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Feb 12, 2008 03:25 PM

Dim Sum primer???

Okay, so i know nothing about dim sum. Whats good for a newbie to try? I love all kinds of asian food and sushi and am not afraid to try new things, so what do you dimsum vets recommend?

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  1. Har gow is the "California roll" of dim sum.

    A pictorial of Cantonese dim sum here:
    Beginner dishes are hargow (shrimp dumpling), rice rolls, water chest nut cakes, steamed pork sui mai, potstickers, mango pudding, chicken feet (just kidding).

    Cantonese dim sum is conventionally served only at lunch, but see if you can find Shanghai style dim sum which is served all day and into the night. The quintessential shanghai dim sum dish is XLB (xiao long bao) which are meat dumplings that contain hot broth.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fmed

      That is an AWESOME link. Thank you fmed ! finally I can go order off sheets when there's no carts.

    2. Some of the things that I (an aging white guy married to a Chinese woman) like are:

      char sui bao - BBQ pork in buns. There are two styles - steamed and baked. The steamed ones have a thick, white, almost gluey cover, while the baked have a thinner, crisper, golden brown coating. I prefer the baked.

      Taro/turnip cake - a thick cake of ground root vegetable, studded with various mushrooms, etc., and then fried. An excellent way to convey the ubiquitous chili sauce to your taste buds.

      Cheung foon - Long sheets of white wrapper rolled lengthwise around beef, shrimp, or scallops, although more exotic stuffings are available. Usually doused in soy sauce, but I prefer the chili vinegar.

      Dumplings - there are so many, as fmed suggests. Sui mai (ground pork wrapped in cabbage, topped with salmon roe), har gow (shrimp in crystal wrapper), and a number of varieties which mix meats and vegetables in either limp or crisp wrappers, depending on whether they are steamed, deep fried, or pan-fried. I like almost all of them. The great thing is since you normally only get 2-4 per plate, you're not wasting a whole lot if you pick something you don't like it.

      Curried baby squid/cuttlefish - some people are put off by the look of these, but I think they taste great. I can polish off an entire order myself.

      Sticky rice in lotus leaf - a glutinous rice packed with pieces of sausage, mushroom, and other vegetables, wrapped in lotus leaf. If you're as fond of chili sauce as I am on other items, this provides a cooling and tasty respite.

      Chicken feet - 20 years we've been married, and I still can't get past these. My wife and her family love them - they've never touched my lips!

      Desserts - mango pudding and egg tarts are the staples. Some places offer almond cookies (OK), tapioca pudding (not my fave), and red bean soup (never liked it).

      So, find a few favourites that you can build a meal around, and then try one or two new things each trip. You'll soon find what you like and dislike, without the risk of building an entire meal around a disappointing item. Have fun!

      10 Replies
      1. re: KevinB

        Chicken feet... I think they've actually peeled back the first layer which is the part that actually touches the ground. Then they deep fry it and sauce it. It's not bad if you don't think about it. heheh

        You probably eat lobster ( which I love) which are sometimes bottom feeders.

        Thanks KevinB for typing out the list. I'm going to print it out. :D

        1. re: KevinB

          Kevin, great line-up. Sticky rice in lotus leaf is the absolute best, especially the hidden treasure of a piece of sweet chinese sausage. I would add to the list:
          Beef Chow Foon
          Sweet Custard Tarts
          Baby Clams in Garlic Sauce with Black Beans
          Sliced Roast Duck

          This last one is hard to find, but my fave of all time: shrimp and banana fried in a thin wonton wrapper, rolled in black & white sesame seeds.

          1. re: HSBSteveM

            Oh, geez.. how could I have forgotten the tiny pork ribs in black bean sauce? Our family of five usually has to order two plates to satisfy everyone.

            Sliced roast duck sounds great, but I haven't seen it in dim sum in Toronto - it usually shows up on the "cold platter" when we're having a banquet. In dim sum, do they serve it hot or cold?

            1. re: KevinB

              Usually served room temp. Our dim-sum places usually have a display window somewhere in view of the diners where they hang roast ducks, racks of ribs, chickens and sometimes octopi.

            2. re: HSBSteveM

              wow! Where do you find the last one?

              "shrimp and banana fried in a thin wonton wrapper, rolled in black & white sesame seeds."

              I have never heard of that one at all.

