Dim Sum is a traditional Chinese mini meal that originated during the silk road times when vendors used to stop and “yum cha” (drink tea) and have something small to eat with it.
There are wonderful stories that go along with the Dim Sum experience, but we’ll get into that later.
We’re going to teach you how to order, some basic traditions/courtesies and a little history.
First off, let’s get the basics down.
Dim Sum goes from 7 am (yes, some places are open that early!) till about 3 in the afternoon. The most busiest time is 12-2pm.
Bring Cash. Most asian places don’t take plastic, its an unwritten rule.
Dim Sum plates should cost around $3-$6 – the small plates shouldn’t cost more than $5. You’re probably going to be ordering at least 4 dishes (varies with how many people are in your party), so from there, I’d say its safe to bring $20. However, I’ve been to places that cost $8/small dish (Whaaaat a rip off!)
“Yo may cha?” Is probably something you’ll hear first off the bat. Which means, what kind of tea would you like?
Chinese teas run from very dark black teas to green teas and floral teas. The most popular tea for dim sum is “Bo Lay” – which is a very dark tea which supposedly aids in digestion.
You can also get green tea, jasmine tea, chrysanthemum tea, oolong tea and other variations. However, be warned that most “flowery” teas may cost you extra.
I suggest the “Bo Lay” tea.
Depending on where you go, there are two ways to be served Dim Sum. In some restaurants, there will be waitresses pushing carts around with bamboo steamers who will be calling out what kind of things s/he is pushing around. In more smaller restaurants and ones that like to make their dim sum fresh to order, they give you a sheet of paper with a description of the type of dimsum they have and you can check off or write how many plates you would like of the particular dim sum.
If you’re with a whole bunch of people, or mainly asian people watch how they pour the tea. Normally, the youngest will pour tea in respect of their elders (well, only to a point, I can’t imagine a little child pouring tea!).
When someone pours your tea, tap the table 2-3 times with your index finger. This is their way of saying thank you.
Okay, TIME OUT.
The reasoning behind the tapping? I’ve heard many variations, but I like this story the best. The Emperor would be playing an intense game of chess and the servant would be pouring tea in his cup and instead of being distracted by saying thank you all the time, he would tap three times.
Do you know how to use chopsticks? It’s okay if you don’t, all chinese restaurants are equipped with forks. But don’t expect a knife, so …good luck with that! Why no knife and just chopsticks?
TIME OUT, again.
I’m not entirely sure whether it was an elder or an emperor but, he believed that there should be no weapons on the table – that weapons were only for the battlefield. This is why chinese people use chopsticks!
Alright, so now to the good stuff! THE FOOD!
Depending on who you’re with, translations and pronounciations may be different with the languages in China. I will be using the Cantonese ones.
Popular Dim Sum Items:
Ha Gau (pronounced HA-GaOw)- this is shrimp dumpling (pictured above, on the left), wrapped in a translucent rice flour skin and steamed. It is a dim sum staple.
Lou Mai Gai (pronounced Loo-May-Ga-ay)– Lotus Leaf/Glutinous rice (pictured above, on the right)which is wrapped in a lotus leaf. Inside is sticky rice with a variety of different stuffings including pork fluff, water chestnut, mushroom, some sort of meat, mushroom, etc.
Siu Mai (pronounced Sieyou M-aye)– (pictured above) Another popular dim sum staple, siu mai is a blend of pork, prawns and mushroom/peas wrapped in a brightly coloured wrapper.
Lo Bak Go – Turnip cake (above), with its starchy flavour, it’s a good deep fried option.
Cheong Fun – Rice noodle rolls, either served by itself or stuffed with meat like beef or shrimp (above). My favourite kind is the one with chinese doughnut in the middle.
Steamed meatball – (pictured above) Um, I’m not entirely sure how to translate, but its a meatball with peas in them served with light type vinegar.
Phoenix Talons – the most polite way of saying chicken feet (pictured above). There is really no inbetween, some people like it, some people dont. I am not a fan of chicken feet, but from what people tell me, it’s the skin that tastes the best.
Mango Pudding – another staple at dim sum, some places serve as is, but the best is when it’s served with evaporated milk. Yum.
Char Siu Bauu – BBQ Pork Steam Bun. So. Good.
Egg Tarts – mini egg tarts are made with flaky pastries and the middle part is made of egg, milk and sugar.
Deep Fried Taro – one of my favourite dim sum dishes, crispy on the outside and sweet with a little bit of salty pork in the middle as well.
When you’re done eating your meal, its time for the bill. Most people do the whole “check please” motion, or you can one up them by holding up the bill or your hand and say, “Mai Daan!” (which means, Bill please! in Canto).
Don’t forget to thank your server or the person paying for your meal, “Mm goi!” (for Canto).
Now there are thousands of different options of what you can order but you can start off with these and work your way into the real soul of Chinese food.
There is also a Free app on the iPhone called iLoveDimSum that can come in handy as well if you wanna be fancy. It pronounces lots of dim sum plates in Cantonese or Mandarin – slowly – which is great! They are sorted by meat and ‘special’ dishes. Check it out!