Sunday arrives. Although we increasingly live with an ‘open all hours’ global village mentality, the sense of Sunday being a day to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family with a shared meal pervades. Wintry roasts, summer picnic barbecues and group outings to all manner of eating establishments are still standard fare for many.
Literally translated as “drink tea”, yum char is a customary Chinese restaurant meal where diners choose and share plates from circulating trolleys laden with tasty morsels such as steamed dumplings and fried dim sum. In Auckland there is arguably none as popular as the weekend sessions at Grand Park restaurant at Alexandra Park Raceway in Greenlane.
Serving yum char on both Saturdays and Sundays, making a reservation in advance is still no guarantee of avoiding the queue which throngs in the hallway outside the restaurant’s dining hall from about 11am. Groups of people of all ages receive a numbered raffle ticket on arrival, heralding the beginning of an appetite-whetting wait of varying duration. As satisfied groups exit through the doors of the restaurant, staff members call out numbers in urgent English and Chinese to replace them, and eager new diners head inside.
Regular yum char enthusiast Nadine Garamond says the wait is all part of the experience, and only serves to make the food taste better when you finally sit down at that coveted table.
“Sometimes it’s just my husband and I, and we’ll share a table with others, it can be an interesting way to meet new people,” Nadine says. “Otherwise if it’s a larger group- friends or family- you usually have to wait longer. But it’s fine- you can have a good catch-up out in the lobby first.” Because, as Nadine explains, the experience of yum char is so food-focused, often it’s hard to keep up conversations about other topics during the meal.
Grand Park obviously agrees their diners should stay focused. Each table’s newly issued ‘dish tally’ card is time-stamped when the party sits down, with a standard 45 minutes allowed for each sitting. Although you won’t be moved on if you keep eating, this is not the place to go if you’re looking for a long lazy Sunday conversation with lunch thrown in.
Part of the appeal of this style of dining is the huge variety available by the process of selection. Nadine believes the deliciousness of yum char is also intrinsically linked to the degree of difficulty of each dish on offer. “You could make these dishes at home,” she explains, “but it would take heaps of prep and time just to churn out a couple of them… let alone the whole raft of different dumpling fillings and yummy fried things!”
Yum char is a specific style of Chinese cuisine produced on a large scale in a commercial restaurant setting. You could try to recreate it at home, but it won’t taste the same, and it’s pretty unlikely to taste any better. Besides, shouldn’t your Sunday be a day of rest? A trip to yum char often means the most taxing thing you did on Sunday was wait in line for that tantalizing number to be called up.
COPYRIGHT TIFFANY BROWN 2014