Dim Sum and Lose Some

Win or lose, it’s the adventure that counts.

We had no business going there.  Two of us could have ended up with bulging eyes, throats constricted and red, itchy blotches all over our bodies.  But it was the adventure of the day…

Four women tired of the overdose of familiarity, we escaped our island home for a day of shopping in Victoria, B.C.  “What do we want to do for lunch?” I asked.

After a round of silence, someone said, “I’ve always wanted to try Dim Sum*.  I hear there’s a great restaurant in China Town.”

“I’ve been there. The food was great,” I said.  A nagging memory of confusion wafted brokenly through my mind.  It wasn’t clear so I ignored it. However, the minute my feet hit the first step of the staircase that would take us up to our Dim Sum experience, I remembered.

“Hey you guys!” I said. “This is going to be a challenge because the staff do not speak English.”

“That’s okay.  Don’t we just point at whatever we want?” one of the gals said.

Karen and I looked at each other.  I’m allergic to shellfish and prawns while Karen cannot even smell anything with peanuts, almonds, etc.  “Karen and I need to know what’s being served.”

“Oh…your allergies!  When Cayt and I order things. we’ll make sure they’re safe for you, too.”  It was a lightweight “fix-it” attempt, but it came from the heart.

“Let’s just see what we find, Karen.  Maybe it will be easier than we think.” My feelings didn’t match the optimism rolling off my tongue.

This could have been a photo of our table. If we’d known what we were ordering… (Photo from Wikipedia)

After we were seated, the carts, pushed by different Chinese women, proved to be carrying largely unidentifiable dishes.  Various food items were encased in wraps that provided no clue as to content.  It was confirmed: the staff did not speak English.  There was no symbol or picture explaining what was on the cart.  Karen and I studied the food and finally settled on dishes the other two had confirmed safely edible for us.

I ended up with only two pork rolls and a huge longing for a chicken dish or even simple, steamed veggies.

Since I needed more food and didn’t remember which cart supplied the pork, I watched for similar looking rolls. Finally a cart arrived.  The server was a woman whose demeanour made me wonder if she’d been sent to Canada during a 50 below winter and the thaw hadn’t yet happened.

Our servers were dressed just like this and pushed carts exactly like this one – though this photo was taken in a restaurant in Hong Kong. (Photo from Wikipedia)

I put up my hand, “What is this?” I asked slowly, pointing at the food in the round baskets.

“PAH!” she said.

“Prawn?  Or did you say Pork?” I asked.

“POH!” she said with a hand gesture suggesting they were all the same.

“Pork? Or prawn?” I said, considering the use of charades.  Being a prawn would be a challenge, but did Miss Piggy get over to China?

“Pah…” she shrugged. “Poh…” and was about to leave.

Since these looked like the pork rolls, I quickly put up three fingers.  She placed three dumplings on my plate.  “POH!” she said with indignation and sped away.

Dumplings in Chicago – Wikipedia

I was so hungry, I took a huge bite.  Whatever made up the dumpling, it was delicious.  I took my second bite.  It included part of the “poh”.  I chewed with satisfaction and looked down at the last section of the delicious morsel.  Sitting inside my roll was one half of a miniscule prawn.

“Damn!  I just ate half a prawn!”  The other three gasped.  They too thought she was saying ‘pork’.

“Do you carry one of those kits?  Either of you?”  Karen and I shook our heads.

“Are you gonn be okay?” Cayt asked.

“That was a very small prawn, guys, so I won’t panic.  In fact, the Doc said that these stupid allergies will leave as quickly as they come.  Maybe it’s gone after all these years.  I’ll tell you if I start feeling anything.  In the past when I’ve had a reaction, it didn’t happen for a number of hours.”

I didn’t tell them the Doc told me that my throat could close in minutes and completely cut off my oxygen supply.  I told my body to accept the prawn and not react to it.  I drank about four cups of Chinese tea and kept telling my body everything was okay.

We finished shopping, running errands and enjoying our day in the city.  We headed for the 7:00 p.m. ferry that would sail us home to our island.

By the time the ferry left its berth, I began to feel itchy.  “Can you see anything on my face?”

The women looked closely with the help of the waning summer sun.  “It looks like you have something like blotches on your neck,” one of them said.

“Okay…we’ll have to head to the hospital as soon as we’re off this ferry.  If my throat closes, please tell the Ferry’s first aid attendant to cut into my windpipe – with or without instrumentation.”  I laughed, but I meant it.

“Hey, Doc,” I said while in the emergency room, “how can I tell if I’m over this allergy without actually eating shellfish?”

He laughed, “Figure that out and we’ll both be rich!  I’ve heard some good wives’ tales, but I wouldn’t trust any of them.”

It was obvious I was not going to have a major reaction.

He gave me a tablet and said with a twinkle, “Poh this down with lots of water!”  I went home and fell asleep on an empty stomach.

Would I do Dim Sum again?  You bet!  Right after I finish a Conversational Chinese course.


*Dim sum refers to a style of Chinese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is served in some restaurants, wherein fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes are carted around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders while seated at their tables. – Wikipedia

45 thoughts on “Dim Sum and Lose Some

    • Hi Cin…Oh boy, if you knew how much I’ve been thinking about you. And pulling for you. You have done incredibly well and I hope you are feeling really good about all that’s been accomplished. I hope you trust that, with time, that one who you love more than anything will turn to you again. It will likely be when you least expect it…

    • Food allergies are an incredibly dangerous nuisance, Carol. We can be as careful as can be with what the ingredients are, but we never know what is going on in the kitchens. Was the same knife used for shellfish as for chopping veggies? We put a great deal of trust in the people behind those swinging doors – no matter the quality of the place.

    • Hey my Farmerette Friend. In my experience with Dim Sum, it does not resemble Chinese Canadian menus I’ve had except for white rice. When a Chinese Branch Manager took me to an authentic Chinese lunch in Vancouver’s Chinatown years ago, I’m afraid I was a rotten guest. We joined many others at a very long, skinny table. Dishes of food kept coming – a feast. I cringed with unfamiliarity. He wanted to honour me with the delicacy of the day: “Thank you…I am simply not able to eat fish cheeks!” In place of the endless pots of tea…there were numerous brown paper bags that were passed around. Straight scotch! Outa the bottle! I must have been a great disappointment for Mr. Sze. However, because it was Christmas time, he sent me off with boxes of Chinese sweets to share with family.

  1. Ok, that could have turned out horribly, but glad it didn’t. Even more happy you got a physician with a sense of humour. I loved that! Your writing is mesmerizing, I inhaled every word.

    • Thanks, Sandra…I thoroughly enjoyed your post about the hot yoga teacher who got up on the wrong side of his mat. 🙂 Even better, you made me think about a comment that was true to who I am. Good stretch.

  2. Oh…..now that’s either very brave–or very insane!

    Same problem for me any time we dine out. Only the menu is generally in English, though it’s a crapshoot about whether or not there’s gluten in there. *sigh*
    I’m NOT however going to lose the ability to breathe!
    And you went without an epi-pen?! *shaking head*

    Well, ya know what they say……”If ya ain’t living on the edge you’re taking up too much space!”

    LOL……well, that’s what I say anyway! 😉

    • Karen has an epi-pen or kit, Mel. I don’t know where she keeps it, but I’ve been with her when she reacted to a salad she ordered in a good restaurant. There was some sort of cross contamination. She didn’t have the “kit” with her then, but we were close to the hospital. She went to emerg that evening all blotchy and swelling.

      My reactions have typically been slow in coming. I experience a day of feeling like I have a wretched case of food poisoning. And that came after eating a massive feed of fresh crab and prawns. So I hoped this teeny 1/2 shrimp would just blow over. In fact, I could have skipped the trip to the Emerg, but, as you know, with Canada’s health plans, we can live with the attitude it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  3. scary but made me giggle this morning. there are other Dim Sum places in Victoria where they do have staff who speak English IF you ever want to try again….glad you had fun though and lived to tell this tale

    • Now there’s a thought, Christina! But I’m giving the idea a rest. Sometimes I feel better when a server knows about my allergy, but I know it’s false security since the produce is likely already cut up. It helps that restaurants don’t want bad publicity. When Karen had a nasty reaction to a salad eaten for dinner in a really good restaurant here on the island, she told them. Their reaction? Denial. “Oh it couldn’t possibly have been from anything in our kitchen.”

