A Rough Guide to Dim Sum

No trip is complete without trying out some of the best local food at your choice of destination. When you come to Asia, one of the must-try food is none other than dim sum, a traditional culinary art originated from Southern China that has captured the palates of many, especially in countries with strong Chinese influences such as China (duh), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many others around the region.

Dim sum (literally meaning, “touch the heart”) is the name for a selection of Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes. They are usually served before noon, along with tea (also known as yum cha), but is now such a big part of the culinary scene in Asia that you can find restaurants serving them all day through. Dim sum are usually steamed, baked or fried, and come served in traditional bamboo containers. Here’s a quick guide through some of the more popular dim sum dishes.

Siew Mai

Har Gau (see below) and Siew Mai (or usually translated to Steamed Meat Dumpling) combine to form the one of the most popular pairing of dim sum dishes. I’ve eaten Dim Sum umpteen times, and never had one without at least an order of each. In fact, they are the first things my dad would order when eating dim sum. So while we ponder on what to order next, we’ll be munching on these delicious dumplings. The original Cantonese Siew Mai is usually made out of pork and mushroom, but nowadays you can find all kinds of Siew Mai to suit your preferences.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Har Gau

I personally prefer Har Gau (Steamed Prawn Dumplings) compared to Siew Mai. The skin of Har Gau is delicate and translucent, wrapped around fresh juicy shrimps to form a pouch-shaped dumpling. They are usually dipped in soy sauce, rice vinegar, or even a combination of mayonnaise and chili sauce. This dish is a crowd pleaser, so be sure to order enough so that everybody will have at least one.

Photo credit - Nate Robert

Photo credit - Nate Robert

Cheong Fun

This dish features a thin roll of rice noodles that are filled with meat, vegetables or other ingredients. Before serving, the roll is usually cut into a few pieces and a spoonful of soy sauce is poured on top. With a wide variety, this dish comes filled with shrimp, beef, char siew, or even youtiao (Chinese fried bread stick), chicken or fish. My personal favorite is Cheong Fun with Youtiao, which features fried youtiao wrapped in noodle rolls. The crispy youtiao combines well with the silky noodle rolls, melting away in your mouth with a heavy dose of soy sauce. Heavenly!

Photo credit - Wendalicious

Photo credit - Wendalicious

Baos / Buns

The most popular type of Baos (Buns) is Char Siew Bao, which simply means BBQ Pork Buns. They are soft bread with a unique texture, filled with char siew (BBQ pork) at the center of the bun. The char siew is pork tenderloin slowly roasted to achieve a tender and sweet taste, which combines well with the fine soft bread on the outside. Though Char Siew Bao is another popular dim sum dish, it is not exactly one of my favorite. As much as I enjoyed the taste very much, it is however, a very filling dish. My preference is to skip this so I can eat more of the others.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Daikon & Taro Cake

Here’s another standard pairing when ordering dim sum. They are both similar in appearance, usually cut into square-shaped slices and pan-fried before serving. This makes them crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside. The Daikon Cake is made of shredded radish and flour while the Taro Cake is made from the vegetable taro.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Dan Tat

Dan Tat (Egg Tarts) is the Cantonese interpretation of egg custard tarts which are popular in many parts of the world. This pastry was initially introduced to compete with dim sum restaurants, but ironically they have now become part of the dim sum experience. Many variations are available, including egg white tarts, milk tarts, honey-egg tarts and even bird’s nest tarts.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Jin Dui

Jin Dui (Sesame Seed Balls) is a fried ball-shaped pastry coated with sesame seeds on the outside that is crisp and chewy. The pastry is filled usually with lotus paste, black bean paste or red bean paste. A more modern interpretation I’ve seen before are Jin Dui filled with chocolate and even durian.

