Friday, October 21, 2011

Baozi & Bubble Tea at Li Ming's

If you haven’t checked out Li Ming’s, it’s hardly a surprisethis Asian supermarket has been tucked away in a dying shopping center off 15-501 for less than a year, surrounded by plenty of culinary competition (3400 Westgate Dr). The day we visited for lunch, the sign was covered with plastic making you wonder if it had just opened or just closed. But go past the door and you find a grocery of specialty Asian foods including a hot bar and bakery counter serving up authentic Chinese dishes, pastries, and drinks. One of us had been before and helped guide the other on what to order to get a well-rounded flavor experience.

On recommendation from previous experience, we visited the baozi counter (steamed buns with filling in the center). We were quickly sold on the buy five get one free offer and ended up with a selection of six—one custard, one shrimp, two sweet black bean, and two pork.
For somebody who’s never seen or heard of a steam bun, at first sight it looks like uncooked dough. The outer texture is a little unusuallight, moist and slightly sticky breading with little, if any flavorbasically serving as a pillow cushion for the flavor inside. But this soft breading serves as a contrast to the heavier filling you find in the middle. Many of the flavors are sweet including the black bean and custard, giving the baozi a dessert or pastry quality. Li Ming’s is the only place we’ve found in this area with steam buns and we think that’s reason enough to visit again.
Our next venture into the unknown was bubble teaone of us was already a fan but the other was again trying something for the first time. Available in a long list of flavors, these drinks are made to order and served in a sealed plastic cup that you puncture with a wide straw. We chose the black bean flavor with tapioca and enjoyed the chilled, coffee-like taste. The tapioca floats at the bottom of the cup in little chewy balls that are sucked up through the strawinteresting but a little distracting in such a constant stream.
For our main course we went for their lunch special which allows you to select three items from the hot bar served with rice for under $6. Not everything was labeled but the staff helped us identify some of the dishes we couldn’t quite discern. The menu offered meat and vegetarian options prepared in spicy and mild sauces including chicken, pork, tofu, and eggplant selections. We chose two tofu dishes, one fried and one soft, as well as eggplant. Our three choices were hard to distinguish visually but the flavors were distinct and enjoyable, with a nice variety of textureswe split the plate between the two of us (along with our steam buns and bubble tea), and left feeling very satisfied. It was also a pretty quick and affordable option for a lunch break.
If you enjoy international cuisine or have a taste for something you can’t find on every menu, check out Li Ming’s and see if you can create your own culinary adventure. Also, check out Carpe Durham's previous post here and don't forget cash if you want to order from the counter!