Nearly two years ago I walked cobbled streets, scented with incense burning from little altars on paths running parallel to the gutters. Old women and small children alike stood in the streets setting off round after round of firecrackers as we all welcomed the Year of the Horse. In the park of the provincial town of Yangshuo, hundreds of lanterns were strung from the trees and ghost money burned. To have shared noodles, rice, dumplings, almond cookies, Shittake mushrooms and so much more (and I could go on) facilitated an education in the weeklong (often longer) span of the celebration of Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year. That night reaffirmed what most travelers come to quickly understand: that sharing food is a catalyst for cultural exchange. Later on during the last night of the Spring Festival, known as the Lantern Festival, standing on a rooftop clutching an oversized bottle of Tsingtao, very new to China, very far from home and so very full, I watched a forested mountainside burn from a stray firework. The persistent drizzle soon snuffed it out and I walked down hallways where red posters were taped to every doorframe and returned to a warm table that was a life raft in an unfamiliar world.This time around the sun, the first day of Chinese New Year—the lunar new year—falls on Feb. 8, heralding the Year of the Monkey. In anticipation, I made my way on a surprisingly tepid Saturday night to Ming Dynasty with Anzia Bennett, my favorite food maven, in tow. Ming Dynasty boasts an extensive dim sum menu that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Albuquerque. When we were seated our host asked us if we would like the regular menu or the dim sum menu, to which we replied in unison, “both.” Dim sum is like Chinese-style tapas, the most literal translation of which is “touch your heart.” It’s a double entendre that reflects the potential of a great dish. A multitude of small plates to share are ordered, their equally small price tag making it easy to get carried away—at Ming Dynasty the per-plate price ranges from $2.60 to $4.60. We ordered taro root dumplings, sweet sesame balls, deep fried eggplant, Chinese broccoli, shrimp with green leek buns, steamed shrimp fun gor and last, but not least, sweet bean curd. The plates came out in what seemed like an endless procession.Anzia hoisted a taro root dumpling between her chopsticks and made an observation that could be applied to the whole of the dim sum menu- “texturally … this is really fun to eat.” And it was—a very fine dough lightly fried, its paper-thin packaging filled to bursting with taro root and pork cooked in heavy oil. Another standout from the dim sum menu was the deep fried eggplant, seasoned with shrimp paste and heavily battered, the chefs at Ming Dynasty culled the earthy flavor from the eggplant and once again, combined the softness of the vegetable filling with a crunchy outer batter, to make for a texturally interesting plate. On the opposite side of the spectrum from the dumplings, Chinese broccoli and fried fare, the sweet sesame balls and sweet bean curd tempered the savory dishes well. I, for one, love tofu, and protein delivered to me as a dessert was a dream come true. The sweet bean curd was a shallow bowl of soft tofu, served warm, in a small pool of honey-sweetened broth. It was honest and wholesome—a great dim sum dish to end on.From the regular menu Anzia selected the mu shu pork and I the homestyle bean curd. A variety of vegetables and pork were delivered to Anzia mysteriously pre-rolled in the tortilla-like wrapping typical of mu shu dishes. My tofu dish in mushroom sauce arrived simultaneously with a large silver platter of fluffy white rice. The dishes were good, straightforward and exactly what you’d expect from any Chinese restaurant literally anywhere in the United States. When I returned for another meal, another day, my dish—vegetables in a heavy garlic sauce was much the same as the first go—typical. That’s not to say a disappointment, just that it was exactly what I expected.The bill was delivered with a warm towel for my hands and a fortune cookie on white china. I cracked open the cookie, the sliver of paper read, “There are lessons to be learned from listening to others.” When I was in China, when a friend nudged a plate of fermented duck eggs, black in color in my direction, and said, “Eat this,” I did. And they were delicious. And I listened when she told me about poets like Han Yu and not to let strange men pay for my KTV anymore, and in this way, I learned many things about China over the course of many meals. I’m not an expert on Chinese cuisine or culture. Very far from it. But I hope you’ll listen when I say, go to Ming Dynasty and ask for the dim sum menu. Better yet, visit on the weekend when it is served via the traditional trolley service. Go to celebrate the second chance at a new year that the lunar calendar provides. This unassuming restaurant is serving some of the only—but definitely the best—dim sum in the city. Find your own warm table and—this instruction is totally optional—pretend you’re half a world away.
Ming Dynasty1551 Eubank NE505-296-0298mingdynastyabq.comHours: 11am-9pm dailyVibe: Opulent surroundings, casual patronsAlibi recommends: taro root dumplings, fried eggplant, sweet bean curd