Definitions

Chiu Chau

Dim sum

[dim suhm]

Dim sum is the name for a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. It is usually served in the mornings until noon time at Chinese restaurants and at specialty dim sum eateries where typical dishes are available throughout the day. Dishes come in small portions and may include meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. The items are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate. Yum cha (literally "tea drinking") is the term used to describe the dining session, especially in contemporary Cantonese. Chinese families in particular typically like to gather at Chinese restaurants for dim sum on occasions such as Mother’s Day or Chinese New Years.

Name

The Cantonese phrase dim sum () means literally "touch the heart" or "order to your heart's content". It may be derived from yat dim sum yi (), meaning "a little token". ("A Touch of Heart" is perhaps the more poetic translation.) Though the English word "dim sum" refers to the Cantonese variety, the idea of a wide variety of small dishes for lunch also holds for other regions of China.

Equivalent terms, such as dianxin ("little heart") in Mandarin, exist in other varieties of Chinese, as a generic term for any of a variety of snacks or small food items. The terms "northern dianxin" or "Shanghai dianxin" (dee-shin) have thus come into use. These dianxin are, however, not necessarily Cantonese dim sum, although the two still share the same written script in traditional and simplified characters.

In the US and many other English Speaking countries, the word “Dim sum” is often mistakenly used as the name for Yum cha. In fact, in Cantonese, Dim sum (點心) is just a phrase for wide range of light dishes where Yum cha (飲茶) “drink tea”, is the process.

In Australia the name dim sim is used for a particular kind of dumpling snack. Dim sims may have been inspired by dim sum, but are typically ordered with fish and chips. Dim sum are available with yum cha in Australian restaurants.

History

Travellers on the ancient Silk Road needed a place to take a nap, so teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would also go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks and the tradition of dim sum evolved.

In Hong Kong, and most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many Chinese restaurants start serving as early as five in the morning. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises, often enjoying the morning newspapers. For many southerners in China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. Consistent with this tradition, dim sum restaurants typically only serve dim sum until the afternoon (right around the time of a traditional Western 3 o'clock coffee break); other kinds of Cantonese cuisine are served in the evening. Nowadays, various dim sum items are sold as takeaway for students and office workers on the go.

While dim sum remains a staple of Chinese culinary culture, especially in Hong Kong, health officials have recently criticized the high amount of saturated fat and sodium in some dim sum dishes, warning that steamed dim sum should not automatically be assumed to be healthy. Health officials recommend balancing fatty dishes with boiled vegetables, minus sauce.

Drinking tea

The drinking of tea is as important to dim sum as the food. A popular tea which is said to aid in digestion is bolay (pu erh), which is a strong, fermented tea. Chrysanthemum, oolong and green tea can be served as well.

It is customary to pour tea for others during dim sum before filling one's own cup. A custom unique to the Cantonese is to thank the person pouring the tea by tapping the bent index and middle fingers together on the table, which symbolises 'bowing' to them.

This is said to be analogous to the ritual of bowing to someone in appreciation. The origin of this gesture is described anecdotally: an unidentified Emperor went to yum cha with his friends, outside the palace; not wanting to attract attention to himself, the Emperor was disguised. While at yum cha, the Emperor poured his companion some tea, which was a great honour. The companion, not wanting to give away the Emperor's identity in public by bowing, instead tapped his index and middle finger on the table as sign of appreciation.

Given the number of times tea is poured in a meal, the tapping is a timesaver in loud restaurants or lively company, as an individual being served might be speaking to someone else or have food in their mouth.

Cuisine

Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baau, dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart. Having a meal in a Chinese teahouse or a dim sum restaurant is known as yum cha (飲茶), literally "drinking tea", as tea is typically served with dim sum.

Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Because of the small portions, people can try a wide variety of food.

Dim sum dishes can be ordered from a menu or sometimes the food is wheeled around on a trolley by servers. Traditionally, the cost of the meal is calculated based on the number, size, and sometimes color of the dishes left on the patron's table (more below). Some modern dim sum restaurants record the dishes on a bill at the table. Not only is this tidier, it also prevents patrons from cheating by concealing or stealing the plates. Servers in some restaurants use distinct stamps so that sales statistics for each server can be recorded.

