Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dim Sum 101 (Part II)

In my previous post, I mentioned that 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. In fact, tea is a very important part of dim sum. My parents have told me in the past that tea is supposed to help with digesting your dim sum. I took their word for it.

Above, the first tea pot I've seen that looks like a vessel (oh, isn't the brown mat great?)

Your choice of tea is actually the first thing your server will ask you when you sit down for dim sum. There are usually many varieties of tea to choose from, the most common of which we order are:

  • Jasmine (香片 or 茉莉)
  • Narcissus (水仙)
  • Iron Buddha (鐵觀音)
  • Pu-erh (普洱)

The first two above are more delicate and have a floral note; the last two are relatively stronger in flavor. Pu-erh is darker and has a more herbal note, sorta similar to Chinese medicine.

In the suburbs of Hong Kong, you may be provided a large empty bowl at dim sum. You should use this to "sterilize" or clean your utensils with hot tea or water. We usually do a good rinse of the rice bowl, spoon, tea cup and chopsticks. This is not to say that the restaurants there aren't clean. I believe Hong Kong people are more conscious of germs nowadays. I noticed gel dispensers throughout shopping plazas and even in the lobby of my cousin's residence in HK. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

In the city centers of HK, you probably won't find the empty bowl for rinsing your utensils. This may speak to these restaurants' confidence about their cleanliness (you will probably pay up for it in the dim sum prices). What you may find there, though, probably would be special tea selections. I've seen Ginseng Oolong and even Rose Buds in some restaurants.

As for how to take your tea...drink it in all its glory and simplicity, with no sugar or milk. When your tea pot is done, lift up the cap - this signals to your server that it is empty and they'll refill it for you (this is universal in all dim sum places). Finally, when it comes to paying the bill for dim sum in Hong Kong, remember that there's no need to tip. It's all inclusive.

Now that you know all the basics to dim sum, don't let me catch you with sugar in your tea or having dim sum with soda!

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