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Dim sum ettiquite question

Hi all,

Okay here is the situation.

Amought the dim sum I often eat are what I believe are called "Char Siu Fay" (Roast pork puffs) (the thigs that have the same filling as char sui bao but in flaky turnove like pastry. However I seem to be unable to take these thigs off the plate with my chopsticks and put them in my moth without leaving a trail of pastry flakes along the talble cloth as well as on myself (at the place I go to the puffs are just slighty too big to fit into your mouth in a single bite) Nor Have I seen anyone pick the things up without the same problem happening. My question is this, for really flaky crumbly dim sum like this is the ettiquite to simply use you fingers to pick the things up, or shoud one not worry about the crumb trail or what?

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  1. If this is what I think it is (the shell is kind of lacy b/c it's deep-fried rather than steamed or baked. If so, I handle these by grabbing them by "turning" them so that the chopsticks are grabbing the top and the bottom instead of the sides. This seems to give me a better grip. I do take these in two or three bites, but the bites aren't of equal size because of the grip. This will still leave crumbs but no, I don't worry about them.

    1. Pick up the tray with the puffs with your hand and bring it close to your dish, then use the chopsticks to transport the puffs from the tray to your dish. This virtually will eliminate flakes from flying across the table.

      1. Forget about the chopsticks. Some dim sum such as buns, egg custard tarts, puffs are eaten with fingers.

        4 Replies
        1. re: PBSF

          Agree with PBSF...use your hands for any bun like item, including ribs, won tons and egg rolls.....I do

          1. re: flylice2x

            Fried wontons, you mean. You certainly do not want to pick soup wontons by hands which is what "wonton" usually refers.


            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Sorry, in my family we refer to won tons as fried and the other as won ton soup or won ton mein.......

              1. re: flylice2x

                I know. Each family is different. But if you type "雲吞" which is the Chinese name for Wonton in google image, then you will see the standard definition:


        2. Jumpingmonk,

          Pick it up with your hands. It is fine. You can use chopsticks if you like, but you can use your hand. By the way, I think those are called Char Siu So or Cha Siu Sou, not Char Siu Fay. I don't know what is Char Siu Fay really.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Thnak you Chem yes those are the things.

          2. There are few things as relaxed and informal as eating dim sum. You don't have to worry much about etiquette. People at other tables are usually engrossed in conversation and aren't watching what you eat or how you eat it.

            As others have said, you can pick things up with your hand. I would not even hesitate to ask for a fork if need be. That is the only way I can eat rice rolls (chee cheong fun). They are slippery, so they fall off my chopsticks. And because they are topped with a sweet soy sauce, they are messy to pick up with the fingers. A fork does the trick.

            1. Couple of suggestions: ask the server to cut the char siu so in halfs, so it's easier to handle. Use your fingers. Or, take the plate and sweep one onto your own plate.

              1. If you're concerned about etiquette, just do what everyone else at the table is doing. I agree with ipsedixit's suggestion: bring the tray close to your table and move it to your plate. Once there, you can use one chopstick to stab it right in the middle. Then use the other one normally.

                If you really want to impress people, put the puff on the side of the plate farthest away from you. Then use an open palm to strike the plate edge closest to you. As it reaches the highest point of its flight, catch it with your mouth. After you eat it, wash down with tea and pretend you do that every day. :-)

                22 Replies
                1. re: raytamsgv

                  I'm not sure about that one ray, wouldnt stabiing it through the middle cause exactly the probme I'm trying to avoid, namely creating several millon tiny puff pastry crumbs to cover the tablecloth and the front of my shirt.

                  As for the trick it would seem to me that that would only work if the puffs were eatable in a single bite, and I've never seen any quite that small. Hall ones are usally two bites or at least a bite and a half. Bakery ones are usally even bigger, (about the size of a normal apple turnover) but those I KNOW I can hold in my hands, just like everything else the bakery sells.

                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                    That's because your kung fu simply isn't good enough, yet. :-)

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      well not with the martial arts movement motions that's for sure, my tea making gung fu, however is excellent.

                      1. re: jumpingmonk

                        Sorry to jump in, but if your tea kung fu is good, then let me ask you what tea you drink and what teapot do you use?

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          On the assumption that you are just curios as opposed to just deciding to go for a little ego bashing (sorry to be suspcious, but I have bumped into too many people who seem to regard thier duty in life as making me feel as small, pathetic and worthless as possible buy tring to convice the world that any word out of my mouth is de facto wrong) I will answer bearing in mind that while I am pretty good I by no means a master.