Dishes

Dim sum restaurants have a wide variety of dishes, usually several dozen. Among the standard fare of dim sum are the following:

Main

  • Gow (餃, Dumpling; 餃子 gau zi, Gow gee; or 饺子 jiǎozi, Jiaozi): Gow is a standard in most teahouses. They are made of ingredients wrapped in a translucent rice flour or wheat starch skin, and are different from jiaozi found in other parts of China. Though common, steamed rice-flour skins are quite difficult to make. Thus, it is a good demonstration of the chef's artistry to make these translucent dumplings. There are also dumplings with vegetarian ingredients, such as tofu and pickled cabbage.
    • Shrimp Dumpling (蝦餃 har gau): A delicate steamed dumpling with whole or chopped-up shrimp filling and thin wheat starch skin. Recipe at Roseskitchenette
    • Chiu-chao style dumplings (潮州粉果 chiu-chau fun guo, 潮州粉果 cháozhōufěnguǒ): A dumpling said to have originated from the Chaozhou prefecture of Guangdong province, it contains peanuts, garlic chives, pork, dried shrimp, Chinese mushrooms in a thick dumpling wrapper made from glutinous rice flour or Tang flour. It is usually served with a small dish of chili oil.
    • Potsticker Northern Chinese style of dumpling (steamed and then pan-fried jiaozi), usually with meat and cabbage filling. Note that although potstickers are sometimes served in dim sum restaurants, they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum.
    • Shaomai (燒賣 siu mai, 烧卖 shāomài): Small steamed dumplings with pork inside a thin wheat flour wrapper. Usually topped off with crab roe and mushroom.
    • Haam Sui Gaau (Cantonese Yale Romanisation) (alternatively 咸水角 (Pinyin also xian shui jiao, Cantonese Haam Sui Gok): deep fried oval-shaped dumpling made with rice-flour and filled with pork and chopped vegetables. The rice-flour surrounding is sweet and sticky, while the inside is slightly salty.
  • Bau (包 bau, bāo): Baked or steamed, these fluffy buns are filled with different meats and vegetables.
    • Char siu baau (叉燒包, char siu baau, 叉焼包, chāshāobāo): the most popular bun with a Cantonese barbecued pork filling. It can be either steamed to be fluffy and white or baked with a light sugar glaze to produce a smooth golden-brown crust.
    • Shanghai steamed buns (上海小籠包 seong hoi siu lung bau, 上海小笼包 Shànghǎi xiǎolóngbāo): These dumplings are filled with meat or seafood and are famous for their flavor and rich broth inside. These dumplings are originally Shanghainese so they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum.
  • Rice noodle rolls or cheong fun (腸粉 cheong fun, 肠粉 chángfěn): These are wide rice noodles that are steamed and then rolled. They are often filled with different types of meats or vegetables inside but can be served without any filling. Rice noodle rolls are fried after they are steamed and then sprinkled with sesame seeds. Popular fillings include beef, dough fritter, shrimp, and barbecued pork. Often topped with a sweetened soy sauce.
  • Phoenix talons (鳳爪 fung zao, 凤爪 fèngzhǎo): These are chicken feet, deep fried, boiled, marinated in a black bean sauce and then steamed. This results in a texture that is light and fluffy (due to the frying), while moist and tender. Fung zau are typically dark red in color. One may also sometimes find plain steamed chicken feet served with a vinegar dipping sauce. This version is known as "White Cloud Phoenix Talons" (白雲鳳爪; báiyúnfèngzhuǎ; Cantonese: bak wun fung jau)
  • Steamed meatball (牛肉球 ngau4 juk6 kau4, usually simplied as 牛球, 牛肉丸 niúròuwán): Finely-ground beef is shaped into balls and then steamed and served on top of a thin bean-curd skin.
  • Spare ribs: In the west, it is mostly known as spare ribs collectively. In the east, it is Char siu when roasted red, or (排骨 paai4 gwat1, páigǔ) when roasted black.
  • Lotus leaf rice (糯米雞 lou mai gai, 糯米鸡 nuòmǐjī): Glutinous rice is wrapped in a lotus leaf into a triangular or rectangular shape. It contains egg yolk, dried scallop, mushroom, water chestnut and meat (usually pork and chicken). These ingredients are steamed with the rice and although the leaf is not eaten, its flavour is infused during the steaming. Lo mai gai is a kind of rice dumpling. A similar but lighter variant is known as "Pearl Chicken" (珍珠雞 jan jyu gai, 珍珠鸡 zhēnzhūjī).
  • Congee (粥 juk1, 粥 zhōu): Rice porridge served with different savory items. The porridge one will see most often is "Duck Egg and Pork Porridge" (皮蛋瘦肉粥 "pei daan sau ruk juk")
  • Sou (酥 sou, 酥 ): A type of flaky pastry. Char siu is one of the most common ingredient used in dim sum style sou. Another common pastry seen in restaurants are called "Salty Pastry" (鹹水角 "haam sui gok") which is made with flour and seasoned pork.
  • Taro dumpling (芋角 wu gok, 芋角 yùjiǎo): This is made with mashed taro, stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork, deep-fried in crispy batter.
  • Crispy fried squid (魷魚鬚 yau yu sou, 鱿鱼须 yóu yú xū): Similar to fried calamari, the battered squid is deep-fried and normally served with a sweet and sour dip. One may also get a variation of this dish prepared with a salt and pepper mix. In some dim sum restaurants, octopus is used instead of squid.
  • Rolls (捲)
    • Spring roll (春捲 cheun gyun, chūnjuǎn): a roll consisting of various types of vegetables — such as sliced carrot, cabbage, mushroom and wood ear fungus — and sometimes meat are rolled inside a thin flour skin and deep fried.
    • Tofu skin roll (腐皮捲 fu3pi2juan3): a roll made of Tofu skin
  • Cakes (糕)
  • Chien chang go (千層糕 cin cang gou, 千层榚 qiāncénggāo): "Thousand-layer cake", a dim sum dessert made up of many layers of sweet egg dough.

