Origins & Information - (A-Z) Dim Sum

Dim sum has got to be one of my most favorite groups of food to have when dining out, and I think that a lot of it has to do with the familial memories that are attached to dim sum. I believe I've only been one time to have dim sum that wasn't with family. How crazy is that? If you have no idea what it is, you are missing out but hopefully I'll educate you well enough to tempt you into getting together with friends for a dim sum outing.

The term itself (Cantonese) means "a little bit of heart," and the practice of having dim sum is said to have been linked with Silk Road travelers who would often stop at teahouses on their journeys. Small foods begun to be served with the tea there and thus dim sum was born. It is now a big part of people's diets, particularly those in Hong Kong who enjoy it as breakfast, brunch, and/or lunch. It is still paired off with tea which can considerably range in variety. When enjoying dim sum at a restaurant, one will order it from carts that circle around in the restaurant and are pushed by waitresses. The carts are equipped to keep the food warm and sometimes will include a fryer for particular dishes. These waitresses will often say what is on their cart aloud so that patrons can know whom to flag down. The dishes themselves are not very large, having a few pieces per, so it is common to order a few dishes of one type. The types of dim sum you will see will vary from place to place. Of course there are stable dishes like shu mai or har gow but sometimes one restaurant will have different sweet types or so. They all fall into one of the following categories in some shape or form however.

General types of dim sum
  • Steamed - This is fairly self-explanatory and includes many of the most popular dishes like har gow and dumplings.
  • Cheung fun - My favorite of dim sum dishes, these are rice noodle rolls that have something inside of them. I like the shrimp ones best. They have a warm sauce that complements them that your waitress will pour for you.
  • Fried/grilled - These will require special carts that have burners so that your dish can be fried to order. An example would be turnip cake.
  • Baked - Surprisingly there are a lot of puff dim sum dishes that are both savory and sweet. If you think of roasted pork puffs and egg tarts, you'll know what I mean.
  • Sweet - Self-explanatory as well! These are the dessert dim sum dishes that you want at the end of your meal unless you just can't resist.

Of course, those aren't everything but there are also dishes which overlap. Having dim sum is an excellent experience and should be done in fairly large groups for the experience of sharing dishes with everyone. If you ever want to go on a dim sum expedition, don't hesitate to let me know!

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!