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Jul 11, 2007 12:52 AM

Dim Sum Education

[The Chowhound Team moved this general discussion from the L.A. Area board]

I have had a dim sum once at a mediocre restaurant, but it was good...I would like to venture out and order it , I am in the Inland Empire, SG Valley is fine to go to. I read NBC or a few others, but not sure what to order, can anyone help ??????

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  1. The best thing for a newbie is to go to a cart place, and let the ladies show you what they have. Pick what looks good, and don't be afraid to try exotic things.

    I tend to like bao-although I've never tried the beloved soup-dumplings, and want to, tsu mai (excuse if I misspell!), the broccli, potstickers of all sort, rice noodles, and sticky rice. Me, I have to watch for peanuts, though.

    If you have allergies, it's best to find a place that speaks english well and ask for a menu and help!

    19 Replies
    1. re: Diana

      From a post I did a while back, here's a short(ish) primer for you:

      First and foremost: you won't offend anyone pretty much no matter what you do. If you try to take things off the carts, they'll smack your hand with tongs or a spoon or whatever, but they won't be offended. You can ask for a fork (they'll actually probably bring you one anyway, on the mistaken assumption that non-Asians can't use chopsticks). You wouldn't believe how rude (to American eyes) some people are in dim sum halls, mostly because they want what they want and don't want to wait for it!

      The only rule about dim sum is that the women who push the carts ONLY push the carts. At pretty much every dim sum hall in the U.S., there are waiters (and, just like the cart people are always women, the waiters are always men) whose job it is to bring you drinks, take special orders, and handle the money. If you can't get one of them to pay attention to you, it is acceptable to stand up and gesture. (Acceptable meaning that plenty of other people do it, not acceptable meaning that it's polite, that is.)

      Go in, and it'll probably be crowded. Don't go before 10 or after 2 if you can help it. Take your number and wait for them to call it.

      Sit down and they'll bring you tea -- it's usually pretty base-model stuff, you can order fancier tea if that's your thing. Ask for water if you want it.

      Carts will roll by, and generally there are between three and ten items on each cart. Some are speciality carts -- for example, the cart that makes broccoli and other greens ONLY makes broccoli and greens -- but in general you'll have several selections from each cart.

      You don't need any Chinese to deal with dim sum, but I'll provide you a list of terms in Cantonese at the end in case you really get stuck. Just point at what you want to see, and if it looks tasty, nod and hold up fingers for how many dishes of it you want. If you don't want it, shake your head. If you want to know what's in it, ask, but they may not be able to explain it. (We get a lot of "meat with vegetable" or "is pork, you like pork" at our favourite dim sum hall. Remember that unless they specify otherwise, "meat" means "pork".)

      You'll have a card on your table and each cart lady will take it and put stamps in the appropriate location for how many items you took.

      Any kind of sauce that's meant to go with the dish will be set on the table with the dish. That doesn't mean you can't use other sauces, of course! And if you want chili sauce, ask a waiter.

      Most people eat savoury first and then switch to sweets, but you aren't bound by that -- certainly you won't be the only ones to buck the trend. Feel free to ask (a waiter, remember) for a clean plate if you don't feel like putting taro pudding or mango pudding or rice cakes in your soy-and-chili-sauce-covered plate.

      The point is to drink quite a lot of tea, so when you get down to the end of the tea, flip the lid of the teapot upside down and set it at the end of the table. The waiter will pour more hot water in (producing a weaker brew each time). If you want more leaves, you will probably have to pay for them, but some places will refresh the leaves for you as well.

      At the end, simply hold up your card, and the waiter guy will come over and total how many stamps in column A (at 90 cents each, for example), how many in column B (at $1.90, for example), etc. etc. and give you a total. Tip at your comfort level -- typical seems to be about 10% or 12%, but if that makes you uncomfortable, tip more.

      A short glossary of useful dim sum Cantonese:

      yutt-gaw: one (of those)
      loong-gaw: two (of those)
      sam-gaw: three (of those)
      soong: I want/would like/give me
      mm-seung: I don't want/don't give me
      Yaau moh ______ aa: do you have _______
      Ngo dayee (faa sang) man gam: I am allergic to (peanuts).
      Ngau: meat/pork (by default, "meat" means "pork")
      Ngau yuk: beef
      Ngau gai: chicken
      Choy: leafy vegetables (incl. chives)
      Har (said like a New Yorker): shrimp
      chah-shoo: barbecued pork
      Bao (rhymes with "how"): buns, either steamed or baked
      gow (also rhymes with "how"): dumplings
      Doh fu: tofu/beancurd
      daw-jeh: thank you (when they give you something)
      mm-goy: thank you (when they do something for you)

      Some common things:

      Pie gwut (pork spareribs, usually in black bean sauce)
      Har gow (translucent pink shrimp dumplings)
      Shu mai ("beggars' purses" of pork and shrimp in yellow wrapping)
      Siu loong bao (Shanghai-style "soup dumplings", with soup actually inside the dumpling)
      Gow tie (potstickers)
      Ngau yuk cow (beef meatballs)
      Fun gwor (large dumplings, usually pork and vegetable)
      Chiu chow fun gwor (dumplings with peanuts, chives, pork and mushrooms)
      Lo mai gai (chicken and rice steamed inside lotus or banana leaves)
      Cha shu bao (fluffy white buns with sweet barbecued pork inside)
      Gai bao (chicken and ginger buns)
      Lap cheung bao (Chinese sausage buns)
      Chung fun (rice "omelettes" around various fillings -- very slippery but very tasty)
      Fung zow (chicken feet -- either barbecued with sweet sauce, or cold and swimming in vinegar)
      Gai lan (Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce)
      Lo bak go (grilled "turnip" cakes that are actually made from daikon radish)
      Jook (rice porridge -- often pay dan sau yook jook, which is rice porridge with pork and preserved eggs)
      Yow ja gwai (twisted doughnuts, not sweet, usually dipped in jook)
      Mang gwaw buding (mango pudding)
      Jin dui (fried sesame balls with lotus seed paste (brown) or red bean paste (red) inside)
      Dou fu faa (steamed tofu pudding with sweet ginger syrup)
      Laai wong bao (fluffy round buns with sweet egg custard inside, usually with a red dot on top)
      Daan taat (egg tarts -- puff pastry tart shells with sweet egg yolk filling inside)

      (OK, not short at all. Sorry.)