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Chun Juan

This is not a dim sum dish per say, as you can easily find them in various countries with differing interpretations. However, the fried version is one you would encounter in dim sum restaurants, usually filled with various meats.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Fu Pi Quan

This dish is similar to Spring Rolls, with the main difference being the outer layer of the dish is made of tofu skin. Just like Spring Rolls, you can find the fried and steamed versions, with various meat fillings inside of it.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Fung Jeow

Phoenix Talons is the fancy way of translating this dish name, which is usually just called Chicken Feet by non-Chinese speaking eaters (like yours truly). The chicken feet are first deep fried or steamed to make them puffy, and then stewed and marinated in flavored black bean sauce. The result is a dish that is moist, tender and flavorful, though it does consists of many small bones.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Lo Mai Gai

The English translation to this dish is quite a handful – Steamed Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf Wrap. It features glutinous rice filled with chicken meat and various vegetables, which is then wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and steamed. The result is a savory and flavorful dish, with the aroma of the lotus leaf and chicken melting into the sticky glutinous rice. A personal favorite.

Photo credit - Jason Lam

Photo credit - Jason Lam

Almond Jelly

This is a common dessert made of sweet Chinese almond. Almond milk is extracted, sweetened and then heated with a gelling agent. It is then chilled to create a tofu like pudding with a sweet almond taste.

Photo credit - jetalone

Photo credit - jetalone

Mango Pudding

Last but definitely not least, is one of my favorite dessert – the Mango Pudding. This is the perfect way to end your feast, a simple dessert that captures the glorious flavor of mangoes like no other. When done well, the pudding is silky smooth in texture, rich in flavor and refreshing in taste.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz


This post is part of WanderFood Wednesday, a Blog Carnival held by Wanderlust & Lipstick. Check them out for a visual treat of tasty dishes, or take part in the carnival yourself. Additionally, do check out as well our latest offering, our new Issue 02 of the magazine!


If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of Singapore’s best romantic views. You can also find some information on cheap holidays to kavos here.

Comments

12 Comments on "A Rough Guide to Dim Sum"

  1. Nancie (Ladyexpat) on Thu, 18th Mar 2010 6:23 am 

    I want dim sum now!! :)

    Great article. The next time I go out for dim sum I’ll print this and take it with me.

  2. Migration Mark on Thu, 18th Mar 2010 8:39 am 

    This would have been great to have when I was in Hong Kong a couple months ago. I absolutely love fu pi quan and lo mai gai. I ate them both multiple times a day!
    Another dim sum I really like is taro deep fried with meat in the middle.
    Great guide to dim sum!

  3. Gray on Sun, 21st Mar 2010 6:37 pm 

    Sure, make me hungry!

  4. jubo on Wed, 24th Mar 2010 9:39 pm 

    I always wondered what all the different ones were, I wish I had this when I was in Asia, thanx for the information. Jubo@http://xcitingifts.com/

  5. Darren on Wed, 24th Mar 2010 10:04 pm 

    Yummy yum god I could eat that now.
    Puts my stir fry to shame :)

  6. Nik on Thu, 25th Mar 2010 4:51 pm 

    Thanks guys, glad you guys enjoyed the article.. We’re looking to add more into this list, to make it more comprehensive so.. do comment if you have a favorite dish that I should add in!

  7. jessica on Sat, 1st May 2010 10:41 pm 

    wow, you have featured the best!
    adding to the list – liu sa bao – bun with with castor and salt duck egg yolk filling, the really fantastic ones are the ones that flows out slowly when tearing into half. yummy…

  8. emz on Fri, 7th May 2010 2:28 am 

    does anyone have a copy of the recipe for “Fu Pi Quan”? i’d like to try and make some at home = ) thank you very much! ^_^v please email to: emmeline_see@yahoo.com

  9. diving on Thu, 20th May 2010 1:40 am 

    wahhh looks so delicious

  10. Lilian on Tue, 29th Jun 2010 9:33 am 

    Wow! The pictures are really good! Yummy….Thank God Ipoh has god dim sum =)

  11. Leng | Globe Nomads on Tue, 20th Jul 2010 10:27 am 

    They all look good. I miss my dim sum! I would like to point out that most of your dim sum’s names are in Cantonese. Not too sure about this but I guess in Taiwan or some parts of China which do not speak Cantonese the same dish will be called differently? Anyway, I believe most dim sum are Cantonese dishes but people not familiar with dim sum may be confused.

  12. rachel on Fri, 2nd Sep 2011 12:42 pm 

    thank you.. realy realy miss it all. read it feels like I was sit in a restaurant with my relative yum cha n dim sum ladies push carriage while call dim sum names..

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