Dim sum literary means the ‘touch of the heart’ and it actually touches the heart.
Like many other Chinese dishes, this dish features a bite-size piece with succulent flavors, different textures and different fragrance.
This is a dish that is designed to bring people together so you won’t enjoy it alone. It’s the best way to bring families together especially in places where they serve in a communal seating at big tables.
A social gathering aimed at enjoying the dim sum began in southern China then Hong Kong and today it’s everywhere you find the Cantonese dish.
What is dim sum?
Dim sum is a Cantonese style dish that is usually a bite-sized portion. You can further explain it as a collection of bite-sized food or snack that contain fillings and are served in steamer baskets or small sized plates.
It’s best enjoyed in the company of a steaming hot cup of tea as well as friends and family.
To be precise, this food is prepped by steaming, frying or baking. They are usually savory or sweet and is presented as dumpling, buns, pudding, wraps, noodle rolls and puffs.
THE HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF DIM SUM
While dim sum is associated with the Chinese cooking it features a Cantonese style of cooking. As you may have noticed in the blog, the Chinese cuisine is one of the oldest yet variant cuisine in the world. The country has 23 provinces with each province having a different cooking style.
You have those who love their meals cooked in hot spices (Sichuan and Hunan) and those who enjoy a mix of mutton and Islamic dishes in Beijing. All these regions have perfect dishes that anyone adventurous would enjoy. However, the Cantonese style of cooking is the most diverse of all.
They eat and enjoy everything even the chicken feet, snails and snakes. This is attributed to the fact that there were many emigrants in Guangdong province in the ancient years. Consequently, more than any other cuisine in China, the Cantonese cuisine, spread in the West.
Whenever you talk of the dim sum, two other words come to mind, yum cha– the art of drinking tea. Basically, the phrase going for yum cha means going out for a cup of tea and dim sum.
We owe the existence of dim sum to the travelers who thousands of years ago traveled along silk road and through China.
They needed a place to rest before embarking on their journey and every day new travelers passed by. The number of travelers increased and this led to the invention of teahouses to serve them. The teahouses operated by the roadsides of Southern China.
Over the years, people discovered that this tea helped them with digestion and this meant that their business saw growth. Ultimately, the owners felt the need to offer some bite-sized snacks to accompany the tea. The bite-sized snacks were the dim sum of today.
Today, dim sum has become a vital part of the Chinese cuisine with cities like Hong Kong serving it from 5 am way till evening. Nevertheless, in the west, the 19th-century Chinese immigrants who settled in the east and west coasts brought their cuisine along.
The meal inspires the idea of Chinese brunch which is a mix of breakfast and lunch to one large meal.
WHAT IS DIM SUM MADE OF?
With dim sum, you will find everything from Char Siu Bao, steamed pork spare ribs, steamed buns with pork roasts and har gow. Now a traditional kind includes a varying kind of steamed buns like Char Siu bao which is basically a steamed bun with pork barbecue.
The modern kind, on the other hand, lets the chef put their culinary skills into practice and try all the different ingredients available.
It can also consist of wheat or rice dumplings and rice noodle rolls. Other vital ingredients include beef, pork, chicken, prawns, and vegetarian choices. You may also find the dim sum restaurants offering the steamed green veggies, congee, meat roasts, and other soups.
You can have your dim sum dessert as a customary egg tart.
Dim sum price
Most restaurants don’t display the price of the dim sum. It all depends on the things used to prep the dim sum. Although the price may be hard to tell, go on and enjoy your meal because the dim sum won’t spoil your budget.
I know of places where some dim sum options cost you less than $5 yet when you are coming in a group you may pay up to $200. Remember, this differs in different restaurants and different cities in the globe.
In China, after you sit around the table, you can usually find the price at the right of the dim sum menu. I think that for two people, about $20 would be enough for a dim sum meal, as I usually go to have dim sum with my family.
The dim sum tea
If you have ever gone for a dim sum lunch you know that your waiter will ask you which kind of tea you wish to use as an accompaniment. Note that, this tea isn’t any other tea you would order for in the Chinese restaurants.
The restaurants have something to fit every individual’s palate and the 4 below are my best options to accompany your dim sum.
The Cantonese black tea or Bo-lay
This tea is earthy, bold in taste and full of flavor. This is best used when eating fatty food or pan-fried ones. The tea takes on some mustiness as its fermenting which makes most people refer to it as the wine tea. Those who know it also prefer the ones that have fermented for a longer period.
You should drink it when steaming hot with your dim sum.
Herbal tea or gook-fa
If you are after the caffeine-free drink, this is your best choice. This tea is light, clear and sweet with a light yellow color. It has a mild taste and is made using blossom of flowers with a sweet and gentle aroma.
It goes well with steamed dumplings, light desserts and seafood dim sum types. The tea isn’t served with sugar and would suit even kids. You can buy the chrysanthemum tea in any Asian markets.
Blue tea or wu-long
It’s sometimes also known as oolong. When it comes to taste and method of preparation, oolong tea is an all rounded package. The reason why some people call it blue tea is because it lies between the black and green tea.
When prepping it, you must ferment it like the black tea but this one takes a shorter duration. The short fermentation is responsible for its in-depth flavors and brightness. This tea suits almost every dish choice in the dim sum menu.
In fact, it’s my personal favorite. Its ability to tame the saltiness and extra spices used in the dish while boosting your baked treats and stuffed buns makes it the best. If you aren’t sure about the teas go for oolong tea.
Green tea/ dragonwell
The tea is also known as Lung-Jeng in Cantonese. This is a fresh, grass-like tea that has its tealeaves pan-fried after the picking ends to stop oxidation. This trickles down to the tea which enhances the flavor. The pan frying is what stops the blackening of the tea leaves and the cause of the green color.
The tea is famous for cleaning your palette thereby making the dim sum taste unique in your mouth. This is a good substitute for those looking to quell the unpleasant feeling you develop when you have had a lot of fried eggs.
Since it’s has a cleaning attribute it works well for that person who doesn’t fancy the Bo-Lay.
TIPS TO A GOOD DIM SUM ETIQUETTE
Ordering the dim sum is a challenge to someone who doesn’t have an idea of exactly what it is. But if you are in the company of those who love dim sum don’t worry, you will enjoy your treat. The only thing to consider is the etiquette involved in the eating of the dim sum.
Enjoying dim sum involves sharing
In China, we haven’t forgotten that sharing a meal brings family and friends closely knit together. For the dim sum, the more people the merrier it is. If you intend to go out for a yam cha, bring more people along and share the meal.
Always start with tea
The moment you sit in a dim sum restaurant you should have your pot of tea brought to you. Remember, there are various kinds of teas that go with dim sum. some have the duty to clean your palette and prepare you for a unique and tasty dim sum.
The restaurants have a house tea on offer but you can choose an alternative if you don’t like the one on the menu. Before you begin drinking it, ensure that is steaming hot and once you finish, turn the lid upside down or leave your pot open to alert the waiter that you have finished.
Its good etiquette to let others fill in their cups before your own and you can tap the table as a way of gratitude for another filling your cup.
The server will offer you two dishes or three of what they are serving for the dim sum on that day. Nod your head to the server if you want the dim sum but if you aren’t sure about it just try or ask the server for a dim sum.
If the dim sum restaurant is large enough, they will make a fresh desired one for you. Let the server stamp your card after the service.
Chase for what you want
If you notice that a dim sum cart is far away and it has your desired meal, get off your seat and go ask for it.
It’s normal for us to use chopsticks. However, if you aren’t comfy using them, ask for a fork. The rule of using the chopsticks is that you shouldn’t smear food all over the table and once you are through, leave them lying horizontally on your dish.
Order the rice
If you want some bland rice between your dim sum meal, go ahead and order it. The rice will help clean your palate.
Tipping the waiter
As in many other places, if you enjoyed the service, tip your server. It’s a good show and motivation for them. However, as far as I know, in China, you don’t need to give tips.
WHERE TO EAT THE DIM SUM
In China, these days you can have your dim sum choices throughout your day. it’s served at breakfast and lunch but in other big restaurants in the evening as well. In other parts of the world, we have it served during weekends for family treats.
Don’t be surprised that they are served from carts in big restaurants.
In Hong Kong visit Din Tai Fung for the best dim sum.
Most traditional dim sum uses the traditional ingredients. However, there are chefs who love trying to modernise the dim sum. This will see a mix of ingredients that may cause allergic reactions to some people.
Always use the periodic table of the dim sum to identify the ingredients used. For those who are allergic to gluten, be careful so that you don’t use it on your dim sum meal. if possible, go with a friend who doesn’t have a gluten allergy to taste if the dim sum has gluten.
Whoever doesn’t use pork should be keen as well because most meals prepped in Hong Kong and other parts of China use pork. This goes true for those who don’t use seafood as well. In short, be keen if you have allergies.
The Dim Sum Menus (TYPES OF DIM SUM)
- The Siu Mai
The Siu Mai or shumai features a thin cup like wrapper that holds desired fillings. The fillings feature the pork or shrimp but sometimes it’s a mix of both. The ones you see on Hong Kong street stands usually contain fish paste.
For a further crunchy texture, restaurants making the Siu Mai use peanuts. They further use cilantro and jicama chunks to flavor it. Go for this dim sum to experience a difference in the food texture. Sometimes, one side of the shrimp is squeezed in to form a flower shape.
Its exterior is normally tacky but the interior is anything from moist, soft or crunchy but never juicy.
