Dim Sum 101 in South Ocean Seafood Restaurant on Garden City and Alexandra, Richmond

This whole Extreme Dim Sum thing took a life of its own. It got out of my control. LOL!

It is in this post that I first mentioned organizing an event which I want to call “Adventures in Exotic Chinese Dim Sum for Uninitiated Brave-Hearted Souls”. That discussion took a life of its own and as one thing led to another, the “Adventures in Exotic Chinese Dim Sum for Uninitiated Brave-Hearted Souls” became “Extreme Dim Sum”. It even have an acronym coined — XDS! People were beginning to talk about eating cow testicles, pig brains, and what nots.

Really … I want to do a 2-phase Dim Sum event for chowtimes readers. I want to do a simple dim sum brunch before graduating to the extreme stuff. If I read chowtimes readers well enough, there are readers who would just love to go to a very Chinese-y place with push cart dim sums … a place where the most exotic dish is just chicken feet. It will be Dim Sum 101. Just like what I am describing here in this post.

Alejandra works in my company. She had been telling me she wanted to learn about dim sum first hand. So I told her to round up a few people and that it will be an honour for me to be their guide.

Ben and Suanne became a dim sum guide to Alejandra, Estanislao, Guillermo and Alma. Can you tell by their names what nationalities they are from? Although all of them had dim sums before, they were just there as passive participants … if you know what I mean. I wanted to bring them to a place where all the customers are Chinese for authenticity.

I also wanted to bring them to a restaurant that still uses push carts to bring dim sum to the table. These sort of restaurants are getting rarer these days but it would be the kind of place that my friends would be able to order the dim sum on their own. For people who do not know dim sums, order chit/menu is virtually useless. I wanted my friends to be able look at the dim sum and have them select it themselves. Hehehe … I wanted to also observe what they order.

I posed a question on the chowtimes Facebook fan page asking for recommendations for a restaurant that meets the following criteria:

  • It has to be a push cart dim sum restaurant
  • It has to be cheap
  • It has to be a place where non-Asians will stick out like a sore thumb

And the recommendation I received was the South Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Richmond.


We met at 9AM in the restaurant. That is the time they open. I thought it would be good to start early before it gets real busy by 11AM and we get harassed to leave. That’s me right? I like taking my own sweet time enjoying my meals … I hate being rushed. Moreover, I am there with a mission … to teach.

It was so early there was hardly anyone there in the restaurant. It was just perfect for us.

So I was telling my friends about the customs of dim sum which they never had the chance to learn previously. You know, stuff like the tapping of fingers, newspapers, tea drinking, and cooking techniques. It was interesting as we contrasted how different it is between our cultures.


We talk about things that a lot of us Chinese take for granted. For instance, how the type of bill above works. This is perhaps … unique to dim sum restaurants and knowing things like this goes a long way in making people feel comfortable in dim sum restaurants.


Not many restaurants uses push carts anymore. This is the best way for the uninitiated to see exactly what they are ordering. After all, the words dim sum means “pick of the heart” in Cantonese … i.e. you select what your heart desires.

Most newer restaurants these days resort to using order forms with accompanying printed menus. Some restaurants have menus with pictures but they are just not the same as having it right by you.

Can you help me by identifying some of the remaining push cart dim sum restaurants in Metro Vancouver that you know of?

Anyway, when the push carts came around, I refused to even look at the push carts. I told Estanislao and Guillermo to look and decide what they want … and that they have to eat it even if they don’t like it. It is Chinese custom to never waste food, I told them. LOL!

You know what? I think they felt empowered.

So after the dim sum I polled their opinions on the dim sum we had. This is unscientific but it is also fun understanding what they like or don’t like of the food we had. BTW, have you figured out what nationalities are Alejandra, Estanislao, Guillermo and Alma? They are Mexicans.


I am none the wiser based on their feedback. I think the likes-dislikes are based on partly on cultural preferences and partly on personal tastes.

The entire meal came up to be about $7-$8 per person (before tips). So, it was really cheap considering the amount of food we ordered.

One thing I accomplished. The week after back at the office, Guillermo was telling me that they are going back again … ON THEIR OWN … the next time. I think they know how to navigate through the dim sum maze on their own now.

I have Chinese-fied my Mexican friends. LOL!

