What is Dim Sum?
A good friend and an amazing cook introduced us to dim sum in Salt Lake City. Now when friends come into town, we suggest this restaurant to them. It's that good.
Dim sum is a type of Chinese cuisine that originated in the Cantonese-speaking region of southern China. It consists of small bite-sized portions of food served in steamer baskets or small plates and is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch. Dim sum has become increasingly popular worldwide, and many people enjoy its various flavors and textures.
The term "dim sum" comes from Cantonese, meaning "to touch the heart." This phrase reflects the idea that dim sum is meant to be a light and enjoyable meal that is shared among friends and family. In China, dim sum is often served in tea houses, where people can relax and chat while enjoying a variety of small dishes.
How is Dim Sum served?
Dim sum is typically served on small plates or steamer baskets, stacked on top of each other, and brought to the table by servers. The dishes are meant to be shared among the diners, and ordering several dishes at once is common to try various flavors. Some popular dim sum dishes include steamed dumplings, rice noodle rolls, and steamed buns.
One of the unique aspects of dim sum is how it is served. Diners typically order from a menu or simply point to dishes on a cart pushed around the restaurant by servers. The servers will often describe the dishes in detail and make recommendations to diners. This style of service allows diners to try various dishes and experience a wide range of flavors.
Popular Dim Sum Dishes
One of the most famous dim sum dishes is the steamed dumpling or siu mai. Siu Mai are small dumplings filled with ground pork, shrimp, and vegetables, typically topped with a small piece of carrot or pea. The dumplings are steamed and served hot, and the combination of flavors and textures is both savory and satisfying.
Another popular dim sum dish is the rice noodle roll, also known as Cheong fun. Cheong fun is made by steaming thin sheets of rice noodles and rolling them up with a filling such as shrimp or beef. The rolls are typically served with a sweet soy sauce and sesame seeds, and the rice noodle’s soft and chewy texture perfectly contrasts the filling inside.
Steamed buns are another staple of dim sum cuisine. These soft, fluffy buns are filled with various savory fillings, such as pork or barbecue pork. One of the most popular types of steamed buns is the baozi, a bun filled with meat, vegetables, or sweet bean paste. The buns are steamed until light and fluffy, and the filling is typically juicy and flavorful.
In addition to these classic dim sum dishes, many other small dishes are often served. These include fried and steamed dumplings, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and crispy turnip cakes. Some dim sum restaurants also offer more unusual dishes, such as chicken feet or tripe, which are popular among some diners.
The Importance of Tea
Another critical aspect of dim sum is the tea served alongside the food. In traditional tea houses, dim sum is often served with a type of tea known as yam cha. This tea is brewed using tea leaves that are roasted and then steeped.
Tea is often called "yum cha" in Cantonese, the language spoken in the southern regions of China where dim sum originated. The term "yum cha" literally translates to "drink tea" in Cantonese, and it has become synonymous with the dim sum experience.
When people go for dim sum, they will often be served a variety of teas to accompany their meal, and the host or waiter typically pours the tea as a gesture of hospitality. Drinking tea during dim sum not only complements the food but it also aids in digestion and helps to cleanse the palate between dishes.
Brewing Yum Cha
Yum cha, or tea, can be brewed in several different ways depending on the type of tea and personal preferences. Here are some general steps for brewing tea for yum cha:
- Preheat the teapot or gaiwan (a traditional Chinese lidded bowl used for brewing tea) by adding hot water and letting it sit for a minute or two. Then, discard the water.
- Add the tea leaves to the pot or gaiwan. The amount of tea used will depend on the type of tea and personal preferences. Generally, use about 2-3 grams of tea leaves for every 8 ounces (240 ml) of water.
- Pour hot water over the tea leaves. The temperature of the water will depend on the type of tea being brewed. As a general rule, use cooler water (around 170-185°F or 75-85°C) for green and white teas and hotter water (around 195-212°F or 90-100°C) for black and oolong teas.
