Sunday, December 15, 2013

What is Dim Sum?

Do you enjoy an occasional lunch of Chinese dim sum?  It's a tasty and fun experience, with its historical roots and modern day practice involving tea.  Tea is always offered, in addition to a wide range of small plates.  Typical foods include dumplings, steamed buns, turnip cakes and egg tarts. 

From wikipedia:
"Eating dim sum at a restaurant is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha, 飲茶), as tea is typically served with dim sum...  Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition from yum cha (tea tasting), which has its roots in travelers 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 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 fun part, aside from the food, is the action.  Often, the food is brought around on carts and you get to pick what you want.  (Sometimes you can order from a checklist.)  It's ideal to share the food among the group, and the giant lazy susan shown above is both practical and entertaining.

I recently had dim sum with my tea friends and we had three pots of tea going.  The quality of tea in dim sum restaurants varies greatly, but we're pretty picky. (No luke-warm jasmine tea bags for us.)  We brought three varieties of tea to enjoy with the meal.  A nicely done jasmine, a bai hao (oriental beauty) oolong and a shou pu-erh.

My favorite way to end the meal is with an egg tart.  It's like a miniature custard pie.

Thanks to a friend's google search, I learned that dim sum literally means "touch the heart". The idea traditionally is that dim sum was a snack.  You would eat just enough to quiet the hunger, but not to stuff yourself.  Today, however, it's turned into a meal.  (Reminds me of the afternoon tea evolution, as well.)

Eating vegetarian at a dim sum restaurant is challenging, but not impossible.  Tip:  Watch for the bok choy or Chinese broccoli and ask for green beans with black bean sauce (request no fish sauce).

If you're interested in Dim Sum at home, check out this great book, Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch, by Ellen Leong Blonder.   

So tell me - Is dim sum  new to you?  What intrigues you?  Or - where is your favorite dim sum place; what's your favorite treat?


Teafan said...

I've only had dim sum a few times. There are no good dim sum spots near me. I will be on the lookout when I travel!

Marilyn said...

I like dim sum where you had this afternoon delight. Quite fun to do dim sum with this group of friends.

Angela McRae said...

I have never tried dim sum but would like to do so at least once!