground so I could go on the swing before we went home.
That whole lifestyle changed when we moved to Australia when I was four. My grandmother stayed in Hong Kong and moved in with my uncle. I never saw her again, as she passed away two years later. I cried for weeks afterwards, and I’m even tearing up now as I write this. I only had four years with her, three of which I can’t even remember as a baby and young child. That’s why the only memories I have of yum cha with my grandmother mean so much to me.