The name of the cuisine may have come up plenty of times, maybe you’ve even tried it unknowingly. But do you really know what is dim sum? What’s the history and concept behind it? Many people don’t even understand how to order dim sums. It is a traditional Chinese dish after all that is shared among friends and family.
Dim sum is very popular comfort food. Those who’ve grown up eating dim sums have a special relationship with them. Probably because they bring back fond memories of how Sundays were spent with loved ones.
Whatever the case, it’s time for you to get to know the basics of dim sums. So your first time or even the next time you get a craving, you can eat them the traditional style.
Table of Contents
What Are Dim Sums - Brief History
Dim sums are popular all across China and now even the world. But where did they originate from? Dim sum came from the Guangdong region in Southern China. And then made its way to Hong Kong.
As for Cantonese dim sums, these came about in the nineteenth century, during its second half to be more precise. This dim sum became a part of the tearoom culture in Guangzhou, which is a port city and also Guangdong’s capital. And that happened after the ban of opium dens all across the country.
Traders and travelers would go to tea houses to enjoy dim sum meals. And as that started to gain popularity, it didn’t take time for the practice of eating dim sums to spread throughout that particular region, especially Hong Kong.
As of now, dim sums are a blend of both traditional and modern recipes. Even so, the original culinary form is much the same.
How to Order Dim Sums - Order Like A Pro!
If it’s your first time, then don’t be scared or anxious anymore. Start by picking a tea since it’s the centerpiece of your meal. Dim sums originated in tearooms as discussed already. So you might as well follow the traditional etiquette.
Most likely you’re at the restaurant with friends, family, or other companions. In that case, whoever is the nearest to the pot of tea when it arrives should pour the drink for everybody else and then fill his/her own cup.
But what if the party is large and the water for tea runs out? It’s simple. Just take off the lid and place it at the side or on top of the teapot. That’s an indicator to the waiter or waitress for a refill.
At the restaurant, pushcarts coming from the kitchen have a load of steamed dumplings, along with fried food. So when these pushcarts weave through your table, you can get whatever you want. The server places the dishes of your choice from the cart. And then he/she marks the menu card of your table with the food you’ve ordered.
Modern-style restaurants that serve dim sums have menu cards in the form of checklists. So all you have to do is check off all the dishes of your choice. Then wave the menu card at the server before handing it over.
Types of Dim Sums - The Most Popular Dim Sum Dishes
Now let’s get to know the different types of dim sums you can order. The choices are not limited in any way, which means your taste buds can select from a wide, diverse, and utterly delicious range of recipes.
Based on the type of dim sum, I’ve also listed the most popular dishes. Traditionally speaking, they’re divided into four categories.
Steamed Dim Sums
Prawn, also known as har gow - These consist of a thin and translucent wrapper that’s made using tapioca flour and wheat starch with a juicy prawn filling. One side of these dim sums is delicately pleated.
Pork and Prawn, also known as siu mai - It’s a very popular steamed dim sum that is made in a cup shape. And the filling is a blend of ground shrimp and pork, along with water chestnuts and mushrooms. All this is encased tightly inside a slim wheat wrapper.
Shanghai Soup Dumpling, also known as siu lung bao - The most delicious of the lot, these dumplings have a wrapper that’s paper-thin and stuffed with a combination of ground pork that’s perfectly seasoned. But the intense flavor comes from the hot broth.
The hole at the top of each siu lung bao is deliberately poked for allowing steam to pass, so you don’t burn your mouth while eating.
Barbequed Pork Buns, also known as char siu bao - These are steamed white buns that are fluffy and bursting with juicy, delicious Cantonese-style barbecued pork and shallots. The ingredients, more often than not, are marinated as well as seasoned using a mixture of oyster sauce, sesame oil, sweetened vinegar, and soy sauce.
Chicken and Vegetable Buns, also known as gai bao - Steamed fluffy white buns that have an appetizing blend of mushrooms, chicken, vegetables, and herbs.
Custard Buns, also known as lai wong bao - These steamed fluffy buns are made using a combination of custard powder, condensed milk, corn starch, butter, eggs, and sugar.
They’re also stuffed with sweet custard, which is actually what constitutes the liquid center. And it’s even more delicious when this hot, runny sweet custard center filling contains more butter.
Baked or Fried Dim Sums
Taro Croquettes, also known as wu gok - Dim sums with ground vegetables and pork that are encased in taro paste and then shaped in the form of mini-sized footballs. And then deep-fried of course, thus the outer wrapping puffs up. So this dumpling has a crispy light outer coating with a hot center - just like croquettes.
Sesame Prawn Toast, also known as ha to si - Ever tried dim sums filled with minced prawns? The coating of sesame seeds on top of the fresh bread just adds to the delight brought about by deep-frying.
Potstickers, also known as wo tip - No doubt, these dumplings are delicious with their thin-rolled dough and filling of ground meat, vegetables, and seafood. The secret here is that these dim sums are pan-fried in order to create a crispy bottom. And then water or stock is added to the pan to steam and boil the dumplings with a covered lid.
Once the steam evaporates completely, the dim sums are cooked until they turn crispy again. And this is when they start to stick to the pan, thus the term potstickers.