- Let the tea steep for a few minutes. The length of time will depend on the type of tea and personal preferences. Generally, green and white teas should be steeped for 1-3 minutes, while black and oolong teas should be steeped for 3-5 minutes.
- Pour the tea into tiny teacups and serve.
During yum cha, it's common to brew multiple rounds of tea, adding more hot water to the same tea leaves for subsequent rounds. This can help bring out different flavors and aromas in the tea.
Origins of Dim Sum
The origins of dim sum can be traced back to the teahouses along the Silk Road in ancient China. The teahouses served as pitstops for weary travelers and became a popular gathering place for locals.
During this time, small snacks and dishes were created to accompany tea, eventually becoming the dim sum we know today. Dim sum became popular in Cantonese cuisine during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and soon spread to other regions of China.
Flavors of Dim Sum
Dim Sum offers a wide variety of savory and sweet flavors. The most popular dim sum flavors include pork, shrimp, chicken, beef, and vegetables. Other popular dishes include har gow, a shrimp dumpling; char siu bao, a steamed bun filled with BBQ pork; and Cheung fun, a rice noodle roll filled with shrimp or beef.
Sweet dim sum dishes are also available and include egg tarts, coconut buns, and sesame balls filled with red bean paste. These sweet dishes are usually served as a dessert at the end of a dim sum meal.
Types of Dim Sum
There are many types of dim sum, each with its unique flavor and preparation method. Some of the most popular types of dim sum include the following:
- Dumplings are small parcels of dough filled with various meats, seafood, and vegetables. They are steamed, fried, or boiled and are usually served with dipping sauce.
- Buns are small, fluffy, and steamed buns filled with various meats or vegetables. Some of the most popular buns include char siu bao and vegetable bao.
- Rice Noodle Rolls - Rice noodle rolls are thin sheets of rice noodles filled with meats, seafood, or vegetables. They are usually served with soy sauce and hoisin sauce.
- Turnip Cake - Turnip cake is a savory cake made with shredded turnips, Chinese sausage, and dried shrimp. It is usually pan-fried and served with soy sauce.
- Congee - Congee is a rice porridge usually served with savory toppings such as pork, chicken, and seafood.
- Spring Rolls - Spring rolls are thin sheets of pastry filled with various meats and vegetables. They are usually deep-fried and served with sweet and sour sauce.
- Egg Tarts - Egg tarts are small, sweet tarts filled with egg custard. They are usually served as a dessert at the end of a dim sum meal.
Dim Sum Culture
Dim sum culture is an integral part of Chinese culinary tradition. It is about the food and the communal experience of sharing and enjoying food with friends and family.
In Chinese culture, it is often served as a morning or early afternoon meal and is a popular way for people to socialize and gather with friends and family. Dim sum culture is characterized by its communal aspect, where diners order and share multiple dishes.
In addition to the food itself, certain customs and practices are associated with dim sum culture. Diners are also encouraged to use chopsticks when eating dim sum, although some dishes may be eaten with a fork or spoon.
Why is it usually served on Sundays?
It is typically served daily, especially in areas with a significant Chinese population or in Chinese restaurants worldwide.
Traditionally, dim sum is served in the morning and early afternoon, although some restaurants may serve it all day. In many Chinese cultures, dim sum is a popular weekend activity where families and friends gather to enjoy a leisurely meal.
Dim sum is not only served on Sundays in the United States. While it's true that some dim sum restaurants may have a "dim sum brunch" on weekends, many Chinese restaurants and dim sum establishments in the US serve dim sum daily, often from early morning until mid-afternoon.
However, the perception that dim sum is only served on Sundays in the US may stem from the fact that dim sum is a popular weekend activity in many Chinese cultures. Many people may go out for dim sum on the weekends when they have more free time. Additionally, some dim sum restaurants may be exceptionally crowded on weekends, leading to wait times and a more festive atmosphere longer.
While dim sum may be particularly popular on weekends in some areas, it's typically available daily in the United States and can be enjoyed any day of the week.