Horsemeat Dumplings are Suprisingly Affordable

June 23, 2007

I went to lunch today at a place in Gardena called the Sea Empress, which has a regular menu that you can order off of, but also has a unique business model that nearly killed me & my co-workers.  When you walk in & take a seat, they have roving gangs of waitresses who don’t speak English all that well, all pushing carts laden with various plates of dim sum, really good stuff, too.  So, here’s the weird part (in addition to the food already being made, piping hot and waiting for you tableside before you get there): the waitresses apparently work on commission, and however much they can get you to order impacts their profit. 

When we first sat down, a woman rolled up her cart and mumbled something, which ended up being “char-siu bao?”  If you don’t know, char-siu bao is like a donut that has been steamed instead of fried.  And the inside of the donut doesn’t have raspberry jelly, but barbecued pork.  We didn’t really understand her, and so we politely nodded yes, because it was clear that she wanted a “yes” out of us.  So, that’s how we ended up with the delicious pork donuts, which were actually really good.  But then she kept saying things, and we kept saying yes, and each time she would grab a tray full of delicious little dumplings or rolls or wontons or whatever, and set them on our table.  Eventually, the table ran out of space, at which time she took out her own custom stamp (with her insignia on it) and stamped our bill once for each item we purchased from her.

Then, as we ate, waitress after waitress came over and repeated the custom, each with their own type of tray. Steamed dumpling tray vs fried dumpling tray vs meats dim sum tray, etc.  Each time they had their own unique rubber stamp to indicate which waitress had duped us into buying more food. 

The three of us ate enough food for approximately 17 people, and finally, when dessert came around, the dessert waitress was angry at the other waitresses for cutting into her profits.  Frankly, “dessert waitress” has to be the crappiest job at this place, commission-wise.  She was desperate to get us to buy something, and even went into the back to bring out a taro-root & coconut flavored Jell-O cube that was, well, let’s just say it was no pork donut.  She happily served it to all 3 of us, gave us spoons, really did way more than the other waitresses had done, and then grabbed our bill & stamped it with her unique insignia.

The best part was that the bill that the three of us got for our 17 person dinner plus a couple Tsing-Tao beers was less than $60, approximately $18 each.  I know that based on tips, a waiter makes more if he upsells you into a higher bill, since you pay percentage, but this was a crazy approach, and didn’t really make sense upon reflection.  We missed out on things we might have enjoyed because we were too stuffed, we had too much of things we didn’t like because we didn’t really know what we agreeing to at first, etc.  Still, at these prices, it’s good to know that I can still eat my share of dumplings if I ever become homeless.  Although it does make me worry about the quality of meat being used in the dumplings.



  1. Mmmmmmm! Pork Dunuts! *droolz*

  2. How is it possible that you’ve never had Dim Sum before? Next time you are in Nor Cal I will take you to my fave spot in SF.

  3. I’m very, very lame. The only other Dim Sum place I’ve been to is Chin Chin, which is like saying the only Italian restaurant I’ve ever eaten at is Pizza Hut.

  4. Not lame at all. Please, you think I knew what Dim Sum was when I was eating whale blubber sandwiches in the Great White North?

  5. I’ve never had dim sum (which is odd, as I’ve actually been to China and am usually culinarily adventurous). What did you miss out on that you might recommend to a noob?

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