Radish Cakes, also known as lo bak gou - The recipe involves grating and mixing Chinese radishes with rice flour. Turn it into a batter, and then steam. Other ingredients are also a part of the thick batter, such as dried shrimp, sausages, and shallots mushrooms.
You can steam these dumplings first so as to cook them thoroughly. And then slice the dim sums and pan-fry them to make them crispy and golden.
Barbecued Pork Puffs, also known as char siu sou - Ever heard of Chinese puff pastry? Well, this is it. But with a stuffing of tender barbecued pork. Other variations include venison, beef, and vegetables.
Custard Tarts, also known as daan tart - Hands down, the most popular baked dim sum. This traditional Chinese custard tart either has a short pastry or puff pastry open casing. The recipe also consists of a custard center made using vanilla, milk, eggs, and sugar.
The bit-size pastries here are often devoured after the meal, like dessert.
4. Wraps, Noodles, and Rice
Rice Noodle Rolls, also known as cheong fun - These are steamed rice noodle sheets that are filled with a variety of different ingredients. Like barbecued pork, beef, prawns, mixed vegetables, fried dough sticks, etc.
They take the form of long rolls and are typically served with some sweetened version of soy sauce.
Sticky Rice Wrapped In Lotus Leaves, also known as lo mai gai - Steamed glutinous rice filling with mushrooms, marinated pork or chicken, and vegetables. All of this is wrapped together using a dried, re-hydrated lotus leaf. You cannot eat the leaf, but it’s a part of the dish to add to the cooked rice a mild herbal fragrance.
Congee, also known as jook - Now this one’s a delicious rice porridge that has a creamy, soup-type consistency. You can have it piping hot or warm.
Congee is the most popular type in this category, no doubt. In Asian countries, the dish is often had for breakfast. You can eat it plain or with just about any ingredients of your choice.
How to Make Dim Sums On Your Own
There’s no denying that the preparation part is time-consuming and complicated. Making dim sums at home also demands a certain level of cooking experience. And that’s because you have to employ different methods when it comes to producing the wrapping and filling. No wonder professional chefs in Hong Kong take years to ace the training and technique.
So when trying it at home, be sure to start with only 2-3 dishes that have the same filling. And then you can complement them with your favorite noodle or rice dish. Here are some tasty dim sum recipes you can make at home.
The preparation bit of dim sum is divided into the following steps…
- Rice noodle rolls, steam and fill the meat
- Deep fry
- Filling again
- Make the dumpling, which involves wrapping different stuffings in the dough
What’s even more difficult is preparing shrimp dumplings (har gow). These are very tough to make since the skin is formed using sticky rice flour, which is prone to breaking apart quite easily. Just keep this in mind the next time you’re at a restaurant. The number of pleats on the outer side of your har gow often extends to 12 or more. Surely made by a highly skilled chef!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Dim Sums Filled With?
The most popular and common types of dumplings, wraps, noodle rolls, tarts, puddings, etc. have a stuffing of a combination of fresh vegetables, meat, and seafood.
Why Are Dim Sums So Expensive?
The fillings of the traditional-style dim sums are expensive ingredients. For example, blueberry powder, boletus edulis, saffron, truffle, caterpillar fungi, etc.
While some recipes contain black-boned chicken. Marked by black flesh and bones with soft black or white plumage, Silke chicken originates from China and is actually a delicacy in Asian cuisine.
Can You Eat Dim Sums By Yourself?
Eating alone is actually one of the things you’re doing wrong when eating dim sums. Now it’s completely alright to eat by yourself if you don’t like or have company. But the thing with dim sums is that you miss out on the opportunity of trying the variety when eating solo.
Are Dim Sums Bad For You?
If you think steamed dim sums are a healthier choice, then sorry to break that bubble. The steamed version may indeed contain a lesser amount of oil in comparison to the deep-fried kind, but it’s only slightly healthier.
The calorie count of 5 steamed + 2 fried + 2 stewed or braised + 1 dessert is around 900 calories. And Woah, that’s A LOT!
What Is the Difference Between Dumplings and Dim Sums?
Dim sums come in a variety of recipes. As for dumplings, these are just one type of dim sum. However, both are small and bite-sized with a wrapping of thin flour or rice sheets that are steamed and served in a bamboo basket.
Why Are Dim Sums So Popular?
Dim sum is a delicious traditional meal that is a good excuse for family, friends, and loved ones to get together. You share the meal as dim sums come in different sorts of varieties, like noodles, rice, dumplings, and more. It’s the sharing aspect that makes the cuisine so popular.
When Should You Eat Dim Sums?
Dim sums in China are typically served for breakfast, sometimes even at 5 in the morning. And in America, the dish is more suited for brunch. Some restaurants even serve them for dinner.
Not many people know that dim sums are actually a part of tea time. More like a snack meal you know. No doubt, the small, bite-sized food item is utterly delicious and enjoyable. After all, the variety of dim sums is incredibly diverse. All kinds of different ingredients are used for the filling. So there’s something for everyone, and this includes those who don’t eat meat as well.
As to how to order dim sums, that part is pretty much covered too in this post. Just follow the traditional etiquette discussed and you’ll be ordering and eating all kinds of dim sums like a pro.