Anyone who knows me knows I’m pretty big on dim sum.
Dim sum is basically like Asian tapas eaten for brunch. I have many memories of it growing up as it was really the only form of eating out we did as a family when I was young and we were on a tighter budget.
Yum cha (the act of going out for dim sum) was something my parents and I did regularly with my aunt and uncle as a way for them to catch up and keep in touch. As a kid, I remember the adults were usually more focus on their conversation than the food; though they took their tea drinking more seriously (“great for digestion” as my mom/dad would always say before pouring me what seemed to be the 15th cup of Bo Lei tea of the afternoon). I, however, with not much to add to the adult conversations that I could barely follow, always sat quietly and enjoyed every morsel of Cantonese style dishes. We would order a variety of the steamer baskets and plates from the dim sum ladies as they pushed around their carts full of these magical treats.
I love dim sum in any and every way; having it in the restaurants while leisurely sipping on tea even in midst of the chaotic bustle all around or having it as takeout. Back in junior high, when I used to go to Chinese school on Saturdays (how Asian…), I would come home to 3 or 4 small styrofoam containers of my usual favorite dishes (shrimp rice roll, “phoenix” legs, pork spare ribs, intestines, shumai, har gow, etc) that my dad bought and left for me as my lunch. These were little things/moments that made me able to endure having to go to class on Saturdays too because I knew I had these treats (and my favorite cartoon show) to go home to.
Surprisingly, or perhaps because of the fact that dim sum is so nostalgic for me, I am not too fussy about it. Since there are such a variety of dishes you can have, most places will have hits and misses. So as long as you find the right things to eat at certain places, you can’t truly go wrong with dim sum.
When I lived in Bay Ridge, my family went to our usual rotations of pretty much all the known dim sum places there. We do not have much options here in Sheepshead Bay. But my parents still frequently head back to the old neighborhood to yum cha with my aunt and uncle.
I went once last month for Mother’s Day but have otherwise been severely lacking in experiencing it much this year. So when I heard that there was a vegan dim sum place in Chinatown, I knew I had to try it out.
Buddha Bodai One has been around since 2004. It’s a fairly unassuming place on Mott Street. Service was better than what you usually get at a Chinese place in Chinatown. They were actually quite friendly and came around time to time to check and make sure we got everything as they do not do the dim sum carts here so orders are made on a menu sheet they provide; most of the items are made to order (or so they say…). Some people really enjoy the experience of the dim sum ladies with their carts and choosing from what is available/fresh from them; others rather not have to deal with that and like the menu ordering system. I do not really have a preference though I’m used to dealing more with the carts.
Anyhoos… on to the important thing… how does Buddha Bodai’s vegan versions of some old favorites stack up in terms of taste?
We had a variety of items, most of which were decent or great.
The wonton soup was ok, the wonton itself was sort of bland, a mixture of chives and vermicelli but I liked the pure veggie broth; a simple palate cleanser right before the start of the real meal.
I rarely get congees in restaurant because I feel it is something that can be easily made at home but JS was in the mood for congee so we got the mushroom congee, which comes with two types of mushroom, though I cannot recall which ones they were. Again, the congee was ok; decent if you’re in the mood for it but nothing really special.
The vegetarian stuffed pepper had a great coating with the perfect crunch to it. The filling was decent with various veggies and water chestnut.
The “shrimp” rice roll is one of my absolute favorite dim sum item to get. It’s one of those benchmark items that you have to get at each place you go to. Here it is made with a slice tofu filling which actually had quite a “fish cake” taste to it. I loved it. The rice roll itself had a great silky texture to it. On it’s own, it would have no taste but drowned & soaked in that slighty sweet soy sauce, it is a delectable combo. I would have no problem choosing this over a traditional shrimp rice roll; as with actual shrimps, sometimes the shrimp itself is not the freshest or it can be rubbery and whatnot.
The sticky rice shu mai was great. As it was sticky rice, the texture is definitely not what you get from a normal porky shu mai but these are very tasty morsels with bits of “char siu” bbq roast pork.
The only dud of the group was the black bean “pork spare ribs”. I believe it is made with seitan but I really did not like the black bean sauce and the seitan soaked up too much of that and the texture was just off. The whole dish just did not resemble the real thing much.
JS ordered the “chicken” curry with potatoes. However, we were getting quite stuffed and because we were going for more desserts after this, she took it home to eat for dinner instead. The only feedback I remember from her was that she liked it very much. I do not recall what she had to say, if anything, about the “chicken”. JS, if you’re reading this, leave a comment on what you thought of the protein!
One of the main reasons why I wanted to try this place was because I had heard that their “char siu” aka bbq roast pork was great and almost like the real thing. They were right; this shit is legit! I love the flavor, it might be a tad on the sweeter side for some people but I really enjoy my bbq roast pork to have a sticky sweet sauce/crispy coating so I really enjoyed the flavor here. I believe the mock meat here was seitan. I thought the texture itself was pretty on point with the real thing although my companions were not as sold as I was on that point. But I bet anything if you gave this to anyone who has eaten char siu before, they would not be able to tell straight off the bat that it was not actually meat. This was definitely the highlight of the meal for me and I would easily go back to Buddha Bodai just to get an order of this.
We ended the meal on a great note with this mango pudding with cream. Staying true to the Asian roots, there aren’t many dessert options. There is this mango pudding, a tofu cheesecake, and tofu ice cream. We just got the mango pudding as we were heading to Bibble & Sips afterwards for cream puffs and panna cotta. The mango pudding was more jello-ish in texture than actual pudding but it still tasted good. My favorite bit was actually the cream which had the dashes of raspberry (?) syrup in it. It was a good, relatively light dish to end on.
Overall, Buddha Bodai One is a great options for vegans/vegetarians (and bonus points for being kosher!) to enjoy some dim sum dishes they normally would not be able to partake in. I definitely want to go back to try more of my standby dishes that I did not get this time around like har gow, fried turnip cake, tripe, etc and an order of that awesome char siu! Prices might be slightly higher ($2.95 for small items, $3.25 for medium items, and $5.45 for large items) than some of the places I’m used to but nothing outrageous that I would not pay for especially for the items I can’t get elsewhere. They also have a great weekday $7.50 lunch special that comes with soup or spring roll and rice.
I am happy that I got recommended this place and have another option to add to my everlasting love for dim sum.
What are some cuisines or food that make you feel nostalgic and where do you go for them? Please let me know in the comments!
Buddha Bodai One
5 Mott St
New York, NY 10013
There is apparently another restaurant that goes by the same name but this is the original location.
The Mew Ratings*:
Enjoy the mew life,