MY $3 DINNER: Dim Sum

Back in July, I posted this piece about a ribeye “steak” for sale at my local Dollar Tree. A week later, my sister Facebooked a cell phone pic of a poster advertising the same “steaks” at her local Dollar Tree. I commented on her pic, and suggested that I review all the frozen food Dollar Tree sells. My sis thought it was funny… and so… here we are.

The missus and I go to Dollar Tree every few weeks to pick up various odds and ends, like shower curtain liners, tealight candles, C batteries, circus peanuts (don’t judge!) and Utz Crab Chips (every store in Charlotte sells Utz chips, but only Dollar Tree sells the Crab Chip flavor for some reason). Also, my local Dollar Tree recently installed a freezer, allowing this particular location to sell frozen food items for the first time. I almost always check out the frozen foods, and often pick up a few Golden Krust Jamaican beef patties, ‘cos they’re $2.58 for 2 at Walmart, but only $1 each at Dollar Tree.

On our most recent trip, the missus pointed out a bag of frozen pot stickers. I gave ’em a look, and was surprised that they were a 7 oz pack (compared to some of the other laughably small frozen items they sell). But then I spied another Chinese food item: cha siu bao, a bun stuffed with barbequed pork! Considering that this was a Dollar Tree in Belmont, North Carolina I was well and truly shocked! I know of only a couple of places to buy them in Charlotte, and those are restaurants. The notion of buying frozen ones – and for only a dollar no less! – was just… amazing!

I gleefully grabbed a pack of pot stickers (pork, naturally) and 2 bao. And last night was the night they became my $3 dinner:

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Although microwave instructions were provided for both items, I decided to go the traditional route and steam them. That meant getting out the double boiler and filling it halfway up with water. I then sprayed the top “rack” of the boiler with Pam, added the pot stickers and, when the water began to boil, put the rack on the boiler and covered. I let those cook for 9 minutes before adding the bao, as they (allegedly) only required 5 minutes of steaming. Come to find out, the bao were still slightly frozen inside after 6 minutes of steaming, so I plated the pot stickers and nuked the bao for a minute in the microwave. When the bao were done, it was time to eat:

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(Click to enlarge)

So… how were they?

Well, as soon as I opened the bag of pot stickers I noticed how pungent they were… and I mean that in a good way. They smelled almost exactly like the ones I get from my local Chinese restaurant. So that was a good sign. But it wasn’t until they’d steamed that I realized just how thin the wrappers are on these things. The wrappers my local Chinese place uses for pot stickers are thick, almost as thick as a Kraft cheese slice. These, on the other hand, were paper thin. I almost tore the first couple in half as I pulled them out of the steam basket. What’s more, these diminutive dumplings only had a teaspoon of filling each, compared to the tablespoon (and a half?) stuffed in the ones from my local Chinese place. Having said all that, all the right tastes were there. They might be small, but they sure tasted almost exactly like the ones from my favorite Chinese restaurant. And actually, when it comes to copying the taste of Chinese restaurant pot stickers, these actually put Trader Joe’s pot stickers to shame! If I had to choose between these and restaurant ones, I’d certainly choose the restaurant ones any day. But these are a perfectly serviceable substitute. I’d be happy to keep a couple packs in the freezer for football games and snacks. And they certainly have my local Chinese place beat on price: I could almost buy 5 bags of the things for what New China charges for a single order of pot stickers!

And then there were the bao. One thing I don’t like about bao generally is the inconsistent sweetness of the bun. At some places, the bun is nearly tasteless. At others there’s a faint sweet taste, as if they misted it with sugar water after steaming. But then some places seem to dunk the buns in high fructose corn syrup after steaming. Gross. So yeah – I’m not a fan of the sweeter buns, and thankfully these only had a slight sweetness to them.

I was also impressed by the ratio of filling to bun: many bao have a tiny amount of filling in a giant bun. If you’ve ever had chicken and dumplings with drop dumplings, imagine a baseball-sized dumpling with a tiny teaspoon of filling inside. These were perfectly balanced – not too much bun, not too much filling. And guess what? The filling had plenty of pork in it! If you’ve ever looked at the picture of a Hot Pocket on the front of the box – where they’re almost bursting with pepperoni or ham or whatever – then bit in to one to find mostly air… you have nothing to worry about here!

My only problem was that there was an odd sweetness to the barbeque pork that seemed to build as I ate the buns. Sugar (or corn syrup) is not listed as ingredient in the buns, but the oyster sauce and hoisin sauce both have sugar as a main ingredient. Still, it’s a minor quibble. These aren’t quite as good as the ones you’d get in a dim sum house… but they’re really, really good for a frozen product. Just steam them for at least 10 minutes, not the 5 listed on the instructions.

THE VERDICT: Two thumbs up – would eat both again!

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