I have no idea how long Yen Ching has been occupying the corner of 9th and Bannock in downtown Boise. I know that it’s been there since at least the mid-90’s, but beyond that I couldn’t say. Always one of the more interesting places in town, I rarely make it there because when I’m in the area I usually opt for Twin Dragon, whose chow mein I absolutely adore. Yen Ching’s food has always seemed slightly more homemade, somehow. And to be honest, I simply hate peas and carrots in my fried rice. However, Yen Ching has quite a bit to offer (such as their amazing bakery), and dim sum has recently been added to that list.
|No, I didn’t get a picture of the building…|
Long before I caught the cold that has been kicking my arse for the last week, my beloved and I had made plans to head downtown to celebrate our anniversary by catching The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest at The Flicks (interestingly enough this would make our second Swedish film and Chinese food outing) on November 12th. Then the release got pushed back locally to November 26th, by which point I was sick. Still I wasn’t about to miss the movie, I figured a little hot mustard certainly couldn’t hurt my congestion, and I’d been wanting to sample Yen Ching’s new dim sum menu since it had been announced.
It’s safe to say that I was at one point considering ordering about half of the dim sum menu, not because I thought I could eat it all but because I wanted to try almost everything. Eventually, I settled on Spring Rolls, Seafood Rolls, Siu Mai, and Shrimp Har Gow. My girlfriend’s tastes were simpler, and she opted for Snow White Chicken and Chicken Fried Rice. While we waited for our order, we were invited to partake of the salad bar. My dining companion wasn’t interested since she’d had to order entrée portions to get both the things she had wanted. I decided to check it out and was very surprised by what I found. In one metal container was basic green salad, with ranch dressing being the only real option available. Another container held chicken wings that were glazed with what I would assume is some kind of Asian-themed sauce. I ended up returning to the table with a plate of what I can only describe as a ramen pasta salad, the third and last of the main items on the salad bar.
|An interesting pasta salad from Yen Ching’s salad bar|
It’s very hard to describe this dish. It’s not like any cold ramen or soba noodles I’ve had before. As far as I can tell it’s basically ramen noodles with peas, shredded carrots, diced ham and various seasonings. Interesting but generally good and refreshing. I got my gal to try a bite and she thought it was pretty good as well. While I was still working on my “salad”, our server returned with two steaming bowls of egg drop soup.
|Egg Drop Soup|
We all know about the correlation between colds and chicken soup, and Western cultures certainly don’t corner the market on chicken soup. This was good, hot, all the ingredients very tender and the broth packing a strong chicken flavor. Most important, it wasn’t at all heavy, a good thing since our food began arriving promptly. First came my Spring and Seafood Rolls.
My girl and I are both big Spring Roll fans, and fell upon the plate the moment it hit the table. Luckily I remembered to snap a pic while there was still one left. We were given hot mustard and something which appeared to be a sweet and sour sauce for dipping, but I was only interested in the former. Let me tell you this: Yen Ching has, so far as I know, the hottest hot mustard in town. Both of us concurred on this. I’m still trying to train myself to enjoy spicy food, but I’ve always had a weakness for Chinese hot mustard, and this stuff packed a lot of flavor with its punch to the point where I had a hard time not using more than I knew I could handle. We both agreed that these were some of the better rolls we’ve had around Boise, even though I noticed nothing different from what most of the other places do with theirs. Perhaps a better quality oil is used?
The Seafood Rolls I didn’t dig quite as much. I was told they contained shrimp and scallop, but I’d swear there was some krab (yes, the imitation kind) in there. Anyway, that wasn’t the problem, the breading was. It was very good as breading goes, but something I would expect to find on a fish fillet, not a dim sum cart. Thinking back on this dish, there was nothing I particularly disliked about it, it just took me by surprise. If it sounds like your cup of tea, I heartily recommend it.
|Snow White Chicken|
The Snow White Chicken and Chicken Fried Rice were next to arrive. The former might be my girl’s favorite Asian dish, but even though I’ve seen it on several Chinese menus and even more Thai ones, I’d yet to try it. There were big chunks of thin chicken, water chestnuts, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. The sauce is very mild and I ended up adding soy sauce to mine. The girlfriend enjoyed it but says there are better versions around. For my part, I could see ordering it again if I was craving something light with lots of veggies.
|Chicken Fried Rice|
I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fried rice. I like the simple old meat, scallion and egg variety. I do love the sprouts that Yen Ching adds to the mix, but didn’t care at all for the peas, carrots or mushrooms. Still, the offending bits were easy to work around and otherwise the rice was enjoyable, and I even mixed a little hot mustard in with it because I was liking it so much. Note: this stuff was even better as leftovers the next day.
|Shrimp Har Gow|
Even though it’s a very safe choice (especially when compared to say, the braised tripe), Har Gow is one of my favorite dim sum items. Generally this is a dumpling consisting of mostly shrimp, with seasoning and a little added vegetable mixed in, wrapped in a skin comprised primarily of wheat and tapioca starches before being steamed to sticky, chewy perfection. The flavor of these was amazing, easily my favorite item of the meal. My only issue with them was that their stickiness was a bit much, resulting in them sticking to each other and the liner of the steaming pan. Unfortunately, I was unable to get one dumpling out of that pan without ripping it, which made me a little sad even though it obviously had no effect on the flavor.
Ah, Siu Mai…or Shu Mai, Shaomai, Shui Mai, Sui Mai, Shui Mei, Shao Mai, Siew Mai, Siomai…whatever, these are my all-time favorite dim sum item. I get them fairly often from the buffet at Jade Horse in Meridian, or in the freezer section of some of the Asian markets around town, but nothing beats getting them fresh and handmade. These were good examples of their kind, big, moist and with good yet delicate flavor, but once again the sticky wrapper issue came up. Again, this makes me feel that the food here seems more “homemade”. Luckily the dumplings only stuck to one another, as each rested upon a carrot slice that kept it from sticking to the pan as it steamed. To be honest though, the sticky wrappers bug me a bit. One of the things I love so much about dim sum is the almost mechanical precision that goes into crafting it at the restaurants that specialize in it. Don’t get me wrong, this may not have been the best dim sum I’ve ever had, but it was still very good. And make no mistake, it’s the best you’ll find in the Boise area. Even though I was a little disappointed in some of the execution, the flavors were all good and I will definitely return, and if you’ve never experienced the joy of dim sum (pot stickers in your take-out bag don’t count) this is a perfectly good place to start. They are to be commended for trying their hand at a specialty niche that hasn’t been given much of a chance here, but which Chinese food aficionados have been clamoring for. And if it does well (fingers crossed), perhaps it will expand the way their bakery has, or perhaps a competitor will try their hand at it. It certainly would be nice not to have to travel to the next state to get the “full treatment”.