              1. re: sleepycat

                Shrimp and banana in wonton is not common, but you can get it at the more modern-style dim sum places. I believe it is an invention from a restaurant in Taipei. Dim sum restaurants run by younger, innovative chefs are leveraging the success of sushi and tapas and are cooking outside the box.

                I had a great meal at a dim sum place just around the corner from me last week that featured sushi inspired dishes like shrimp and wasabi spring rolls, negitoro done in a har gow style, duck tataki, etc.

                Purists will cringe, of course.

                1. re: fmed

                  fmed do you live in Vancouver? If so, where would you recommend for a great dim sum? What about the place around the corner from you?

                  1. re: Deborah

                    Yes I live in East Van. That place was the Golden Phoenix on Nanaimo St...not really one of my favorites, but it is good if not hit or miss (depending on the day it seems). Many of the 'experimental' dim sum are not on the menu - they seem to randomly appear on the carts.

                    I would much rather recommend ( for consistency) Kirin (Cantonese/some Northern) or Sun Siu Wah (Cantonese), The Place (Shanghai - go for the xiao long bao) in Vancouver.

                    It is worth the trip to Richmond to go the Chen's Shanghai Kitchen where they make most items fresh to order. The xioa long bao is the best in town, IMO.

                    The other ones I recommend are : Sea Harbour, Fishermen's Terrace, Shiang Garden....actually way too many.

                    Also note that who is 'best' is subject to fierce debate amongst my Chinese friends. One place may have the best of one item (eg Chen's and The Place are renowned for the XLB)..but not another.

                    Are you from Van?

            3. re: KevinB

              Another favorites include:

              Char siu so -- barbecue pork in a sweet pastry dough. I'm the only one of my regular dim sum companions who really likes these, but I can eat an entire order by myself.

              Jin dui, aka buchi -- Pounded glutinous rice surrounding red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds

              Pineapple buns -- one of my favorites, a baked sweet dough with a custard filling and a sort of crumb-like topping. They don't actually have pineapple in them, but the scored baked topping kinda sorta looks like a pineapple skin, I guess

              Here in Boston, the Cantonese dim sum places also have a walk-up bar where you can order plates of steamed Chinese broccoli with hoisin and bowls of clams or mussels or periwinkles in black bean sauce.

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                Jin dui may also contain lotus seed paste -- I actually prefer this, it tastes a little "peanut buttery".

            4. People can tell you what they like but if you've never seen har gao, you won't know it when you see it on the cart. Just ask what it is and if it looks good, get it. It's only a small dish anyway so you're not committed to a huge entree. One easy mistake is to get overzealous and order too many dishes at once, and they get cold. Pace yourself and know that it will come around again. We get as much as we think we can eat and have it stay warm. Ignore the passing carts until you're ready for more. While I like desserts, I don't find them as good as the other dishes so I never save room for it. If I happen to be hungry, then I'll get some. One exception is the warm sweet tofu on a cold day. Kind of like a silky custard.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                The warm sweet tofu -- which is awesome and which I buy by the quart at 99 Ranch -- is called "dou fu hua" in Mandarin and "dou fu faa" in Cantonese -- literally "bean curd flower".

              2. Do not let the servers give you Jasmine tea. Drink as the Chinese do and drink black tea. Proper etiquette dictates you need to fill your companion's tea cup. It is bad form to let your companion fill their own cup. Last, tapping three fingers from the same hand indicates "thank you." I see the older folk do this but, unfortunately, the young do not practice this simple and elegant way of saying thank you.

                21 Replies
                1. re: creamy

                  Yikes - What do you tap the fingers on, and how many times?

                  1. re: Sarah

                    Discreetly, tap the table twice (or three times, if you feel adventurous).

                    1. re: Sarah

                      Just tap the table near the cup. Don't put your fingers too close in case the person misses while pouring the tea. Keep your taps gentle; usually, only the fingers move. Tap as long as you like. Some folks tap a couple of times. I tap until they finish pouring the tea (I usually use my pointer and middle fingers for tapping).

                    2. re: creamy

                      I like that. Wht is the origin of that custom? Is it 3 taps for each syllable in the chinese phrase for thank you?

                      1. re: HSBSteveM

                        HSBStevenM, no it's from an old story with some variations! Here:


                        1. re: HSBSteveM

                          I like the version of three finger taps as it makes more sense to me. If you were showing respect to the emperor you would not just kneel. You would kneel and then kowtow with your head to the floor. The three fingers would represent knee head knee. You would tap with your 3 fingers as the third finger is longer. When you kneel and kowtow your head would be further forward then your knees.

