Wellington's award-winning yum cha at Dragons
Included by Cuisine magazine in their top 100 New Zealand restaurants, experience yum cha and community at this family-run restaurant
25 Tory Street
Belle Wang grew up as a “hospo kid” getting pulled out of bed on weekend mornings and school holidays to help out in the family restaurant, Dragons.
But Belle loved it because she got to be around her family who all worked in the restaurant, including her sister out front “bossing me around, as usual” she says. Her first memory of helping out is cleaning teacups, “It’s yum cha, so there’s a lot of cups to clean!”
Belle’s family set up Dragons in 2007 after moving to New Zealand and finding a lack of authentic Chinese restaurants in Wellington. “When my grandad came to Wellington, all he wanted was a place to go and drink tea. That’s a really big part of our culture, having somewhere to meet up and talk. He still comes into Dragons each day, 365 days a year, to sit at his special table and drink a cup of tea.”
Yum cha translates from Cantonese as ‘drink tea’, while Dragons, the name of the restaurant, means to get together, reflecting how the restaurant acts as a hub for the family, the Chinese community in Wellington and other Wellingtonians for whom yum cha is a regular part of life.
The community that Dragons has built through bringing authentic Cantonese food to Wellington is important for the family and for the wider community. The Wang family has always wanted Dragons to be accessible and to encourage a range of different people to come and try Cantonese food. At its core, yum cha is about people coming together and sharing food.
Dragons is easily the benchmark yum cha joint in Wellington (and there’s some good competition) but they pip their peers with quality and service.
Sean Golding, Cuisine magazine
For those who haven’t experienced yum cha before, Belle’s advice is to take your time and to begin with tea – but to always pour someone else’s tea before you pour your own. Start with steamed food first. Belle suggests picking the har gao (shrimp dumpling), siu mai (parcels of pork, shrimp and mushroom) and, for the intrepid, fung chau (chicken feet). Then it's time for fried food – squid, dumplings, spring rolls – but remember to save room for dessert. You don’t want to miss out on custard buns, mango pudding or Belle’s favourite Portuguese egg tarts.
Belle says that the busiest day is Sunday, when the whole restaurant is bustling with trolleys of steamed food and people everywhere. “Organised chaos, is how I’d describe it” she says. Even though she’s worked so many of her teenaged Saturdays and Sundays at the family restaurant, Belle still has a soft spot for yum cha. “Especially when friends come back from overseas, we all meet together at Dragons for yum cha. Yum cha brings people together and it’s really important for me to keep coming. I’ve lived with it all my life and now it’s just a way of life.”
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