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Help! Dim Sum for Beginners

Going to have Dim Sum this weekend but I've never been. What do I need to know? How do I order? What do I order?

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  1. If you're going to a place with carts, you don't need to order anything...the women (and they're almost ALWAYS women) pushing the carts will give you a peek at their wares (minds out of the gutter, folks!), and if you like what you see, indicate you'd like to have it...a simple, "yes, please" and nod of the head is good enough. If it's important that you know what you're eating (it's not to me, but I know it is to some), go somewhere where you know they'll speak your language (I'm assuming you don't speak any Chinese), so you can ask. This is doubly important if you have food allergies. Otherwise, chow down, and report back!

    7 Replies
    1. re: ricepad

      Please forgive my ignorance. Do the carts only carry one type of Dim Sum each?

      I am going to a place that was highly recommended by a friend who is from Hong Kong. This place is in the middle of Chinatown so they may not speak english. My friend is unable to go and we have only this one Saturday so we are attempting to go solo (I love an adventure). My main objective is not to offend while getting a true Dim Sum experience.

      1. re: tlegray

        The carts carry many choices, usually 2 or 3 on the top shelf and some more selections on the 2nd shelf. If there's a lid on anything, just point to it and they will lift the lid and show you. Just indicate with your hand which one you want.

        Trust me, being asian and doing dim sum all my life, it's hard to offend them! They on the otherhand might run their carts into the back of your chair so keep your jacket or anything you value on a chair away from the aisle where the carts go up and down. Sit by the aisle so you can lean over and see what's on the cart but watch out when they move the dishes from the cart to your table. I've been dripped on before when they transfer the dishes. My mother (who has no patience and sometimes I think no tact whatsoever!!) physically gets up from her chair with the bill in hand and hustles across the room to the cart carrying what she wants and gets them to serve her on the spot. She then carries it back to our table. She claims if she doesn't do this, it will be sold out by the time they wheel it to our table (which is true and if there's something you really really want, you might miss the opportunity if there's a limited number on that cart).

        Have fun!

        1. re: fickle

          I agree with your mum. No way I'm waiting to get soggy cold deep fried squid or discover that the do fu fa ran out three tables ago :)

        2. re: tlegray

          My favorites are: Har Gau (steamed dumplings with shrimp); Shu Mai (pork and black mushroom filling); beef meatballs; Shrimp wrapped in rice noodle; Sticky Rice wrapped in lotus leaf; Steamed Barbeque Pork Buns; Baby Clams in Black Bean Sauce. You might want to try your local library or bookstore that might have a book on Dim Sum with pictures and descriptions. Also, the carts will carry many different items of Dim Sum and if you are going to a restaurant in a big city, most of the people pushing the carts will speak some English; in addition, often times the seating is communal, in other words, you may be seated at a large round table with several parties, I am sure that they can help guide you also.

          1. re: tlegray

            Each cart carries several different choices. You will not offend anyone. But do watch for the pushy dim sum woman. They'd try to push the more expensive items on you. Usually dim sum comes in 4 different prices. Small (there may be one or two items that are small), medium, large, and special. My experience has been they try hard to push the special items, esp. to someone who's not knowledgeable. And there are no prices on the carts, so you don't really know until they make the mark on your bill.

            Before you go check out some dim sum websites to get some idea to the more common items available.

            1. re: PeterL

              I have never had a cart lady try to push any item and I have been to dozens of dim sum places in the States and Hong Kong.

              1. re: JMF

                I find that usually it's the more elaborately dressed servers who are carrying trays of specials that actually push to have you try it, though used car salesman style badgering is usually nonexistent.

        3. You suppose to have Har Gau and Shu Mai for Dim Sum. It wouldn't be Dim Sum without it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: designerboy01

            If they have chicken feet, go for them. Great stuff!

          2. I'd also try the soft tofu, which is served in its own cart and comes in small soup bowls. They usually pour sugar over it, but you can request them not to.

            They might also push around clear carts with larger dishes, like jellyfish, fried taro and meat, noodles.

            For desserts, egg tarts, or coconut and taro or red bean squares.

            1. Thank you, thank you, thank you and keep the advice coming.

              1 Reply
              1. re: tlegray

                Write down all the things that people have suggested that you really want to eat (definitely siu mai pork dumplings and har gow shrimp dumplings!), and if you really find yourself in trouble at the restaurant ask to see the manager. The manager or hostess almost always speaks some English, and will certainly be able to read English and find the dishes you want for you.

                But really, half the fun is looking on the carts and seeing what looks good. The manager advice is just in case of emergencies. And another tip: don't front load! The kitchen cooks things on rotation, so if you get a whole table full of food, you may not have room for new things that come out later!

              2. I'm sure they'll have chicken feet. For the adventerous they are pretty darn good. Simply things like fried prawns, pot stickers can also be good and pretty easy to know what they are.