Think crisp flaky pastries filled with sweet juicy barbecued pork; dumplings of seafood, meat and vegetable varieties wrapped in cloudy sticky wrappings; and the odd skewers, deep fried parcels and chicken feet. Such are the delicate dishes you can expect to find at a Yum Cha (or Dim Sum) restaurants.
Some people mistake Yum Cha as a version of the Spanish Tapas concept, that it’s a way to sample Chinese cuisine in small portions. While the origins of this cuisine are of Chinese heritage, it isn’t just miniature versions of ordinary dishes. Food served in Yum Cha restaurants are specifically made for the style of dining and is traditionally more of a snack rather than a meal, where diners spend hours gossiping away over pots of hot tea.
Is it ‘Yum Cha’ or ‘Dim Sum’?
As the concept of Yum Cha spread across the world, different places have adopted different names for this dining style. In North America, it is widely known as ‘Dim Sum’ and in Asia and Australia it’s commonly known as ‘Yum Cha’; essentially, they describe the same thing.
The traditional name ‘Yum Cha’ means ‘to drink tea’. Originally designed as tea houses that serve snacks on the side, it is where colleagues, travelers, family and friends meet to chat, to discuss business or to simply be in each other’s company, and it isn’t uncommon to find the same couple sitting at the table with their pot of tea reading the paper for hours.
‘Dim Sum’ on the other hand, is the bite sized portions of food that are served at Yum Cha restaurants. They come in all shapes, sizes and flavors, and can be steamed, boiled or fried.
The teas at Yum Cha
When entering a yum cha restaurant, the first thing you’ll be asked is what sort of tea you would like. It is best not to fall for just any ‘Chinese tea’. Ask what teas are available and try one at each visit. You’ll be surprised how different each of the teas tastes and you are bound to find your favorite.
Here is a guide of the most commonly served teas:
Jasmine Tea: If you have asked for ‘Chinese tea’, it is likely that you’ll be served a simple jasmine tea. It is pretty much low grade green tea with jasmine flowers, and taste quite subtle.
Pu’erh: Fermented black tea, Pu’erh has a stronger flavor and darker in color than jasmine tea. It is one of the most popular teas to have in yum cha as it compliments rich steamed dishes well.
Tieguanyin: A type of semi-fermented tea, the Tieguanyin is less common but has a slightly fruity aroma. Tieguanyin is known to aid digestion.
Different options are available from different restaurants so ask for a list and enjoy the tea.
Enjoying the Dim Sum
After you’ve figured out your teas, you are then free to pick out the dishes you enjoy. With so many to choose from, it is easy to forget that you only have one stomach. Start with one dish at a time, and don’t feel pressured by the ladies bringing more options as they are only doing their job. Select steamed items first as they are likely to be less filling and greasy; novice diners should try king prawn dumplings, pork and seafood siu mai, beef rolled in rice noodles and barbecue pork buns. Once you are done tasting a bit of everything, end your meal with an egg custard tart.
Where to have Yum Cha
Most major cities in western countries have some form of Yum Cha or another, and are generally open for lunch. The best Yum Cha however, can be found in Hong Kong where the cuisine originated and has blended into people’s way of life. Why not take the opportunity to travel, and enjoy some of the best Yum Chas you’ll ever find.
Do you have a recommendation of Yum Cha or Dim Sum restaurants? What are your favorite dishes? Share it with us in the comments below.