Our journey to Chinatown started with a board book from the library called Yum Yum Dim Sum. The little dumplings, the rolling cart, the tea—I had never understood what dim sum was, and Baby J was intrigued. So, when I made my 30 Before 30 List recently, I included dim sum in Chinatown, and another aspect of Chinese culture I wanted to see in person—a dragon dance. Recently we got to tag along on James’ business trip to Downtown L.A. and do both!

Dim Sum at Ocean Seafood

Step off the elevator at Ocean Seafood in L.A.’s Chinatown and be prepared to be frightened by giant, gushing tanks of lobster and shrimp. We were rushed to sit down in a luxurious red and gold dining room and given an old-fashioned wooden high chair with a leather seat. (More on that later). As dim sum newbies, we weren’t sure if there was a menu but quickly picked some treats off the rolling cart. James sat idly by as I filled up our table with assorted dumplings, baby bok choy and wontons.

Baby J proceeded to eat exactly one bite of a shrimp dumpling and spill soy sauce all over the lovely white tablecloth. I didn’t care for the seafood dumplings and the overall flavors on the table. Of course, both James and I liked the crispy stuffed wontons, as fried is often the best way to eat a new cuisine. Maybe Ocean Seafood’s dim sum was not reflective of the beloved meal enjoyed by our neighbors to the East, but whatever the case, we both felt fairly nauseous after eating it. To be fair, however, James was hung over from his “business meeting” the previous night at the Edison.

During the meal, where we were bombarded by rolling carts full of strange looking pastries, various preparations of fish and other disguised meats, Baby J managed to leak through her diaper soaking her only pair of pants and the leather high chair seat. So, by the time we left the building, Baby J was looking silly in just a shirt, diaper and shoes, James’ face was a shade of green, and I was apologizing for the amount of the final bill.

Dragon Dance Awaits!

We walked down to Olvera Street, a historic walkway lined with shops selling Mexican wares, and were surprised to see that the Lantern Festival was about to begin the plaza nearby. To our luck, it was to include the iconic dragon dance I had put on my 30 Before 30 list! We took a spot on a bench as the music started, pacifying Baby J with a piece of Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

The dragon dancers came out and moved up and down in unison, stomping to the claps of the crowd. They danced up to the gazebo and pretend-fought and bit ribbons off of sticks! The characters so enthralled Baby J you would have thought the performance was an Asian version of Sesame Street. It’s definitely a participatory experience, as the dragons came right up to us with their big red and gold faces.

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While I try to enjoy other cultures, it’s pretty hard to get used to the roasted ducks hanging in restaurants and the smell of fish tanks holding tonight’s meal. I know Americans usually disassociate their meat with the animal it comes from, but in China the animal seems to be revered for its sacrifice. I’d like to appreciate this display some day and only then will I make it to China.

Where to stay: Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens, a Japanese-themed hotel in Little Tokyo with kid-friendly outdoor gardens. Will be converted to a Doubletree mid-2012. 120 S Los Angeles, Los Angeles.

Where to eat dim sum (if you love shrimp): Ocean Seafood, 750 N Hill Street, Los Angeles; or Empress Pavilion, 988 N Hill Street, Los Angeles, another popular dim sum place in Chinatown.

To read with your child: Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger.