What is Dim Sum?
Dim sum is one of my favorite Cantonese traditions. Sometimes compared to a more casual, Chinese version of British high tea, this meal has gained popularity and swept across not only the nation but also the globe. Many of my non-Chinese friends have asked me to take them to dim sum before because they say they feel clueless or out of place in the hustle and bustle of a Chinese restaurant; but I wanted to share, with those of you who may not have a Chinese friend handy, how to dim sum.
How Dim Sum Works
Dim sum is generally eaten in the morning or early afternoon, but restaurants are starting to serve it around the clock nowadays. Waiters and waitresses push metal carts filled with round, steaming tins containing a variety of small sweet and savory dishes, meant to serve bite-sized portions to 2-3 guests, through the walkways between the tables. These dim sum dishes are paired with a Chinese tea of each table’s choice, making the meal a kind of brunch tea. You pay by the dish, and the prices vary by their designation as a “Small,” “Medium,” or “Large” dish.
What to Order
Shrimp Dumplings (Xia Jiao) – A small, pleated dumpling made of refreshing, seasoned shrimp wrapped in a smooth, transparent skin.
Open Pork Dumplings (Shao Mai) – A non-traditional dumpling consisting of ground pork, often paired with chopped mushroom, topped either with orange roe or a green pea. The skin envelops the dumpling on all sides except for the top, making the dumpling appear like an open-faced sushi roll.
Fried Pork Dumpling (Xian Shui Jiao) – Another non-traditional dumpling (we really like our dumplings) that features a fried, crispy, sweet-rice- flour skin and a juicy, salty, minced pork filling. One of my personal favorites.
Pork Spare Ribs (Pai Gu) – Bite-sized steamed pork ribs, as delicious as they are simple.
Steamed Pork Buns (Cha Shao Bao) – This soft, white bread bun with barbecue-flavored pork filling is usually really popular among my friends who are trying dim sum for the first time.
Rice Noodle Roll (Chang Fen) – A large noodle roll made of rice flour, with three common choices of filling (pork, beef, or shrimp), usually served with a generous pour of soy sauce.
Stir-Fried Noodles (Jiang You Chao Mian) – A classic plate of stir-fried egg noodles, cooked with soy sauce and green onions. This Cantonese variety is different from normal chow mein in that it does not feature any sort of meat, so the flavoring comes simply from the soy sauce alone.
Disclaimer: The next three dim sum dishes are for the bolder foodies out there who are seeking something a little more unexpected.
Preserved Duck Egg & Pork Congee (Pi Dan Shou Rou Zhou) – A congee base made of rice and broth, combined with shredded lean pork and chopped preserved duck eggs (which are the gelatinous black blobs you will see floating around the congee).
Chicken Feet (Feng Zhao) – Yes, chicken feet, which are first deep fried and then steamed to make the meat loose and puffy before being simmered in a flavorful sauce that is sometimes spicy but always salty.
Pig Blood Curd (Zhu Hong) – Also known as “blood tofu” or “blood pudding,” this dish is simply solidified pig’s blood that is then cut into small cubes, sometimes sprinkled with a chopped onion that is native to southwestern China called allium tuberosum (jiu cai).
Egg Tart (Dan Ta) – The most widely popular dim sum dessert, this pastry consists of a flaky puff crust with a sweet, egg-custard filling. Almost every dim-sum- goer I know enjoys a good egg tart!
If you do try dim sum, remember to order as many dishes as you want! Because the point of the small serving sizes of dim sum is to allow you to try as much variety as possible and enjoy many different dishes.