This weekend, after one too many turkey legs, my kids begged for dim sum. Do you know how rare it is for them to beg for anything besides pizza?
My family hasn’t been out for dim sum in all its rollicking, cacophonous charm since pre-pandemic. Since then, I’ve tried to improvise with takeout, but eating a flaccid dumpling out of a container just isn’t the same.
Dim sum is theater, you see. The true experience requires: a line forming out a propped-up door with frigid air blowing into a cramped vestibule; coarse white tablecloths stained with traces of soy sauces past; fish tanks; banquet-hall noise levels; saucers spilling over with chili crisp; haphazardly stacked bamboo steamers; carts jamming into the back of your chair; and a tall, icy glass of Diet Coke sipped through a straw. For us, it’s a bonding experience, the way some families hike in Patagonia vests or play flag football.
And so it was that we traveled to Ming’s, which specializes in seafood and dim sum, in Malden. (There’s another branch in Quincy, but for people coming from west or north of Boston, this is easier than battling Route 93: little traffic, plenty of street parking.) Walking in the door, it was 2019 all over again: round tables overflowing with people, many of them young kids, coats thrown over chairs, happily hoisting chopsticks. And, although the line looked more intimidating than the RMV, it moved quickly.
While many dim sum palaces offer cart services, Ming’s uses a glossy picture menu. This is ideal for kids who prefer to ogle and point, and it also reduces decision paralysis and overordering. Dim sum is like dating: It’s easy to impulsively commit to every delicious-looking item that rolls by, only to be spoken for by the time something better glides past.
And so, the menu: My children are suckers for the baked barbecue pork buns, soft and mealy within and glazed with an amber gloss. My kindergartner devoured six within 10 minutes, sticky-faced and delighted.
Juicy shrimp ripple through a trio of steamed rice rolls wrapped in dark, gingery soy sauce: They squirm and squiggle from the chopsticks, making it all the more rewarding when tamed. Shrimp and chive dumplings are nearly translucent, with equal parts greenery and prawn. Swiped through a pool of chili oil, it’s the perfect one-bite umami-spice burst.
Steamed spareribs in black bean sauce are opaque nubs of gelatinous meat with dots of fermented black beans hiding in the fatty wedges. (My kids did not eat this, but I sure did.) A quartet of fried rice flour sesame balls are malleable as a memory foam pillow, piped with sticky, sweetly nutty lotus seed paste. Gone in seconds. Next time, I’m saving room for the fusion dim sum section, with salty egg yolk lava buns and bamboo charcoal powder. My kids might attempt the egg custard buns decorated to look like Minions.
Ming’s is the Norma Desmond of dining rooms. It is a faded banquet hall with flowing yet shopworn curtains, tarnished gold chairs, and thin carpeting. The bright lighting does few dermatological favors. Service is quick but brusque. But that’s part of the charm: At its best, an hour of dim sum becomes its own ecosystem where normal rules do not apply. It’s OK to flag down the first waiter you see for more chili crisp; to order more than you might normally stomach; to shout just to compete with the noise level. It is a free-for-all with all the frenetic energy of a grocery store on Super Bowl Sunday, which is exactly why my kids love it so much. That, and those sugary pork buns that left them with shiny mugs and sticky fingers.
It feels good to be back, and it tastes good, too.
Ming’s Seafood Restaurant, 19 Pleasant St., Malden, 781-321-3888