This warning against eating food transplanted from foreign cultures certainly doesn’t apply to Tauranga’s new yum cha restaurant. For a quick explanation, yum cha is a Cantonese term that literally translates into ‘drinking tea.’ It refers to the Chinese custom of eating small servings of different foods, or dim sum, while sipping tea.
Tauranga has lacked a specialised yum cha restaurant, but Eastern Ocean Chinese Restaurant has put that to rights – offering a very authentic yum cha experience.
The restaurant sticks pleasingly with time-honoured rituals: there is no ordering in the traditional European sense; you sit down with family and friends, order some tea, and wait for a variety of dim sum to be brought to your table on trays - and shown to you. When you select a dish, the waitress marks a card that’s taken up to pay your bill at the end of the meal.
Much of the food arrives in the bamboo trays in which a lot of dim sum is steamed. But there are other cooking methods, including frying. The small delicacies eaten with chopsticks and dipped in sauces, are always served piping hot, still steaming, filling the air with some delicious aromas. The tastes are often subtle, and the flavours uniquely Oriental.
The Eastern typically serves around 25 to 30 different types of dim sum on weekdays, and more at weekends. It’s all made on the premises and it’s pleasing to see the likes of char siu baau – a white bread steamed bun with a delicious molten core of hot tasty pork. Dumplings and rice rolls have a range of ingredients including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetables. Among the more exotic offerings are chickens feet (tender, delicious).
Proprietor Benson Qin, who runs EO with his wife Yana, is a strong advocate for “real” Chinese food. He insists that many Chinese restaurants in New Zealand are serving a bland version of the real thing. “Honestly, its not real Chinese food – it’s like, European-style,” he says.
Benson Qin has the right credentials to run a traditional yum cha outfit. The 29 year-old arrived in New Zealand from Shanghai seven years ago to study management, and completed a B Com at Waikato University. His business skills were put to good use as he ran Hamilton’s biggest Chinese restaurant for four years, before he decided to be his own boss.
Benson “borrowed some money from father in Shanghai,” and decided on Tauranga for his restaurant - because “everybody knows this is the fastest growing city in the North Island. And Hamilton is too cold – bloody cold!”
Eastern Ocean is open 7 days with dim sum served from 11am to 3 pm daily, and dinner from 5.30 to 10pm. If yum cha’s not your thing, EO has a huge menu that features beef and lamb, pork, seafood, and chicken dishes.
The Eastern is a spacious place with unpretentious art in the traditional black, brush-strokes style. It is fully licensed, located at Shop 3, 100 Grey Street, Tauranga. Phone 07-5799 777. We reckon it’s a ‘don’t miss’ ethnic eatery