‘Dim Sum’, a Cantonese ethnic delicacy that swept its way into the hearts and tummies of millions of people around the globe, is recently witnessing a revival of sorts. Well, to be fair, it never fully went out of vogue.
But somewhere in the late 90s, the ‘Dim Sum’ craze that drew inspiration from the ‘yum cha’ culture of Hong Kong, faded a tad as cities became a melting pot of cultures, colors and cuisines.
Thankfully, this delectable cultural phenomenon is making a roaring comeback courtesy, the rising demand for healthy food.
There’s nothing like some steamed food for the soul, is there?
Irrespective of whether you are looking for tidbits that don’t expand your waistline or are a wannabe global gastronome willing to take a dip into the mouth watering world of dim sum, we have prepared a nifty guide to help you pick the best morsels from the rolling carts.
Oh, by the way, just in case you were unaware, ‘Dim sum’ in Cantonese stands for ‘To touch the heart’.
#1 – Char Siu Bao
Char Sui Bao is quintessentially Dim Sum. It is small-sized, simple but will explode in your mouth with its multiple flavors and layers. Despite the menu undergoing a sea of change in recent times, Char Sui Bao remains one of the bestsellers of the carts.
These are steamed barbeque Pork Buns. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but the popularity stems from the absolutely soft and fluffy finish to the dough of the bun. Dim Sum experts suggest that the trick is to use pre-heated water and a hint of corn starch that helps the dough to crack at the right places. The pork is perfectly pan-tossed in a bevy of sauces with crisply fried shallots.
#2 – Fung Jeow
Fancy name for a dish that is made from…drum rolls… ‘Chicken Claws’!
This simple dim sum snack uses the part of chicken that rarely gets the attention that the others do. But if you still haven’t tried it, then this should be on the top of your picks when you head to a Dim Sum restaurant.
What gives the dish its famed flavorful crunch?
The claws are first dried and then marinated in black bean sauce before being steamed. This gives it an unparallel crunchy exterior with a soft, gelatinous inside. Delicious!
Tip: Beware of the tiny bones in the claws that might make it a little difficult to chew.
#3 – Har Gau
You can instantly recognize Har Gau when served. These plump dumplings have a translucent exterior and are filled with moist, flavored shrimp. The translucence is attributed to the wheat starch that is added to the dough. This also gives them the nickname, ‘the crystal dumpling’
Har Gau is also considered to be one of the most difficult Dim Sum dishes to master. The dough must be pliable yet firm so that when you pick it up, the dumpling doesn’t break or crumble. Also, the chef must take care to ensure that the shrimp is not overcooked else the filling becomes rubbery.
The Har Gau is the hallmark of dim sum and should be one of the most interesting snacks to try in a dim sum restaurant.
#4 – Lo Mai Gai
Lo Mai Gai is one of our personal favourite Dim Sum dishes. If you thought that you’d seen the best of Dim Sum cuisine, then wait till you hear about this. Lo Mai Gai features glutinous sticky rice loaded with meat goodies, wrapped in Lotus leaves before being steamed. The result is an incredibly tasty and flavorful meal that is rich and filling.
If your stomach craves something wholesome, then this is your best bet.
While there are many iterations and versions of Lo Mai Gai around the world, the authentic ancient recipe uses Chinese sausages, marinated chicken, cured pork belly, dried shiitake mushrooms and salted egg yolks. The rice is seasoned with dark soy, oyster sauces and a hint of Shaoxing wine to balance out the flavors.
#5 – Cheong fan
Cheong Fan is one of the simplest yet most popular Dim Sum dishes in the world. Once again, there are many versions of it doing the rounds of restaurants. We will talk about the original one. Cheong Fan, also called Chee Cheong Fun are steamed rice rolls (or rice noodles rolls) that are normally served with sauces (sweet soy), toasted sesame seeds and some fried shallots.
Your favorite restaurant however, may give it their own twist and throw in pork, shrimp or beef with veggies into the mix.
Either ways, Cheong Fan is a great choice for breakfast in a Dim Sum Restaurant.
#6 – Jin deui
An article about the best of dim sum would be incomplete without our pick of desert. While there are hundreds of desert items to choose from, the humble Jin Dui tops the list. Fried rice dough balls coated with toasted white sesame seeds make for a crisp and crunch exterior. Inside, you’ll find a mildly sweet red bean paste. We have just one term to describe it, ‘Sensory overload’. You are going to dig into the dish and finish off an entire batch by yourself.
A lot of people are unaware of the fact that the original Jin Deui recipe used lotus leaf paste instead of beans. But hey, the read bean ones are equally good.
If you prefer something sweeter, we recommend the Daan taat which is very similar to custard tarts found in various cuisines.
Making the most of your dim sum outing
There are a couple of rules which can make your first trip to a Dim Sum restaurant a mishap-free one.
- Jump in: Don’t bother about rules and etiquettes. Leave those for your second trip which we are sure, would follow soon enough. The first time is meant to cherish the multitude of flavors. We have covered almost all the varieties of dishes like the dumplings, the buns, the rolled dishes, the meat-based dishes and the deserts. This should be a good point of reference for the first-timers.
- Choose old–fashioned over contemporary: There are good old fashioned dim sum restaurants with lazy suzans and large round tables where people sit, talk and drink copious amounts of tea. And there are the contemporary ones which do not even have the iconic carts anymore. Pick the old fashioned ones to get the true dim sum experience.