South Ocean Seafood on UrbanspoonBusiness Hour

7 days a week

9:00 am to 3:00 pm
5:00 pm to 11:00 pm

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  1. LotusRapper

    In that case my notion of XDS would be like going to dim sum grad school ?? LOL

  2. Jonnek

    What!!! They didnt like the assorted beef internals with daikon? That’s my favorite seriously. LOL.

  3. Yen

    Man I love dim sum so much :3 Great little post there. And I couldn’t agree with you more on those steamed short ribs. I’ve never understood why anyone liked them actually. They’re always fatty in the wrong places. Usually too tough. More bone than meat…. Simply, Chinese cuisine ruins short ribs.

    Haha, you’ve also got my likes pretty much down pat.

  4. Chris

    Skip the cow offals and go for the pig blood cubes with chives(chu-hoong kau-choi)!

  5. Katy

    Chicken feet = my favorite dish!!! Mmmmm. I usually eat an whole order by myself. *greedy look*

    I go to South Ocean a lot because I live near there (well I live near all the dim sum restaurants in Richmond) and it’s good and cheap.

    I remember Gala had carts but I haven’t been there in a while though so they might’ve changed. They use to be really good but the last couple times I went, I wasn’t satisfied. I don’t like their chicken feet either anymore; I judge dim sum restaurants by how their chicken feet tastes like.

    Does Continental have carts? I go there so much but can’t remember! Ahhh my bad memory. =S

    1. Winnie

      Continental still have carts. but their dim sum don’t taste so great. My coworker still goes once in a while because we can get a quick lunch there (no wait for table, don’t need to wait for food cos the carts keep coming which is unusual for dim sum).

    2. Christine

      Gala doesn’t have carts anymore. However, they do have the occasional 1 or 2 items that comes out in trays.

  6. LotusRapper

    Anyone know when Pink Pearl will be back in operation ? They’re one venerable dim sum institution that still uses carts

  7. Joanne

    Off the top of my head, Golden Swan Restaurant on Victoria Drive in Vancouver still have push carts during dim sum. I’ve been there recently and the food was quite good. It’s quite big and spacious there.

  8. iluv2fish

    Glad to hear they enjoyed dim sum. I love it myself but haven’t eaten much of it lately as I am trying to eat healthier these days. Yes, Chicken feet are my favorite. I remember going to Asia Garden in Chinatown when I was just a young kid. Of course back in those days, all dim sum restaurants used push carts. I also remember that they calculated your bill based on the number of plates you had on the table. Made for an interesting meal as all the plates started to pile up. The beef rice rolls were also very popular. So much so that when the cart came out, people would get off their seats and run to grab a plate before they were sold out. Ah the good old days!

  9. Doug

    Here some flaws about push cart and why almost all restaurant convert to order when ready!

    1. Can’t go to restaurant too early or late because food either not ready or all ran out of the usual stuff.

    2. If the restaurant doesn’t sell everything, food goes to waste.

    3. The food is always over cooked.

    4. Waiter/Waitress have to push a heavy dangerous cart that could potentially or mistakenly hurt someone.

    I could list the cons of the push cart on and on but you get the idea. =D

    1. etranger

      Re: Remarks 1-4 above

      1. True, but that is the fun of it. Don’t be late or all the Don Tots will be gone!

      2. Does this mean that the restaurant is only steaming prepurchased frozen dim sums to order? Don’t all restaurants have to plan their service quantities for a day as a general rule?

      3. It seems always cooked the same, whether to order or not. Besides, they could not possibly be cooking each tiny order of dim sum on request, with those huge rooms full of people on a busy day. Ben, you should go on a kitchen tour of a big dim sum place on a busy day to see how it is done.

      4. What? Those servers never hurt anyone with their carts. And they aren’t that heavy. I personally accept the risk of being run over by a wayward dim sum cart.

      From what I know, the carts are not used in Hong Kong where square footage is at a premium and there is no room for the cart to travel. Maybe that is now the fashion in North America, even though space is cheaper outside Hong Kong. Or perhaps space is expensive enough in the Vancouver/Richmond area to make it worthwhile.

      I still think it is a loss to give up the carts. Part of the fun is looking at the carts and saying: Yes? No? What do you guys think? It is much more clinical and less fun to just order off a menu.

      At this rate, you will soon have to line up at a counter to order, and they will have a Dollar Menu and Kids Meal Toys.

      1. Doug

        2. The restaurant have a set amount of food ready for service that day, however, if push cart system is used they have to finish all that food that is steaming in the cart or they have to throw it away or serve to there staff. (which is costly) If the food is not steam in the cart, it can be used for next day.

