Yum Cha - The Experience Of Eating Dim Sum


Is there a difference between 'Dim Sim' and 'Dim Sum'?

A 'Dim Sim' is traditionally made with pork and cabbage wrapped in a delicate, pastry skin. It is lightly seasoned and delivers a delicious meaty crunch with each bite. 'Dim Sum' is an umbrella term and refers to a whole range of small dishes and parcels served at Yum Cha. Dim sum is a traditional Chinese meal made up of small plates of dumplings and other snack dishes and is usually accompanied by tea. Similar to the way that the Spanish eat tapas, the dishes are shared among family and friends. Typically, dim sum is consumed during brunch hours, late morning to early afternoon.

Yum Cha - The Experience Of Eating Dim Sum

A Brief History

Nowadays, dim sum is eaten all over China and the world, but the dishes are believed to have originated in the southern China’s Guangdong region before eventually making their way to Hong Kong. According to Lucky Peach food magazine, Cantonese dim sum culture began in tearooms in the latter half of the 19th century in the port city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, after opium dens were banned throughout the country. Silk Road travellers and traders would take breaks in tea houses for a dim sum meal. As they continued to travel, the practice continued to spread and gained popularity throughout the region, especially in Hong Kong. Nowadays, dim sum can include dishes and traditions adopted from other parts of China. But by and large, the culinary form remains the same as ever.

Etiquette & Ordering

How do you order dim sum? First pick a tea, as it will be a central part of the meal (dim sum did originate in tea houses after all). If you want to follow traditional etiquette, the person closest to the teapot should pour tea for their guests first before pouring his or her own cup. Is your pot running low on water? Take the lid off and rest it on top or on the side of the teapot. This is a common signal to waiters that you need a refill.

Ordering a meal at traditional dim sum restaurants is a fun and unique experience. Push carts roll out of kitchens filled with stacks of dumpling steamers and plates of fried food and weave through customer tables. From your table, flag down the trolley with the food you want as it goes by. Waiters will unload your choices from their cart and mark your menu card with what you’ve ordered. Another popular method used by modern dim sum restaurants is using a check list. Guests simply check off the dishes they want and wave their order in the air before handing it off to the waiter.

Hand signals are important. When you want to say thank you, tap your index finger and your middle finger together on the table twice. That represents a bow.

What to Order

Dim sum dishes include an assortment of seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes that are prepared in various ways: steamed, fried or baked. Here’s a list of some of the most popular dishes your local Yum Cha restaurant should serve.

  • Siu Mai - these are thin, open steamed dumplings usually filled with pork, prawn, or a combination of the two. Often a small amount of vegetables like bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, or water chestnuts are added. 
  • Har Gao - One of the most popular dishes at dim sum, these are chunks of prawn encased in a thin translucent dumpling wrapper and served in a bamboo steamer. 
  • Xiao-Long Bao - Commonly referred to as ‘soup dumplings,’ these delicate items are filled with hot broth and pork and are served in a bamboo steamer. Though these are originally from Shanghai, their national popularity has secured their status as a dim sum staple.
  • BBQ Pork Buns (Charsiu Bao) - These fluffy, bready white buns are stuffed with sticky, sweet barbecue pork.
  • Cheung Fun- Often labelled as rice noodle rolls, the (often) handmade, steamed rice noodles are rolled around ingredients such as prawns, vegetables or meat. They are best eaten with a last-minute drizzle of soy sauce.
  • Egg Tarts - Sweet and rich, these custard-filled flaky pastry tartlets originated in Macau.