Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dim Sum 101 (Part I)

I've been totally spoiled...having dim sum every day in Hong Kong. This was the first trip I was there as a foodie. Thankfully, I had a wonderful foodie cousin who brought us around town. We ate soooo very often, that she had even gotten sick from over eating! I figured that before I go on and on about dim sum in the next couple of posts, I should define the basics of dim sum because, believe me, I will be talking A LOT about it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with dim sum (點心), it literally means "touch your heart." The act of having dim sum is literally called "drinking tea" ("yum cha" 飲茶), most likely because the meal is always served with tea. Dim sum is bite size and can range from the savory to the sweet. It is like Chinese tapas if there's such a thing. It is usually served in little bamboo containers offered from push carts. This meal is served in restaurants from the morning to the afternoon. Some restaurants serve dim sum later in the afternoon (after 2pm) at a lower price so that they can sell all their leftovers for the day.

Above, one of my dim sum experiences in HK - here are some buns, dumplings and dishes we ordered from the kitchen

Nowadays, some restaurants in Hong Kong have dim sum that's made to order so that most of your dishes arrive all at once to your table steaming hot. I was most impressed by that because shrimp dumplings ("ha gow" 蝦餃) and rice flour rolls ("cheung fun" 腸粉) are just so much better when served that way. Plus, you don't have to wait for the carts to come around either!

The popular items most commonly known in dim sum are "ha gau" (蝦餃) and "siu mai" (燒賣) - these are steamed shrimp dumplings and steamed pork dumplings. Since I'm not a big pork fan, I used a restaurant's "ha gau" (shrimp dumplings) as a benchmark of how good its dim sum is in Hong Kong. I must say that it was a good benchmark to use - I'll explain this in a later post.

Above, siu mai (pork dumplings); image from Wikipedia

Anyways, other popular items are:

  • "cheung fun" (腸粉) - steamed rice flour rolls that can be ordered in different varieties: stuffed with shrimp, barbecued pork, beef or even scallops. A batter made of rice flour is steamed to make very thin sheets, which are then used to wrap around the filling. They're always served with sweet soy sauce. It is less likely that you'll find the scallops kind here in the States.

Above, cheung fun (rice flour roll); image from Wikipedia

  • "gnow yuk yeung" (牛肉丸) - steamed minced beef meatballs. They're usually served with worcestershire sauce.

  • "cha siu bao" (叉燒包) - steamed barbecued pork buns. Pretty self explanatory.

  • "chun guen" (春卷) - spring rolls. These are usually filled with minced pork and fried to perfection, served with soy sauce or worcestershire sauce.

  • "lai wong bao" (奶皇包) - steamed custard buns. These are filled with a creamy mixture of egg yolk, coconut milk and sugar. So good!

Above, inside of a lai wong bao (custard bun) I had in HK

That's pretty much it without overwhelming you with endless dim sum dishes. In terms of dippings, other than what the dishes are served with, most of us don't dip...unless if you like your food spicy. In that case, there are usually Chinese yellow mustard or red chili dippings available on the table. Most importantly, don't dip your dim sum in soy sauce if the dish didn't come with it.

There was such inventive dim sum I had in Hong Kong that I can't wait to share with you all! Now that you've had your dim sum 101, don't let me catch you dipping all of your dim sum in soy sauce like sushi!

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