The Art of Dim Sum
Dim sum (dian xin in Mandarin) has been around for many centuries. Its literal definition is “to touch the heart” or appropriately “appetizer”, as it consists of small dishes of bite-size or individual portions either on small plates or bamboo baskets. The words are also synonymous with yum cha, or drinking of tea. The eating and drinking aspects really go hand in hand, as the tea helps digestion of each flavorful bite.
This style of cuisine found its origins around the twelfth century when roadside teahouses for travelers along the Silk Road began offering snacks. During the next century, with the Mongol invasion, the ruling emperor and his people were forced to the south in the Guandong Province. They brought this tea and food custom here, which has then become identified with the region ever since.
Dim sum is a festive meal that typically happens between the early hours of the morning into the early afternoon and is meant to be shared amongst a group. A larger group also means the promise of a larger variety of dishes you can try. There are a few simple rules of etiquette to keep in mind for a proper dim sum experience. Pour tea for others before you pour for yourself. As someone pours you tea, tapping the table lightly with your index finger is a sign of thank you. Finally, if the teapot is empty and more tea is desired, simply flip up the teapot lid up. This will indicate to the server that you would like more.
Once seated, decide on your tea preference. Most dim sum parlors offer oolong or jasmine, but they may have other types such as pu-erh or chrysanthemum.
Servers brusquely wheel trolleys holding steaming baskets or plates of dim sum items around the dining room. Simply point to the dish you want. The server will then stamp the check that remains on your table with each new item you order until your meal ends. Different dishes have different stamps and costs. Some dim sum parlors break from this custom and instead offer menus to order from.
Har Gow – Steamed Shrimp Dumpling
All dim sum restaurants prepare the majority of the classic dishes, but some may vary it, by modifying ingredients and flavors. Dumplings come in all sizes and shapes with different types of wrappers, or skins, made from rice flour or wheat flour encasing meat and vegetables. They may be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried. Some of the most popular include har gow (dimpled rice-based skin encasing shrimp), potstickers (pan-fried dumplings filled with pork and cabbage), shu mai (steamed balls of pork and shrimp wrapped with a wheat-based skin with an opening on top), and xiao long bao (steamed pork soup dumplings).
Other familiar items frequently ordered include bao or buns, especially the char siu bao (steamed or baked barbecue pork buns), as well as desserts such as the egg tart and fried sesame balls filled with sesame paste.
For a more in-depth description of the many different and wonderful types of dim sum fare, check out The Guide to Chinese Dumplings by Cleaverly Quarterly via Lucky Peach (http://luckypeach.com/the-story-of-peking-ravioli/).
Places to Get Your Dim Sum Fix:
101 Spear Street (@ Mission St.)
5821 Geary Blvd. (b/w 22nd and 23rd Ave.)
662 Commercial St. (b/w Kearny St. and Montgomery St.)
5700 Geary Blvd. (@ 21st. Ave.)
Crystal Jade Jiang Nan
4 Embarcadero Center #1 (@ Clay St.)