|Typical dim sum breakfast in Hong Kong.
From left to right and top to bottom:
har gau, jasmine tea, chicken and vegetable congee, steamed dumpling, rice noodle roll (on plate), cha siu baau
|Cantonese Jyutping||dim2 sam1|
Dim sum (Simplified Chinese 点心 pinyin pronunciation "diǎnxīn", traditional Chinese 點心) is the name for a southern Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. Yum cha (literally "drinking tea") is the term used to describe the entire dining experience, especially in contemporary Cantonese. 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. Some Chinese families like to gather for dim sum on special occasions such as Mother’s Day or Chinese New Year. Also, Chinese parents like to take their children there Sunday mornings to meet and talk with their grandparents. Some people bring newspapers with them and discuss news with their families. Some Chinese restaurants offer discounts on menu items purchased before 11 a.m. and tea time discounts after 2 p.m(also known as "Happy Hour") to encourage patrons to avoid the lunch rush.
Dim Sum is usually linked with the older tradition of Yum Cha (drinking tea), which has its roots in travellers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest. Thus 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.
The unique culinary art of Dim Sum originated with the Cantonese in southern China, who over the centuries transformed Yum Cha from a relaxing respite to a loud and happy dining experience. In Hong Kong, and in most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many Chinese restaurants start serving dim sum 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 in southern China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. Consistent with this tradition, dim sum restaurants typically only serve dim sum until mid-afternoon (right around the time of a traditional Western 3 o'clock coffee break), and serve other kinds of Cantonese cuisine in the evening. Nowadays, various dim sum items are even sold as take-out for students and office workers on the go.
While dim sum (touch the heart) was originally not a main meal, only a snack, and therefore only meant to touch the heart, it is now a staple of Chinese dining 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.
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 (po lai, pu erh), which is a strong, fermented tea. Chrysanthemum, oolong (wu lung) 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 a 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. Leaving the pot lid open is another common way of attracting a server's attention.
Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baau (Hanzi: 叉烧包, Pinyin: chāshāobāo), dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheung 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 / yam cha (Hanzi: 飲茶, Pinyin: yǐnchá), 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.
Dim sum restaurants have a wide variety of dishes, usually several dozen. Among the standard fare of dim sum are the following:
Since individual dim sum dishes are typically portioned for 3-4 small servings, patrons will typically order many different dishes over the course of a meal. Larger tables may even order two or three plates of a particular dish so that everyone can have a serving. Traditionally dishes may be classified as "small", "medium", "large", or special order (a menu item not typically considered dim sum fare, such as a plate of chow mein). For example, a basket of dumplings may be considered a small dish, while a bowl of congee or plate of Lo mai gai may be considered a large dish. Dishes are priced accordingly.
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, Brunei, Thailand, Australia, United States 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. There is also halal certified dim sum available, with chicken taking the place of pork which in addition to Singapore is very popular in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Dim sum is a way of serving Chinese and/or Vietnamese food. A range of different foods are served to the people who are eating, including pork wontons, fried shrimp, and egg rolls. They are served on small wooden platters, and are usually steamed.
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