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        short(ish)? that is a well-thought out dissertation. very helpful for dim sum newbies.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I am not new to dim sum, but your write-up is still terrific, Das Ubergeek! Thanks!!!

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            THANK YOU! That is so useful, I printed it out to take next time I go.

            1. re: Diana

              me too! Thanks perfect for me to venture with new things!

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              I remember that post--it was a good one! Anyhow, here is a minor correction:

              "Ngau" actually means "cow". It does not mean "meat."
              "Yuk" (rhymes with "book") means "meat." Thus, "Ngau yuk" literally means "cow meat" or beef. "Jee yuk" means "pig meat" or pork, but usually, this is referred to simply as "yuk." However, "yuk" is not applied to duck, chicken, or fish.

              When you go to a cart place, position yourself by the aisle. When carts go by, make it obvious that you are interested in the contents of the cart. Point and ask "What is it?" If you don't like it, wave them off or nod appropriately. While this may be considered rude for most Westerners, it is standard operating procedure for Cantonese folks. The same is also true of chasing down waiters to get a specialized order or chasing down carts to get something.

              Finally, if you want something a la carte, such as chow mein, flag down one of the guys in the suit, wearing a tie, or otherwise looks like he knows what their doing (try not to flag down other patrons). Order from them.

              Here's some more information about Chinese restaurants in general:

              1. re: raytamsgv

                Koodles to both Das Ubergeek and raytamsgv for the dim sum primer.

                But I am a bit confused by some of the phonetic translations -- are they meant to be for Cantonese or Mandarin?

                Das Ubergeek says they are for Cantonese, but some appear to be Mandarin. Like "Gai Lan" which is Mandarin, but "jook" and many of the others are definitely cantonese.

                Still, a great resource.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  most likely cantonese. broccoli in mandarin is "jie lan" and cantonese is "gai lan".

                  1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

                    Hmm ... when I say broccoli in Mandarin I say "gai lan" and when I want oyster sauce on my broccoli I say "hou-yo gai lan" ...

                    Maybe I'm just retarded ...

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      haha, i sometimes mix up words as well. but gai lan is for sure cantonese. mandarin would be "hao yo jie lan" for oyster sauce steamed broccoli. good thing most of the dim sum ladies understand mandarin.

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    It's definitely Cantonese with a slight Hong Kong accent. Recent trends in Hong Kong-style Cantonese have replaced many initial "n" sounds with "l" sounds. For example, "laai wong bao" would traditionally be pronounced "nai wong bao." Also, the "ng" sound (as in "ngau yuk"--beef") is being dropped. I've heard many Hong Kong folks say "au yuk." Nevertheless, almost any native Cantonese speaker should be able to figure it out.

                    Das Ubergeek has done an awesome job in providing phonetic representation of Cantonese sounds.

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      hey raytam, i've noticed that recently. my HK cousins have replaced the 'n' with 'l'. pretty interesting. good observation.

                  3. re: raytamsgv

                    Wow, that was a stupid mistake on my part -- as you say, "yuk" means meat and defaults to pork. I must have been copy/pasting... so, for the record:

                    yuk (rhymes with book) - meat (usually means pork)
                    ngau yuk - beef
                    jee yuk - pork (to differentiate it from other kinds)
                    saau yuk - lean "stringy" pork
                    gai - chicken

                    We went to Empress Pavilion last week (I know, but it's so convenient to the freeway from Burbank!) and when I asked after lo bak go, the lady pushing the gai lan cart started waving down the lo bak go lady.

                    One thing that I left off that may be useful: when you want to ask where something is (like "where's the lo bak go"):

                    ______ hai bin doh aa? (literally, "______, it's where?")

                    The obvious fill-in-the-blank for this one is:

                    Chih saw hai bin doh aa? ("Where's the bathroom?")

                  4. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Wow, what a terrific write-up! I've been eating dimsum for decades and your write-up is still useful even for me. Thanks.

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      WOW!! Great list, thanks.
                      What are the rice noodles with shrimp called?

                      1. re: whatsfordinner

                        Are you referring to the shrimp wrapped in wide, thick rice noodles and bathed in sweet soy sauce and oil? If so, that is more or less pronounced "har chung fun" following Das Ubergeek's conventions. "Har" refers to shrimp. "Chung fun" refers to the noodles that wrap around it. If you want beef, it would be "Ngau yuk chung fun." In this way, Chinese is identical to English, where the adjective always comes before the noun (e.g. beef noodle soup instead of noodle beef soup).

                          1. re: whatsfordinner

                            definitely try 'cha siu cheung fun'.... that's the bbq pork flavored version. my favorite... extra sauce please.

                      2. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Thank You Das !!!! I am new to Chowhound, but I always see your posts and they are very helpful ! I will print this out and venture in a new food experience !!!!!

                        thanks everyone !

                    2. The original comment has been removed
                      1. You don't need to go all the way to NBC. There are plenty of fine dim sum places in Hacienda Heights and nearby. Go on the 60 and exit Nogales. Go north on Nogales and you'll see a shopping mall on your left with Ranch 99 and a couple of good dim sum restaurants nearby.