                          1. re: HSBSteveM

                            It's kowtow with your finger but you don't have to get on the floor. BTW there is no rules about how many fingers and how many times to tap the table. Also the younger generation always does the tea pouring. Serve everyone else at the table first, then yourself.

                            When your teapot is out of water, just tip the pot cover back open and a server should fill it up again with hot water.

                          2. re: creamy

                            Or if you want one w/out caffeine, go for the chrysanthemum tea, nice and light in flavor.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                KM, I was just thinking the same thing - I love jasmine tea.

                                1. re: Suzy Q

                                  There is nothing wrong with Jasmine tea. Pearl820 wants to know what is the starting point to enjoying Dim Sum. Chinese, most often, drink black tea with this meal; hence the recommendation. Jasmine, IMHO, is too light to complement the most savory of DS dishes. On the extreme: I've seen people drink coke with their Dim Sum. Is it wrong? not really; but I would not recommend either.

                                  1. re: creamy

                                    That's interesting and good to know. How do you say "black tea" in cantonese? We usually order jasmine, which I'm not sure how to say either...

                                    1. re: franprix

                                      I like Jasmine Tea with dim sum. Hern Pin is jasmine... not sure about black tea... Oolong chai is black tea I think don't quote me... what do i know. Just a sleepy cat.

                                      1. re: franprix

                                        You would order a specific tea, usually, and you'll have to pay extra for it. One that I enjoy -- but is very, very strong -- is "tiet kwun yum" in Cantonese and "ti guan yin" in Mandarin. It means "Iron Goddess of Mercy" and is the traditional start to a Chiu Chow-style meal.

                                        If you prefer a good green tea, you can ask for "lung ching" in Cantonese or "long jing" in Mandarin -- Dragon Well tea. It's a very delicate green tea.

                                        "Pu er cha" (Mandarin) or "Po lei cha" (Cantonese) is a black tea that is pressed into a hockey-puck like brick called a "bing". You crumble some off and it is a very rich flavour, especially if it is aged. This is a good tea to try but be aware that the quality and price range from very cheap to shockingly, appallingly expensive.

                                        I disagree with creamy, though, because I think he has the point backwards. The idea is to drink quite a lot of tea and have a good conversation with friends or family, and relax, and the dishes are meant to compliment the tea... and if you walk into any seafood restaurant at lunch time in Hong Kong fully three-quarters of the tables will have jasmine tea (heung pin cha in Cantonese, don't know how to say it in Mandarin). If you're going to be eating a lot of sweets and you know it, you may want a chrysanthemum tea (swei sin cha in Cantonese) which has a light, spicy taste to it. And don't worry about if you accidentally drink the leaves, they're perfectly safe.

                                        If you want something sweet to drink, you can ask for "baat po cha", sometimes called "say po cha" (Eight Treasure Tea or Four Treasure Tea) in Cantonese, or "ba bao cha" or "si bao cha" in Mandarin. It's fairly low-quality tea with longan and other herbs and some rock sugar in it. The problem with ba bao cha is that the sugar dissolves quickly and goes to the bottom, so if you are going to do multiple infusions you will need to save some of the liquid on the bottom first so you get some sweetness.

                                        Finally, there are display teas called "kai hua cha" in Mandarin or "hoi faa cha" in Cantonese -- they will be served in a clear glass pot. You don't get tea leaves, you get a ball in the pot. You pour the hot water (which arrives separately) over the ball, and the ball "blossoms" into a flower which then infuses into tea.

                                        In some places -- particularly order-off-the-menu places -- you may notice that the quality of food you get increases if you order a fancier tea. This is much less common now that dim sum is somewhat mainstream, but it still happens now and again, especially in New York, I've noticed.

                                        1. re: creamy

                                          Oh, foo. I've been married to a Chinese woman for over 20 years, and when we go out for dim sum, I've never heard anyone in her family order black tea. They order either Jasmine or Oolong. And, when dining with our many Chinese friends (lunch or dinner), it's usually been one of those two, although sometimes Chrysanthemum is picked. And, in Toronto at least, which does have a sizeable Chinese population, you almost always receive Jasmine when you sit down.

                                          1. re: KevinB

                                            I have started a different thread on Tea, if I'm confused, I suspect others are, and might not look at a DimSum thread for the answers

                                        1. re: raytamsgv

                                          My mother says Bo Lay "cuts the fat" of the dim sum and other food -- yeah, right!

