Dim Sum: never, ever served at dinner??
Hi... On the Los Angeles board, someone mentioned that dim sum is only ever a breakfast/brunch/lunch thing in the world-at-large, which I've never understood. Farmers toiling in the fields since 5:00 a.m. aside, who's _that_ hungry by 10:00 a.m., ready to eat plate after plate of what is essentially asian tapas and small plates? The sheer plenty and diversity of dim sum would seem to recommend its' availability to evenings as well. Is it the handmade quality of production that requires morning and early afternoon consumption? Or perhaps the vast communal/cultural mindset so firmly in place already, to break one's fast with so opulent (in terms of selection) yet affordable (in terms of price) a chowish ritual amidst family and friends? It would seem that for every famished 'morning person' standing in line at 9:59 a.m. ready to pound down dim sum and tea, there might be equivalent 'evening folk' ready to get their grub on and wash it down with cocktails and beer, or perhaps to soak up the effects of cocktails and beer. I'm just not ready for shrimp, pork, various feet, and encasing starches before noon, and thus would never think of seeking out korean BBQ and panchan at 10:00 in the morning. But somehow the same general ingredients, prepared and packaged/presented differently, are so welcome in the morning hours, that often one will miss out if attempting to eat dim sum at 2:00 p.m.. Just as the small plate and tapas boom has found a very willing and receptive market, why no dim sum for me and any other vampyres who only really ressurect an appetite once the sun goes down? I hope that in asking this sincere question, I am not offending anyone, culturally or culinarily...
I think most folks have a misconception of "dim sum".
Dim sum, per se, is less about the what type of food is served, than how the food is served.
Dim sum is a way to have a leisurely dining experience. It is a STYLE of dining.
Dim sum is NOT necessarily about the types of food served, i.e. steamed lotus leaves, hao-goa, shu-mai, etc. Most of those items can be found on menus for lunch or dinner.
The closest analogy that I can think of regarding dim sum, would probably be English High Tea.
As I understand it, high tea was conceived of by the Duchess of Bedford as a bridge meal between lunch and dinner. The usu. types of dishes that were served incl. things like crustless sandwiches, toast, scones and other pastries. The emphasis was on presentation and conversation.
Just like dim sum, one would not have "high tea" during breakfast hours even if one were to crave crustless sandwiches. You would just eat crustless sandwiches and call it breakfast.
Same thing with dim sum. If you craved shu-mai, then heck just eat shu-mai for dinner and call it dinner!
IIRC, "high tea" is actually a working class concept for a somewhat substantial mea. Afternoon tea as light refreshment was the upper class variant. In the US, a lot of people confuse the two concepts. Like the American idea of thinking tea is more refined than coffee (if there is a parallel in Britain, it used to be the reverse) or that putting milk you your coffee or teacup first before pouring in the hot beverage is more refined (again, in Britain, that was a mark that one was not highborn, as it were).
The explanation, offered to me by an owner of our favorite dim sum place, is simple. The dim sum chef has to go home sometime. He can't just be there making breakfast lunch and dinner too. And it's not economical to hire another shift of dim sum chef to do the dinner round.
I'm not quite sure that "pound down" is an accurate description of the most traditional way of eating dim sum - we're talking about grazing, with friends, on tea and cakes (so to speak).
The last time I was in Guangzhou, there were restaurants that also served dim sum at dinnertime. It was something of a fashionable trend that might have originated in Hong Kong.
But unlike daytime yum cha, there were no carts or menus. Instead the dining room had stations along the walls where people would pick up freshly prepared items to carry back to their table.
I've noticed that the early morning eaters of dim sum in Hong Kong tend to order very modestly because the food is so rich. It's only when income levels rise that people go all out and make a major meal out of dim sum.
Lastly, dim sum (dian xin in pinyin) does in fact refer to a category of foods that depends on the region in China. The style of dining is called yum cha (tea drinking) in Guangdong.