      Well, she hadn’t eaten anywhere else since lunch time. We knew they were shaking in their boots and that telling them would surely cause them to trump up their Food Safe practices.

  4. I had Dim sum in China Town in San Francisco…like your place no one spoke English..fortunately I don’t have any food allergies….but my experience in trying to figure out what things were was the same…you really made be laugh with this one…and you had a doctor with a sense of humor…two rare events in one day. 🙂

    • One of the up sides of living in a small place – our doctors are a part of the community and we see them as our neighbours. My actual doctor (doesn’t do emerg.) is a woman who I’ve had for 30 years. She knows me better than I know myself. We’re kind of the same age and I dread her ever retiring!

  5. I am so glad you are ok, that must have been scary. i do think you were brave to try it when you really didn’t know. Not sure I would have.

    • Oddly enough, Dee, I was more worried about finding myself eating some part of an animal that I do not want to ever eat. I thought it would be easy to pick out shellfish…I wasn’t prepared for the prawns. Actually, it looked like a shrimp, but let’s not get into that language issue! 😀

  6. Hi Amy, when I glanced at my email and read the title of the post… I thought – oh my she has gone and done the Dim Sum without me! I remember that evening clearly as if it happened over the weekend and I can still hear the woman saying “POH” ~ we sure couldn’t tell if it meant pork of prawn..? The ferry ride home & a visit to the hospital all in all a very eventful day off island.
    … And I remember the time you and I were celebrating your birthday and had some cake that turned out had nuts in it. You did a miraculous session of healing touch right in our booth at the restaurant and kept telling me to think positive thoughts of the nuts leaving my body. I did not have an allergic reaction!
    thanks for sharing! xo Karen

    • Ah there you are, Karen…no, I haven’t done a Dim Sum without you! 😀 While you’re here, where do you keep your “kit”?

      I’d forgotten about having you do Therapeutic Touch along with me! I think most people thought I was either a drama queen or we were totally bonkers. Who cared? There was more at stake than a couple of reputations! All over a piece of dessert!

  7. My comment to you is… Please carry your epipen everywhere and a Benadryl (diphenhydramine). At the first sign of a reaction, take the Benadryl Please! That may make the difference between heaven and hell, life or death. Otherwise enjoyed your story. Why can’t these places carry menus written in English?

    • Thanks, Leslie. You sound as though you have professional or personal knowledge of this. I admit I have not let the fear of cross contamination stop me from enjoying all sorts of eating experiences. I’ve done a lot of work and personal travel and that incident was the only time I’ve had a flare-up since I learned I had an allergy. Before that, I thought I had bouts of food poisoning.

  8. I think you were very brave to even think you could eat something called “poh”! When my allergies were really bad I just ordered rice – even in restaurants where the wait staff spoke English – it was safer.

  9. Well, first of all, I’m darned glad to hear you survived your poh encounter. But secondly, I admire your intrepid spirit. With so much at stake, it is remarkable that you four didn’t simply change your plans and eat someplace where you could at least communicate with the servers. And thirdly, this was a delightfully entertaining post…thanks for risking your neck for the sake of your blog!

    • The other two were so excited about trying it and I really thought I’d be able to find some good veggie dishes. I don’t know why, but they never materialized. I never bothered delving into it because I have no desire to attempt another try!

  10. I am glad to hear that you are fine Amy aunty. Although this post was funny, but I was more concern about reading the end part to make sure that you are alright. But please do not risk your throat, when you an enjoy eating something without any risk. Take care Amy aunty.

    • Arindam, I certainly do take care, but my allergy is slow to respond. If I am the least bit concerned, I develop a game plan and engage others to be on alert. My Doctor would have told me to have an Epipen if it was a huge concern. Thank you for your concern. While I enjoy laughing about the scenario, I am well aware of the caution I must always take. And I did then as well…I refused to eat anything else at that restaurant.

  11. You were very lucky! I love Dim Sum — one of my favorite dishes is sticky rice with pork in lotus leaves. Very yummy. Next time you go try it — no reactions I’m sure.

  12. That sounds really scary Amy…please do take very good care of yourself…even on such exciting outings like yours seems to have been…love your positive and fearless attitude…God bless you Amy…

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