                          I usally like either a Rou Gui or a Tie Lo Han as the tea. I have a Yixing Clay tepot but I don't use it much except for really formal ocassions, The whole "pot absorbs the tea" theory may indeed be true but it also means that functionally you need a different Yixing pot not just for every tea by name, but practically for every tea by name, buyer, and year whic hcan get pricey in and of itself. Fact is unless you are amoung true masters and sticklers for the procedures, you can make tea that will draw ooh and aahs with nothing more than a large glazed ceramic bowl, a seive and a stopwatch.

                          1. re: jumpingmonk

                            Neither curious nor ego bashing. Just want to see your preference. So I see you are a Oolong branch tea drinker -- semi-oxidized tea. That being said, your choice is not classic choice. If you have the purple sand clay pot, then you should use it as often as possible. Don't worry about "contaminating" your teapot. That being said, you know our Yixing Clay teapot is small, so it only work for people who enjoy strong concentrated tea and served with small tea cups. The large glazed ceramic teapot is for large quantity diluted, so they are for different things. Yixing Clay teapot is for tea sessions.

                            Japanese tea way is much more form heavy than Chinese tea way.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              That's why I figured out the "big glazed bowl method" (note I said bowl, not pot) its the only way of practucally dealing with when You need Gung fu strength tea en masse when You need a LOT of it (like half a gallon at a time).

                              As for the pot its more a matter of keeping teas discrete I can taste the effect it has on the pot, and I don't like mixing my Oolongs. It's basically a choice of either having to buy a fresh purple sand pot every time I do so much as change tea suppliers (the same tea, from different providers can taste completely different) And that's not including the "extra aged" teas, where supply is pretty much limited by definition. Those are the things I save my purple pots for, things where I know there will only be a tiny amount becuse a tiny amount is all that is possible.

                              I gave up on Japanase form ages ago, for one thing I am quite heavy and trying to sit on my knees for long periods is extremely painful.

                              Since you seem up on fine teas, waht is your opion of Song Dynasty Royal Tree. One of my suppliers just got some in but thier prices is very high so I'd like a outside opion before I commit.

                  2. re: raytamsgv

                    About dim sum etiquette - I've read (from more than one source), that stabbing food with your chopsticks is bad manners. Is this true? Or does it depend on the food? Example, maybe bad form for soft dumplings but okay for the crispy delicacies jumping monk describes?

                    1. re: cinnamon girl

                      Stabbing with a chopsticks would be barbaric, a fork you could probably get away with it.

                      1. re: cinnamon girl

                        Whether it's at dim sum or at a regular meal, stabbing is always bad form.

                        Sort of like you wouldn't ever think of using your steak knife to "stab" at a piece of meat or vegetable to bring it to your mouth.

                          1. re: cinnamon girl

                            Gently stabbing or poking items that are difficult to pick up in casual settings, public or private, among family or friends, is fine.

                            1. re: cinnamon girl

                              If they let you stab your food with chopsticks, why do they need to give you two? It's bad manners unless you are two years old.

                              1. re: PeterL

                                Unless your family and friends are sadistic prison wardens, you can usually get away with deftly spiking something like a slippery fish ball with your chopsticks without being accused of being a child, barbarian, or under threat of cane whipping. [Redacted: Sorry got a bit harsh after this. Might have sounded too personal. Didn't mean it as such.]

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  It's not me that suggested stabbing anything with your chopstick, nor have I have ever done so - it was Raytamsgv's suggestion I was questioning. I was simply wondering if Asian dining manners had shifted somehow since no one else commented on it. Pouring your own tea before others' is bad manners too, which is another area I've seen a shift in manners. It's bad manners anywhere to pour your wine, water . . . any kind of drink . . . before that of your fellow diners. And not just in Asian restaurants.

                                  1. re: cinnamon girl

                                    The OP had some problems with the proper use of chopsticks, which the OP seemed to be intent on using. As you stated, stabbing one's food is not very polite. It is even worse manners to pick up an item with your chopsticks only to drop it and later bounce into your cup of tea or another dish. I've seen both of these a few times, and it is tremendously funny to watch. A siu mai, when perfectly done, can do a single bounce into a standard tea cup and makes quite a significant splash.

                                    Stabbing the food seems to be a lesser evil. If you stab it with one of the chopsticks and use the other one to grip the outside of the food, it has the appearance of actually using chopsticks correctly. No one will notice unless they are staring at you while you are actually committing the act.

                                    1. re: raytamsgv

                                      "If you stab it with one of the chopsticks and use the other one to grip the outside of the food, it has the appearance of actually using chopsticks correctly."

                                      HAHAHA....this is true. You've just motivated people to buy bags and bags of frozen ha gow and siu mai to try this at home before attempting the dim sum acrobat Olympics in front of an eating audience! Once you master this technique, onward to the slippery stuff like fishballs, meatballs, shrimp paste stuffed pepper mushrooms (this one absolutely requires a lot of skill even to stab)!

