Full Kee 

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is the only place in Richmond where you can get authentic dim sum, a type of meal consisting of appetizer-size portions of several different dishes ordered a la carte. Dim sum is Chinese for "a little heart," or "touch your heart," which as definitions go is not very helpful in describing the food, but which goes a long way to explain yum cha, or tea lunch, which is what dim sum is made for. Yum cha is the experience of dim sum — it's the Eastern equivalent of Sunday dinner at grandma's. To see the tradition in full force, head to Full Kee on a Saturday or Sunday, traditional dim sum days, when, if you can get a seat, you can order dim sum from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The 31-item Full Kee dim sum menu includes rolls and crepes, but the vast majority of items, and what most people envision when they think of dim sum, are dumplings. Little dough balls of various shapes, sizes, textures and substances, steamed or deep-fried, and stuffed with ground meat (usually pork) or seafood, often shrimp.

On weekends, the dim sum cart makes the rounds and you pick and choose from what you see. Unless you've had dim sum before, most of the items on the cart will be unidentifiable, so you'll have to ask a lot of questions. During the week, you ask for the dim sum menu, which is marginally more helpful than the cart, giving you basic descriptions of each item.

To complicate things further, no two dumplings are alike. For example, the taro dumpling bears no resemblance to the steamed pork dumpling, one of my favorites. The pork dumpling is a short mound of ground pork, wrapped in a pleated rice-paper cup and steamed. It is delicious with a dollop of plum sauce. Another particularly tasty item with surprisingly contrasted flavors is the fried shrimp and meat dumpling: Sweet rice dough is formed into the shape of a large egg, stuffed with pork and shrimp, and deep-fried. On the more exotic side, I suggest the smoky, sesame-flavored steamed shrimp and shark's fin dumpling.


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