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Sep 23, 2010 04:17 PM

Is dim sum more about the TYPE of food you are eating, or the experience?

There's another thread going on about people's favorite dim sum dishes.

Lots of good suggestions, many of which are the tried and true classical dim sum offerings like sui mai, har gow, char siu bao, etc.

But if you've ever had dim sum in more progressive, avant garde places that are menu-driven, you'll often find offerings that aren't so typical, such as pumpkin-taro fritters, pork belly in various forms, goose liver dumplings, pig liver cakes, etc.

So, I ask, is it still dim sum for you if there are none of the traditional offerings? But instead you are plated with a variety of small plate (tapas-style) Chinese food that bears no relationship to the "typical" dim sum dishes?

Or, is it only dim sum to you if you are offered the traditional dim sum items (with perhaps others being offered as well)?

In other words, what if instead of getting, say, 3 or 4 shu mai per order, you got a whole plateful of them (like 10) per order. Same for har gow, etc. .... Would that still be dim sum for you?

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  1. I say why the heck not? as long as I know walking in that it's a re-imagination of dim sum, then I'm ok, doesn't sound like a place I'd go on any given Saturday, but I bet I'd still like it on occasion.

    1. I have been to both type of place. Each has it's own virtue. As long as it is fresh and delicious, I am open to innovation.

      I have been to Korean-Chinese and Chinese dumpling houses that serve a plate of 10 dumplings per order of all one kind of dumpling. For me it is too much dumpling at once. I wouldn't like the same at a dim sum house either. 2-3-4 pieces is perfect.

      1. To me dim sum is a "type" of food.
        I'll get an order of 6-8 shu mai to go and that's a breakfast or lunch for me.

        1. Well if you look at it historically, the eating of dim sum was originally first and foremost about the drinking of tea at an establishment, with dim sum as no more than 2 steamers worth of a giant bao or dumpling that would fill up one's stomach. "Yum Cha" in Cantonese was pretty much saying, hey let's go to the tea restaurant (which later became "place of alcohol" once the alcohol joints were banned from operating as fireworks vendors and brothels and thus had to become legit seafood restaurants), or upstairs to the tea restaurant for fancier seating, which evolved to "drinking tea" (that included munching on the bites).

          So yes, dim sum can mean anything, but yum cha is about the experience. Sure we can modify or fuse it with British style afternooon tea.....a pot of Earl Grey or PG Tips or Russian Caravan instead of Pu Er, Jasmine, Oolong, Kung Fu Tea to go with ha gow, siu mai, BBQ pork buns (or the other way around), and you could theoretically still call it yum cha. Just like how there are places that offer "afternoon tea" or "high tea" service all day, to some of the 24 hour "yum cha" places in Taipei (I can only shudder at what's being offered).

          It would be impossible for the bare bones basics ha gow, siu mai, bbq pork buns to go away, as these are famous staples worldwide that everyone has come to identify dim sum with. It would be like Mickey D's no longer offering hamburgers and filet o fish and only doing umami bomb lettuce wrap sliders or maguro, hamachi, hirame, kohada or saba disappearing from a nigiri sushi lineup.

          "what if instead of getting, say, 3 or 4 shu mai per order, you got a whole plateful of them (like 10) per order. Same for har gow, etc. .... Would that still be dim sum for you?"

          I could do that at my local Chinese buffet, but definitely not a yum cha experience :-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: K K

            This. The "yum cha experience" is key, IMO -- particularly the communal nature of it. Again, as I said in another thread, my first experience of dim sum was in Hong Kong, where people use yum cha places (and all restaurants, really) like their living rooms. There's something so... celebratory and communal and almost holiday-like about sitting at a big table with a bunch of friends, vying for the last har gau, building teetering stacks of steamer baskets as evidence of your conviviality!

          2. I had never had dim sum until about ten years ago. My friend told me about it as explained to her by her Chinese mother in law. I loved the description so for me, I really need this aspect more than the dishes:

            It is like having high tea. There is no rush to get in and out. There is no real goal of filling the stomach. It is a time to relax alone or with friends. Each treat or plate is selected when you are ready for it, not all at once. Take time to savor the dish and sip your tea so that each sip is enjoyed, not rushed. Read the paper or sit in contemplation. Have a casual or serious conversation. If you are stuffing your face, there is no room to think, talk, read or sip.

            Somehow, that made so much sense to me and intrigued me more than the food. I need that to fully enjoy dim sum. If a place is too noisy or has a very rushed feeling about it, it isn't really dim sum.

            I think the only things I would truly miss are the turnip cakes and the deep fried taro root. Other than those two things, they can serve anything and I'll order according to the menu.