        3. The food is stacked on the push cart, thus, the first couple of dumpling stack in the steamer is very hot and will over cook the food. While if you order the dim sum from menu, there a time limit to cook the dim sum to perfection and serve to customer in perfect timing. Same principal for making any foods, it can’t be over cook or under cooked. (For example, over cooked chicken feet, the skins fall right off. Shrimp dumpling skin wrapper is very slimy and wet)

        4. I’ve experience being hit by the push cart when I was young child because its a big cart and lots of blind spots especially for kids. Of course adults aren’t danger to it, however, restaurant are family friendly and you want the place to be as safe as possible.

        The restaurant industry is always changing from old tradition with modern twist to new invention for the adventurous pallets.

    2. Katy

      I actually don’t prefer dim sum restaurants with carts either; the dishes I want usually takes too long to arrive and I always end up ordering them from a waiter anyway. There also seems to be more choices at restaurants with order sheets anyway.

  10. Nancy L

    That’s so great that you empowered them to go on their own and to have them try what they wanted. Tehehe. Yes, and making them eat everything! As for push carts, I can only think of Golden Swan on Victoria Drive and well, South Ocean too. At least these are places we have been to for push cart dim sum.

  11. trisha

    nice! i want some of (almost) everything. the order form has me stumped though… how does that work??

  12. LotusRapper

    IL2F, you sure jogged my memory lane !

    A few places that really stick out in my memory are:

    – Kingsland (Granville, downtown)
    – [Forget name] at corner of Main & Pender (NE corner, upstairs)
    – [Forget name] at corner of Gore & Pender (NW corner, also upstairs)

    Push carts rule. Yes the method had its flaws, but that was the whole point of it …. the “dim sum” (point to your heart’s desire) part.

    I think I’ll check out Golden Swan soon

  13. grayelf

    FYI Lotus, Park Lock is closed, as is Pink Pearl and Flamingo on Fraser, all former cart stalwarts. Sun Sui Wah on Main no longer has carts.

    Here’s my list of places with carts in Vancouver proper as of Dec 2008 (time for an update!):

    Carts all week:
    Golden Ocean 2046 W 41st Avenue near West Boulevard (604) 263-8886 confirmed by phone Dec 30/08)

    Szechuan Chongqing on Broadway confirmed by phone May 2/08, they take resos

    Golden Swan 5380 Victoria Drive btwn 37th and 38th (604) 321-6621 (confirmed by phone May 2/08, no resos); Keith Talent says best, prepare to wait or go early

    Golden Phoenix 2425 Nanaimo Street at 8th (604) 253-9717 (confirmed by phone May 2/08, they take resos)

    The Roc 1334 Kingsway near Knight (604) 876-2848; recommended by Knight/Knightafter Jan 2008, confirmed July 2008, appears to take resos (slight language issue)

    International Chinese Restaurant 2163 Hastings Street East (confirmed by phone May 2/08, they take resos): Food is OK…old-school. fmed May 8/08

    Dai Tung 108-1050 Kingsway btwn Windsor and Glen (604) 872-2268 (confirmed by phone May 2/08, no resos, cash only, busy, get numbers called out sometimes in Chinese, can ask to share a table)

    Harbour Pacific Chinese Seafood Restaurant 4524 E. Hastings, at Willingdon, southeast corner, note this resto is technically in Burnaby, (604) 294-8059 – tip from Nancyland’s foodblog but confirmed July 2008; will take resos

    1. Suanne

      *gasp* you are truly amazing, Grayelf. Thanks for the list even though it needed updating.

    2. Shmoo

      The Roc on Kingsway has closed, and moved to Cambie at Marine Drive. They’re just getting started in the new location (as of May 2011), and are currently more hit-and-miss than previously. I have faith that they will tighten things up as they get settled in the new spot.

  14. microserf

    I believe that International Chinese Restaurant is no longer in operation. It has been replaced by another restaurant. At least thats what my parents tell me

  15. Ellis

    What a great post, Ben. Superb pictures as always.
    It’s amusing how you color-coded the Likes and dislikes… =)

  16. Jade

    This is something that very much bothers me about Chinese restaurants such as this- non-Asians stick out like a sore thumb (as you mentioned). I am caucasian and would love to experience more non-Westernized Asian food, but whenever I enter one of these restaurants I am made to feel unwelcome and often we are pretty much ignored. The dim-sum carts often pass us by without stopping! Asians often complain that food here in Vancouver is too Westernized…. but we are often not given the opportunity to experience anything else…. after all, who wants to go into a restaurant where they feel they don’t belong?