- The shrimp dumpling/ Har Gow
Have you seen the shiny and translucent shrimp dumplings?
They are popular dim sum dishes. The outer transparent coating is made using wheat starches. It normally has the bamboo shoot filling sometimes. Some restaurants use pork in addition to the shrimp for those who don’t fancy shrimp.
A good har gaw has a thin but strong outer skin to prevent breakage. It should also assume a chewy texture. The filling should have more shrimp than any other filling which makes it develop the sweet crusty shrimp flavor.
Ensure that the shrimp used in the dumpling is fresh if you want to enjoy the tantalizing flavor.
- Steamed pork buns
This is also known as Char Siu Bao. This is a yeasty bun that has its wrapping either splaying open or closed to a flower-like shape. It contains the filling made from Char Siu or pork barbecue that is seasoned with soy sauce, oyster sauce, shallots and sesame oil.
Although the dumpling has suffered the mystery of people thinking that any meat including human meat is used as a filling in it, the bun still thrives. It is shiny and white in color on the outside while the inside is sweet savory and flavorful.
- The chicken buns
These features a Cantonese style dough that is twisted at the top. These are larger than the usual dim sum size. It normally has a waxed paper beneath it. They have their origin from North China where they make the wrapper thicker and beadlike. They also have a lot of fillings compared to other dim sums.
The filling is made of Cantonese chicken and sausages. Sometimes they contain pork and shrimps instead of the sausage. It’s history dates back about 1800 years when the Zhuge Liang men made a meat stuffing that was covered in a dough to offer to the gods as a sacrifice.
Its exterior is shiny and white while the interior is tender, savory and juicy.
The fried or baked
- Chinese spring rolls
This is nothing like the usual American spring rolls. The spring rolls that are found in most dim sum restaurants are deep fried and the outer skin appears thinner but with a beautiful golden color. You can normally see the fillings through the light outer skin.
The fillings include meats, veggies like carrots onions, ginger and garlic. The meat is also marinated in oyster and soy sauces and rice wine. The spring roll is a symbol of wealth in China.
This is common in many Asian countries. It’s a pan-fried cake that is made with the following ingredients: the shredded daikon radish, taro root, rice flour, water chestnut, diced ham, dried shrimp and veggies. Most people use it for breakfast in the company of soy sauce and chilli.
Its name symbolizes good luck which makes it suitable for your morning meal. They are served in various dim sum restaurants as appetizers. When cooking it, you have the ingredients steamed then cooked in a steamer pot and lastly pan fried.
The pan-frying process makes them crispy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside.
The rice and rolls
This features a large sheet of steamed rice noodles that wrap several fillings. The wrapping is thin but large. The fillings include shrimps, prawns, beef or pork barbecue. It’s slippery and its name in Cantonese language (Choong fun) means pig intestines noodles. This is about its appearance.
With this shrimp rice noodle roll, you will see a shrimp on the top. To further flavor it, you may use cilantro and sesame seeds. As a finishing touch, the dish is covered in a light and sweet sauce.
This features a savory rice porridge that has a creamy and soup-like consistency. It’s made when the rice is boiled in water for a prolonged period. The aim is to develop a porridge-like consistency. Most people eat it when ill in the Asian community.
You may like it hot or warm its all a personal preference. You can eat the porridge plain or accompany it with any other snack that pleases you. Some people prefer doughnuts while other restaurants offer accompaniments like eggs with minced meat.
- The sponge cakes
This is a cake that is steamed not baked. It’s light and airy and has an appealing yellow color on the inside and golden brown on the outside. This is your best way to finish your dim sum meal. Don’t worry it has lesser calories than most cakes.
It’s made using eggs, brown sugar and cake flour. It’s a moist version of a cake that has its origin in Malaysia.
- The radish puffs
Here is a unique puff pastry that you wrap in a spiral pattern. For the dessert, it is a good option. The radish is made when the thin strips of radish are mixed with Chinese ham. You then add in green onion and ground black pepper.
You then stir-fry the mixture and roll into a puff pastry. The final step is either to deep fry or bake it till golden brown. The Shanghai radish puff is famous in China than other options. Its exterior is flaky, crunchy and dry while the inside is savory and juicy.
Another dim sum
- Chicken feet
This is common among the Cantonese. They remove the nails then deep fry the feet and braise in a slightly sweet sauce to make it tender. You then place them in small pots to steam with fermented black beans. You can also add other ingredients to enhance the flavor.
You won’t eat the meat here but, you will enjoy the gelatinous skin that has absorbed the different flavors in form of chillies and other aromatics. The exterior is soft and supple while the interior is chewy.
There are so many dim sum dishes that we haven’t even discussed here. How to order the dishes is also a little complex. For those beginners trying out dim sum for the first time, consider letting your experienced buddies help you in making the right choices.