Do tell, dear reader, when you think of Chinese food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? The poor sonovagun at the mall that hands you “General Tso’s Chicken” on a toothpick as you walk by, trying not to make eye contact on your way to Subway? Or maybe getting “Wok n Roll” delivered late at night when hanging out with friends that were just to lazy to cook, or too in college to know how? Authentic, non-Americanized Chinese food (read: not that crap in the mall) is so much more than it is given credit for. It’s a feast for the senses, with flavor and texture combinations unique to the cuisine, that when [spoiler alert!] taken orally can be
TC Choy is located at Howard Ave and Platt St in South Tampa in the heart of the hopping SoHo bar district. Inside, the restaurant’s decor is much more upscale than most local Chinese spots, with colorful red lanterns hanging from the cieling, glass tile backsplashes surrounding fish tanks in the walls, and white tablecloths. After sitting and surveying the space, I half-expected Jackie Chan to backflip out of nowhere and skillfully launch a bad guy into one of those fish tanks. Alas, it never happened, but the meal
During lunch, young servers push around carts of yummy small plates, stopping by your table every few minutes to ask if you’d like to try something on their cart. When you sit down you are given a card (reminiscent of a scantron) and as the “Cart Technicians” come around and show you their wares, they mark down how many of each sized dish you take from the cart. Most smaller dishes like dumplings are in the $4 range, while kitchen specials can be $10 or more. Dim sum is a common meal for lunch in modern China, although the literal translation for “Dim Sum” is Cantonese for “drink tea” as it was initially served as a compliment to afternoon tea, after a hard day’s work (thanks, Wikipedia!). I hate to betray my European ancestry, but given the choice between this amazing grub
Crumpets: sucks to be you buddy. The carts! How did it take me so stinkin’ long to get to the good stuff! OK so each cart is different, one is an enclosed metal cart filled with steamed items- primarily dumplings or a derivative thereof. Another cart contains fried items, some of which are rich, some salty, and some sweet, most all of which are tasty! The carts don’t stop there- another has soups, such as Congee (porridge), mushroom soup (if you like ‘shrooms this is a winner), and less common but more fun stuff like tripe (one of my faves). Lastly there is a “kitchen special” cart with great dishes like roast duck, salt/pepper shrimp, bok choy, and others (check out the photo above). We ordered 2 sets of steamed dumplings, the first of which were rich, slightly earthy “Shumai”- dumplings with ground pork and mushrooms (YUM)…
followed by ginger cilantro shrimp dumplings, which we also enjoyed.
Shortly thereafter, my steamed cart buddy came back by and we got a set of the sweet bbq pork dumplings, the exterior of which were almost the consistency of bread, wrapped around a little pocket of pork happiness. The bread might seem a little dry, but it does a great job mopping up any nearby sauces you have (the spicy chili-garlic-oil-paste they give you does a fantastic job)
Next up was a killer tripe soup, which was one of the best soups I’d had in some time. It wasn’t some crazy complex execution, it was a very simple soup that ate with a rich beefiness that made me think there was some marrow involved somewhere… It had subtle hints of Chinese spices and the tripe was cooked to a tender texture with just a bit of a bite. So good.
Oh by the way, if you read “tripe” and thought “gross” (and you’ve ever eaten a hot dog), have the guy sitting next to you smack you upside the head for me. We aren’t in grade school any more, no more saying “I don’t think I like that” without even tasting the damn thing first. Sorry. Pet peeve. To (dim) sum it up, our meal was very satisfying and 5 dishes with tip was around $25. If you’ve never tried this awesome lunch treat, put it on your short list and let me know how you liked it!
*Tasting Tampa assumes no liability for reader addictions to new and amazing cuisines. Eat at own risk. As often as possible.