    1. Ben

      You know, Jade. Not all Chinese restaurants are like that. But then I understand that just a few indifferent restaurants is enough to put off non-Asians going to these sort of restaurants. I really think this is simply because of language barriers and nothing more than that. Most of the restaurant workers are paid lowly and many do not know much English. I don’t I need to explain any further. That is what I would like to change things within my limited ability. My four Mexican friends were doing most of the interactions with the restaurant and they enjoyed themselves.

    2. LotusRapper

      To add to Ben’s points, it’s okay in Chinese restaurants (regardless of Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechuan, etc) to be a bit more vocal than in your “typical Western” restaurant to get service or extra explanation on dishes, ingredients, etc.

      In *general*, Chinese restaurants don’t employ service nor staff that will come up to you with jovial “Good evening, my name is Bob and I’ll be your server tonight. Our specials today are ……”. In some restaurants you actually will (or even more). I’m just saying the general expectations are different from the restauranteurs’ and diners’ perspectives for Chinese restaurants, so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle.

      Learning a Chinese word or two can go a long ways in building rapport with your server, especially someone who’s a regular at that restaurant. It shows the staff that you are earnest and truly interested in the cuisine and the culture.

      And when in doubt, go dine with Ben & Suanne 😉

  17. Brian

    I agree with Jade. In general, I find English levels in Cantonese restaurants higher than in Mandarin restaurants. I’ll seldom go to a Mandarin restaurant unless I am with a Mandarin speaker.

    The one dim sum restaurant I’ve found in Richmond that not only welcomes non-Asians but also has employees who speak English very well is Continental Seafood in the shopping plaza on Cambie at #5 Rd. The cart servers will always approach you even if your table is already full of dishes. Be there early on weekends-lineups in this huge restaurant tell you that the food is good value. Another commenter here said the food wasn’t that great-I disagree but then the question of taste is very subjective.

  18. timetochow

    jade, you should join ben and suanne for their dimsum. they are very welcoming and great host.

    dont take it personal if you receive bad service at a chinese restaurant. service at most chinese places are less service orientated than you would expect in western cuisine.
    chinese servers treat chinese customers poorly too. 🙂
    the language barrier is prob the most challenging part.

    the working conditions at a chinese restaurant is VERY different than a ‘western’ restaurant. trust me many(if not all) of them would love to work in a ‘western’ restaurant. all feel/know their english isnt good enough. their lack of opportunity to practice english makes them nervous sometimes to comfortably approach others. this is just a general rule, there are exceptions.

    re grayelf pushcart dim sum list:
    international… is now golden star and still serves dimsum. $2.75 and up

    i think dai tung is the best value but never go because of line up/wait and service inconsistent/none. agree golden swam is pretty good.

    i tried golden phoniex based on good reports, but the food was the worse dim sum for me. tried dinner there a week later and like it to warrant further visits. I guess i went on a bad day…

    pink pearl probably is probably most western friendly too bad they are closed. golden ocean is friendly too.

    Trivia time:

    1)anyone remember a AYCE dimsum place in vancouver?

    2)where can you get dimsum after 3pm or even at3am???

    1. fmed

      Fantastic Restaurant has/had(?) AYCE dim sum. I have never had it.

      HKYK Hotpot offers late night dim sum. I have never tried that either.

      Definitely check out Golden Phoenix again…I don’t think it is the best dim sum in the area by any stretch. It is my family’s “go-to” place (though I have to admit that we haven’t been there in many months now since we seem to be in Richmond fairly regularly these days.)

      1. timetochow

        fmed, yuppers. i cant stump you, old jedi master.
        i like fantastic because of the price. i think 10.99 ayce, not sure though. it’s gone.
        HKYK, is kinda odd. wouldnt recommend. night time dim sum is not like it is in Asia(where it is rare too)

        will keep golden phoenix as a probable return. agree te better dimsum are definitely in richmond. sea harbour, jade, empire etc etc.. too many to list but none of the push car variety. and most with the crypto chinese menu!


        1. fmed

          Speaking of crypto-Chinese menu. Golden Phoenix is known for their soups…specifically the medicinal kind. Not my cup of…uh…soup, but I hear that is a major draw for them.

          1. timetochow

            yup i found their soup very nice.

            though now I think shanghai village double boiled soup.. yada yada yada is better albeit more pricey. $19.95 for soup… good thing that is more than a cupfull.