                                          1. re: Sarah

                                            Yes, we were told the same thing many years ago - that Bo Lay (Bo Nay, Pu Erh, etc.) is good to cut the fat.

                                            These days we usually ask for "Guk Bow" - 1/2 chrysanthemum and 1/2 Bo Lay...

                                            1. re: RWCFoodie

                                              Yes, Pu Erh does cut fat, in my youth we try this experiment, we had some cold fat/oil in two cups and to the first we added just hot water and to the second pu erh tea. We found that the fat/oil broke up quicker and stayed apart longer.

                                              The mixture is not half and half more pu erh than chrysanthemum. The taste of pu erh can be very strong and so times has a musty taste so we normally add just enough chrysanthemum to make the tea more mild. But it is the effect of the pu erh you want. Recently I was able to buy some 50 year old pu erh which I plan to really slowly enjoying at home after a meal which may be oily. Pu erh is one of the few teas which gets better with age.

                                    2. Yes, the point of Dim Sum is to enjoy the company of family and friends. Tea (black, green, Jasmine, Chrysanthemum, or any other) is part of this ritual. I frequent Chinatowns in New York and Boston (and twice a year in LA) and black tea is what I've seen served to most Chinese customers. I have only seen Jasmine tea be offered to non-asians. Many moons ago, a reliable Chinese friend (also a foodie) explained the intricacies of each dish and tea accompaniment. Of course, one should drink whatever beverage is most palatable.

                                      Das_Ubergeek: I do not subscribe to an all-you-can-eat attitude when it comes to Dim Sum, or any other food for that matter. So it is surprising you think I "have it backwards." I have seen Chinese families ordering one or two dishes and linger over them for half hour or longer (they read their local Chinese newspaper, talk on the cell phone, talk to their companions, etc) and repeat the process for two or three hours in a leisurely manner. I think this is wonderful and try to emulate. Many Westerners eat in a hurry, crane their necks for the next dish, hunt for the next cart to pass by (even get up to fetch a dish across the room) and eat again without stopping . This is not the way to enjoy Dim Sum. It is not a salad bar or buffet on rollers.

                                      Slow down and enjoy the experience. Experiment with all dishes (yes, even the chicken feet and tripe) and sample all teas available. You'll find what is most satisfying to you. Harmony is waiting.

                                      5 Replies
                                        1. re: creamy

                                          My Chinese brother-in-law lives on Long Island. When we visited over Christmas, he took us to one Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn for soup dumplings, which was pretty good. Every other Chinese place we visited for lunch was awful. He took us out to steakhouses, seafood joints, and delis for dinner - and I have to say, NY deli beats anything in Toronto hands down. My BIL tells me that the Chinese food in Toronto is much higher quality than in NYC, and he looks forward to every visit, when we only go to Chinese places.

                                          I think it's important that most of the Chinese people in Toronto are fairly recent immigrants (last 10-15 years), and with almost 10% of the population of the Greater Toronto Area Chinese, that's more than half a million people. The stats I saw for NYC were less than 1 million people classed as "Asian", which could mean Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, etc. So I think our respective Chinese populations are roughly equal in number, and since NYC has more than 3 times the population of Toronto, proportionately much higher in Toronto. Even my wife's other brothers, who still live in Asia, think the food in Toronto is great. They much prefer our cold water lobster and crab to the warm water stuff they get. They believe our beef and pork dishes are better quality meats than they get at home. This is not to say they don't enjoy their "home cooking", but they're all happy to visit us, and they always rave about the food.

                                          And we're probably not even the best in Canada. I think Vancouver gets that nod.

                                          1. re: creamy

                                            You definitely have the slow-down-and-enjoy it part right. What I think you've mixed up is that most Chinese I know go to drink the tea and pick food to accompany the tea, not the other way round -- I don't know very many that go to get a specific dish and then picks the tea to match the food the way you would choose a wine. And I don't know any people who would change teas midway through a yum cha.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              Since I have not master the art of Dim Sum making, I go to DS parlors. Tea is the accompaniment to that meal. If I hunger for tea, I'll stay home with my well-stocked pantry or visit a tea house. But then again, I'm not Chinese.

                                              1. re: creamy

                                                Thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread, from newbies with questions to hard-core dimsummers to Chinese folk to non... great reading.