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A few lessons in the fine art of Far Eastern cooking 'The rolls got better as I went along. (The big secret is not using too much filling.)'

Ha Go and Siu My and Spring Rolls -- oh my. I've always been crazy about the bits and pieces of food the Chinese call Dim Sum -- tiny mouthfuls of dough that enclose cleverly seasoned fillings, one bite at most. They are fried or steamed to order and popped into the mouth when served with tea.

But I never expected to be standing in a hotel kitchen in Hong Kong trying to make some of them.

I've just returned from three weeks in the Far East totally noodled and dumplinged out. I ate those goodies happily all day long -- fried noodles for breakfast in Singapore, ultra thin rice paper wrapped rolls in Vietnam and numerous steamed barbecued buns in the Shanghai airport before returning home (and a good thing I did that because the American Airlines culinary fare was nasty.)

But nothing compared with trying to construct dim sum in the Intercontinental Hotel in Hong Kong under the stern eye of executive chef Yan Toh Heen, who started to work in kitchens when he was 14 years old.

And a jovial guy who smiles a lot. But a very hard task master.

Fourteen spring rolls I made under his watch until he was satisfied. Fourteen. Placing a mixture of yam, turnip, celery, carrot, golden mushrooms and oyster sauce onto a circle of dough, folding left over right, right over left, rolling and then sealing shut with -- a little flour paste. (who knew?)

The rolls got better as I went along. (The big secret is not using too much filling.)

But here's the thing -- spring rolls are but a wok (sorry!) in the park. Because Mr. Yan's next lesson concerned Siu My -- spooning shrimp, pork, mushrooms into the center of a wonton sheet, placing the sheet on the flat of the hand and then making a little cup around it before steaming.

Even more difficult was Ha Go. Shrimp and bamboo shoots in a translucent wrapping made with something called crystal flour and -- oh lord! -- actually pleating the wrapper.

Later, at an elegant luncheon in the Yan Toh Heen dining room overlooking the harbor (excuse me "harbour") we tasted the hotel's dim sum. They were purveyed elegantly, one by one, on jade-bordered china. I still have the menu.

Crispy Taro Dumplings filled with Seafood; Baked Roasted Duck Puff with Macadamia Nuts; Crispy Spring Roll with Shredded Chicken and Pickles (these looked better than mine); Steamed Pumpkin Dumplings filled with Morels.

Ultra ultra upscale, I grant you.

So I left with great respect for the chefs -- one even administered another brief quiz on my way out. "What have you learned?" he asked me sternly.

I know that I will never ever make dim sum at home.

In my opinion, there's restaurant food and there's homemade food and never the twain shall meet. Dim Sum is in the first category. Definitely.

I will always love to to go out for dim sum -- especially to a restaurant where they serve the stuff the old traditional way -- from carts parading from the kitchen throughout the room. The nearest place they do this, I am pretty sure, is around Toronto.

But I'll leave all that intricate construction to the Guys Who Know -- cancel my order for the cart.

See you in Mississauga.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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