Despite bitter temperatures on Jan. 28, a line of local foodies and the food-curious began queuing up well before 9 a.m. at Auburn’s Jasmine Cafe on Center Street to celebrate Chinese New Year, the year of the rooster.

Jasmine owner Supannee Saengwong hurried to light the 26 sticks of incense adorning the ceremonial food table prepared on the sidewalk near the restaurant’s front door. Fruit, baked goods, rice, chicken, duck, seeds and noodles were just a few of the offerings, some to the Buddha and some to heaven and earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. Saengwong says bananas “call forward good fortune,” while tangerines shine light around the blessed. Noodles are for longevity of life. Bamboo? That’s for general well-wishing.

Promptly at 9 a.m. the doors opened and the dim sum buffet began.

Dim sum is a traditional Chinese style of eating. Like a cross between the Spanish small-plate eating known as tapas and an English tea time, dim sum is a morning meal consisting of bite-sized portions served in steamer baskets or small serving dishes. Along with tea, these fully cooked dishes are passed from steam carts wheeled from table to table; diners sample a variety of dishes without leaving their seats.

Saengwong said she “wanted to have a dim sum event for the last two or three years.” She said she was “challenged to try something different” but mostly, she “wanted it to be fun.” She knew the layout of the restaurant wouldn’t allow her to serve the food from steam carts, so she set up food stations; diners served themselves buffet-style going from station to station.

In addition to a tea station and intricately stylized arrangements of fruit, there were steamed dumplings and spare ribs, rice congee (rice soup) and deep-fried taro turnovers with minced meat. There was a dessert station with egg custard tarts and moon cakes.

And let’s not forget the steamed beef tripe and fried chicken feet.

One diner was Christopher Webber of Turner, a manager at Mr. Boston Brands of Maine by day and a foodie by night and weekends. He usually travels to Boston for dim sum, and said Jasmine’s menu and efforts were “beyond my expectations. . . . The food itself was as authentic as they come.

“Many dishes, such as the fried turnip, shark fin dumpling, shrimp dumpling and lotus leaf bao, were of the exact same quality as Montreal’s or Boston’s dim sum. Their preparation tasted great. . . . And I love that they didn’t hold back on variety.”

What about the tripe? “The tripe was exceptionally good. It was clean and had no ‘off’ flavors some organ meats can exhibit,” Webber said, and was prepared “exactly” how he’d eaten it in other dim sum restaurants.

Chinese New Year is a joyful time for friends and family, which was certainly the vibe at Jasmine. Saengwong’s family friend Audi Welter (“She’s more like a sister,” she says) visited from Massachusetts to help with the event. Welter prepared and served a dessert called “ginger tea over silken tofu.”

According to event promoter Travis Dow of Dow Media LLC, “over 100 people attended the first-ever Chinese New Year’s Dim Sum Event, far exceeding expectations. We actually had to turn folks away.”

Dow said Saengwong plans “to do this event again and more frequently due to the demand and positive feedback from those who joined us.”

If you spend time around Supannee Saengwong, you find that “fun” and “joy” are two frequent words in her vocabulary. In addition to more food events at Jasmine Cafe, she has a food truck, which will be parked on Route 4 in Turner (across from Northeast Firearms) from June 1 to Oct. 1. Look for Jasmine Mobile to feature staples like fried rice, pad Thai, chicken satay, beef satay and bubble tea.

Jasmine will also have a bubble tea stand near the pier in Old Orchard Beach this summer

Julie-Ann Baumer lives, cooks and writes from her home in Lisbon Falls. Read her blog www.julieannbaumer.com or follow her on twitter @aunttomato

Rice soup with fresh ginger, topped with fried wonton was one of the offerings at Jasmine Cafe’s dim sum event.

Jasmine Cafe Asian Fusion & Lounge

730 Center St., Auburn

207-376-4855

www.jasminecafemaine.com

Sunday and Tuesday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Friday and Saturday — 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Closed on Monday

Jasmine Cafe owner Supannee Saengwong finds joy and fun in food. 

Ginger tea over silken tofu dessert

Ingredients:

3 cups water

3 cups sugar (you can use white or brown or a combination of both)

3 inches of whole fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (more or less depending on your taste)

1 pound of silken tofu (such as Chang Shing tofu found in Asian specialty stores)

Directions:

Clean the ginger root and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger and cut the root into thick slices.

Place sliced ginger, sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. When boiling, reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for approximately one hour.

Pass the finished “ginger tea” through a sieve to remove the ginger bits.

Into small dishes or tea cups, scoop thin layers of silken tofu. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ginger tea over the tofu. Serve and enjoy immediately!

Steamed pork su was offered at Jasmine Cafe’s dim sum Chinese New Year’s event last month.

Steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, foreground, and pork su at Jasmine Cafe’s dim sum Chinese New Year’s event last month.

Deep fried shrimp with bean curd at Jasmine Cafe’s dim sum Chinese New Year’s event last month.

The Jasmine Cafe sign at the restaurant in Auburn.

One of the desserts served was ginger tea over silken tofu.

Steamed Chinese mushroom was one of the offerings at Jasmine Cafe’s dim sum event last month.

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