                                      1. re: K K

                                        Yeah, it's almost like you missed.

                                        As in, "You know, I tried to pick up the sui mai between the chopsticks, but gosh darn it, I missed and one of the sticks just so happened to puncture the food, but hey, at least the other stick got the job done right ..."

                                      2. re: raytamsgv

                                        Raytamsgv and KK: You're hilarious! Going for dim sum with you would be too much fun.

                                        1. re: cinnamon girl

                                          It gets even better when you see seasoned dim sum pros fighting for the check. One of my relatives witnessed an episode where one person managed to convince the waiter to ring up the bill on his credit card. But when the waiter brought the slip back to the table for a signature, the other person grabbed it, swallowed it, and paid with cash instead.

                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                            HAHAHAHAHAH! Sounds like an episode of Chinese Simpsons, if that were to exist.

                                            Not at dim sum, but at a restaurant that served dim sum, during dinner, I've seen my grandma do flying leaps in her prime to wrestle for the check (and win). She pouts when she looses to relatives or friends. The last time she did that in Hawaii with a high school friend, ice cream was spilt on the floor, glasses broke. In the end my mom paid the bill instead of seeing them duke it out. In the end two really old women were pouting and upset that neither of them were able to get the bill.

                                            The "I'm pretending to go take a slash, when I'm really handing my credit card to the cashier at the counter without looking at the itemized bill and let the restaurant bilk the hell outta me" trick is another one that's not really new. Although granny was the first in the family to do the Operation "I'm gonna leave my credit card with the cashier THE MOMENT I ARRIVE AND BEFORE I SIT DOWN TO EVEN DRINK A CUP OF TEA, TAKE THAT SUCKAZ".

                                        2. re: raytamsgv

                                          I must confess to pulling the latter trick on various occasions over the years. The trick is in stabbing it subtly enough so that it isn't obvious, if I can't do that then I revert to looking like a fool doing things the right way. :)

                                2. Best to get it to your plate before you pick it up with your hands. Whether you pick it up or push it out of the steamer by fork, spoon or x sticks doesn't matter so much. Nobody expects you to miss out.
                                  It can be hard to tell in a Chinese restaurant but there is an unwritten etiquette. Sometimes there are extra sets of chopsticks (occasionally longer than normal) like serving forks that are for reaching into communal dishes. Otherwise, if you need to pick up food for someone else or want to cut a portion, flip your chopsticks over and use the unused end. Never dip your own chopsticks into the communal soup bowl and never touch food without taking it!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: rabbithash

                                    Yes I wish people would stop touching communal food with their chopsticks. As you say, if they touch it they should take it - not around in the communal dish for their favourite bits.

                                  2. Everyone here has got good responses, but dim sum isn't really a game in keeping your table pristine clean. Heck your plate after eating multiple items, will either and/or get boney, greasy, saucey, crumby altogether before the waitstaff decide or want to switch plates.

                                    In a family setting, someone is bound to accidentally spill or drip tea (like miss the cup when pouring and ends up soaking the tablecloth), or grandma is trying to force feed the grandchildren, thinking their underweight at the annoyance of their parents while fumbling with the chopsticks and dropping meatballs or spoonfuls of fried rice/noodles.

                                    I agree that gentle stabbing is fine when dining with family. Fishballs, meatballs, chicken feet, or my favorite....shrimp paste pepper stuffed mushrooms (slippery as hell), aren't exactly the easiest to pick up with chopsticks (even for experts). If in a social setting, just ask for a soup spoon and of course communal chopsticks for table/lazy susan use.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: K K

                                      No way to keep the table clean. The teapots are like dribble glasses...you pour and half the tea hits the cup and the other half the table. The containers the dim sum are served in have no bottoms so everything drips out the bottom.

                                      1. re: monku

                                        I recall some early to mid 80 dim sum experiences in Hong Kong with family at the blue collar (but not old and divey) type places, and by the time the patrons at the nearby tables were finished with their dim sum lunch, the tablecloth and everything on top of it looked like a warzone.

                                        Perhaps this "etiquette" is more for the snobby high end places in Hong Kong (like the 3 star Michelin Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons), or inside some members only country golf horse racing club, but that does not guarantee that rich people know how to behave themselves either (especially the nouveau riche) :-D. I find those who drink XO during breakfast, or as they say "pouring sharks fin to eat over steamed rice" is more rude than stabbing something with your chopsticks to pick it up.

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Look at the floor...carpet at any dim sum place is a war zone no matter how nice the place is.