  19. Doug

    I’ve had awful service in French, Italy, and Western restaurant because I’m Chinese. You just have to “Walk a mile in another person shoe” to understand. Personally, I think its the personality that plays a big role in service. We have awesome server but they are very shy and nervous, I’m shy and say stupid things when your not at your best situations. My point is when you dine out 200 times a year, your going to have some bad or good restaurant because its all about the ratio! =D

    P.S.: I find it funny that Western people think they get bad service at Chinese restaurant, let me tell you, I get awful service when I’m in a Western restaurant because they assume we don’t have high standard or don’t speak English.

  20. grayelf

    Thanks Suanne — and anyone else who has updates or additions please post and I will add them :-).

    I’m sad to hear the various stories of bad service. I am a white female who has never had bad service in a Chinese resto of any description. I have had curt service, I have had to chase down the odd dim sum cart and ask for water more than once (sometimes I can’t just drink tea!) but I don’t consider that bad, and I’ve certainly never been ignored. Maybe I’m just lucky…

  21. grayelf

    Okay, so I got off my duff and did an update!

    *These listings are for Vancouver proper only. They are up to date as of April 2010 but please call ahead to ensure they are still correct before going to avoid cart-free disappointment. Also please note that this is a list of where carts are, not necessarily where good dim sum is :- )

    Carts all week:
    Golden Ocean 2046 W 41st Avenue near West Boulevard (604) 263-8886 8am-3pm every day; confirmed April 2010) they take resos; on 2nd floor but there is an elevator
    Szechuan Chongqing on Broadway confirmed by phone Apr 2010, they take resos (604) 734-1668 10-3 every day on 2nd floor but there is an elevator

    Golden Swan 5380 Victoria Drive btwn 37th and 38th (604) 321-6621 (confirmed by phone April 2010), prepare to wait or go early; 9-3 every day; no resos except on Sunday you can phone ahead and it will go “a little bit faster”

    Golden Phoenix 2425 Nanaimo Street at 8th (604) 253-9717 (confirmed by phone April 2010, they take resos); 9-3 every day
    The Roc 1334 Kingsway near Knight (604) 876-2848 confirmed April 2010, 9-3 every day, takes resos
    Dai Tung 108-1050 Kingsway btwn Windsor and Glen (604) 872-2268 confirmed by phone April 2010 no resos, cash only, busy, get numbers called out sometimes in Chinese, can ask to share a table) 9-3 every day

    Flamingo 7510 Cambie at 59th Avenue (604) 325-4511 dimsum on carts everday 10:30-2:30 except Wednesday when they close for a day off :- ); they take resos (604) 325-4511

    Garden Villa Seafood Restaurant 127 Pender Street E btwn Main and Quebec Chinatown (604) 688-3877 8-2 carts everyday (604) 688-3877 takes resos

    Carts on weekends only:
    Floata Seafood Restaurant 180 Keefer Street, #400 near Main Chinatown (604) 602-0368 Feb 19/10 but not so good for gwailo per dinehere; weekends only 8-3; takes resos

    Kingsland and New Diamond are no longer, the International is now Golden Star and doesn’t have carts, Fortune Court is now cart-free also

    1. Ben

      Grayelf rocks! Her list of push cart dim sum deserves to be elevated from a comment to a full post … With complete credit to Grayelf of course.

      1. Marike


    2. timetochow

      great job grayelf, going above and beyond! thanks!
      just a note:
      you dont have to wait for the push cart to get what you want. depends on the time you arrive, sometimes they will stop offering certain items. so you’re best to order to the waitress. ie har gow(shrimp dumpling) may not always be on the puch cart so just ask them to bring it to your tabl from the kitchen. if you see them bringing around the same thing a few times chances are those are the ones they want to get rid towards the end of service time. of course, you are not limited to those items.

      NOT push cart on victoria drive, Western Lake Chinese Restaurant‎ get a thumbs up from me.

  22. LotusRapper

    Bravo, Grayelf !!

  23. grayelf

    Thanks everyone — I know the cart/no cart debate will rage on till there are no carts left anywhere :-). I still get a kick out of it, and it does seem to be a good way to ease into the ds scene.

    I’ve been going for so long that I do order items I know I’m going to want, or if I don’t see them coming out in a timely fashion. It is good to remember that certain things come out at certain times but I figure if I miss a favourite this trip I’ll get it next time.

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