Sweets

  • Egg tart (蛋撻 dan tat, 蛋挞 dàntà): composed of a base made from either a flaky puff pastry type dough or a type of non-flaky cookie dough with a egg custard filling, which is then baked. Some high class restaurants put bird's nest on top of the custard. In other places egg tarts can be made of a crust and a filling of egg whites and some where it is a crust with egg yolks. Some egg tarts now have flavors such as taro, coffee, and other flavors. There are also different kinds of crust. There is also a flaky crisp outer crust with layers and layers of crunchy crumbs.
  • Jin deui or Matuan (煎堆 jiānduī or 麻糰 mátuǎn): Especially popular at Chinese New Year, a chewy dough filled with red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep fried.
  • Dou fu fa (豆腐花, doùfǔhuā): A dessert consisting of silky tofu served with a sweet ginger-flavored syrup.
  • Mango pudding (芒果布甸 mong guo bo din, 芒果布丁 mángguǒbùdĩng): A sweet, rich mango-flavoured pudding usually with large chunks of fresh mango; often served with a topping of evaporated milk.
  • Sweet cream buns (奶皇包 naai5 wong4 baau1): Steamed buns with milk custard filling.
  • Malay Steamed Sponge Cake (馬拉糕 ma5 lai1 gou1): A very soft steamed sponge cake flavoured with molasses.
  • Longan Tofu: almond-flavoured tofu served with longans, usually cold.

Fast food and premade dim sum

Certain kinds of instant dim sum have come onto the market in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. People can enjoy snacks after a 3-minute defrosting and reheating of the instant dim sum in a microwave oven.

Some stalls serve "street dim sum" which usually consists of dumplings or meatballs steamed in a large container, but served on a bamboo skewer. The customer can dip the whole skewer into a sauce bowl and eat while standing or walking.

Dim Sum can be purchased from major grocery stores in most countries with a Chinese population. These dim sum can be easily cooked by steaming or microwaving. Major grocery stores in Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Mainland China, Malaysia, Thailand, USA and Canada have a variety of dim sum stocked at the shelves. These include dumplings, siu maai, bau, cheong fun, lo bak go and steamed spare ribs. In Singapore, as well as other countries, dim sum can also be purchased from convenience stores, coffee shops and other eateries. In Malaysia, one can buy halal-certified dim sum with chicken replacing pork.

See also

References

External links

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