Dim sum is a varied range of small dishes (a concept similar to tapas) eaten for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea, as part of the yum cha dining experience. Dishes are usually steamed or fried and may be savoury or sweet. They include steamed buns such as char siu baau, assorted dumplings, siu mai, and rice noodle rolls, which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options. Typical desserts include egg tarts, sai mai lo (tapioca pudding) and mango pudding. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge, and soups.
Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The dim sum 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.
In the past, there were more places with dim sum wheeled around on trolleys, but nowadays one is more likely to order from a menu. Traditionally, the cost of the meal was calculated based on the number and size of dishes left on the patron’s table at the end. In modern dim sum restaurants, dim sum servers mark orders by stamping a card on the table. Servers in some restaurants even use different stamps so that sales statistics for each server can be recorded.
Gao (餃, Dumpling; 餃子 gau zi, Gow gee): Gao is a standard in most teahouses. They are made of ingredients wrapped in a translucent rice flour or wheat starch skin, and are different from jiaozi found in other parts of China. Though common, steamed rice-flour skins are quite difficult to make. Thus, it is a good demonstration of the chef’s artistry to make these translucent dumplings. There are also dumplings with vegetarian ingredients, such as tofu and pickled cabbage.
Shrimp Dumpling (蝦餃 har gau): A delicate steamed dumpling with whole or chopped-up shrimp filling and thin wheat starch skin.
Chiu-chao style dumplings (潮州粉果 chiu-chau fun guo): A dumpling said to have originated from the Chaozhou prefecture of eastern Guangdong province, it contains peanuts, garlic, chives, pork, dried shrimp, Chinese mushrooms in a thick dumpling wrapper made from glutinous rice flour or Tang flour. It is usually served with a small dish of chili oil.
Potsticker (鍋貼, woh tip) Northern Chinese style of dumpling (steamed and then pan-fried jiaozi), usually with meat and cabbage filling. Note that although potstickers are sometimes served in dim sum restaurants, they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum.
Shaomai (燒賣 siu mai): Small steamed dumplings with either pork, prawns or both inside a thin wheat flour wrapper. Usually topped off with crab roe and mushroom.
Haam Sui Gaau (鹹水餃, salt-water (i.e. savoury) stuffed-dumpling, alternatively 鹹水角 (haam Sui Gok): deep fried oval-shaped dumpling made with rice-flour and filled with pork and chopped vegetables. The rice-flour surrounding is sweet and sticky, while the inside is slightly salty.
Bau (包 bau or 包子 bao zi): Baked or steamed, these fluffy buns made from wheat flour are filled with food items ranging from meat to vegetables to sweet bean pastes.
Char siu baau (叉燒包, char siu baau): the most popular bun with a Cantonese barbecued pork filling. It can be either steamed to be fluffy and white or baked with a light sugar glaze to produce a smooth golden-brown crust.
Shanghai steamed buns (上海小籠包 seong hoi siu lung bau): These dumplings are filled with meat or seafood and are famous for their flavor and rich broth inside. These dumplings are originally Shanghainese so they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum. They are typically sold with pork as a filling.
Rice noodle rolls or cheong fun (腸粉 cheong fun): These are wide rice noodles that are steamed and then rolled. They are often filled with different types of meats or vegetables inside but can be served without any filling. Rice noodle rolls are fried after they are steamed and then sprinkled with sesame seeds. Popular fillings include beef, dough fritter, shrimp, and barbecued pork. Often topped with a sweetened soy sauce.
Phoenix talons (鳳爪 fung zao): These are chicken feet, deep fried, boiled, marinated in a black bean sauce and then steamed. This results in a texture that is light and fluffy (due to the frying), while moist and tender. Fung zau are typically dark red in color. One may also sometimes find plain steamed chicken feet served with a vinegar dipping sauce. This version is known as “White Cloud Phoenix Talons” (白雲鳳爪, bak wun fung jau).
Steamed meatball (牛肉球 ngau4 juk6 kau4): Finely-ground beef is shaped into balls and then steamed with preserved orange peel and served on top of a thin bean-curd skin.
Spare ribs: In the west, it is mostly known as spare ribs collectively. In the east, it is Char siu when roasted red, or (排骨 paai4 gwat1, páigǔ) when roasted black. It is typically steamed with douchi or fermented black beans and sometimes sliced chilli.
Lotus leaf rice (糯米雞 lou mai gai): Glutinous rice is wrapped in a lotus leaf into a triangular or rectangular shape. It contains egg yolk, dried scallop, mushroom, water chestnut and meat (usually pork and chicken). These ingredients are steamed with the rice and although the leaf is not eaten, its flavour is infused during the steaming. Lo mai gai is a kind of rice dumpling. A similar but lighter variant is known as “Pearl Chicken” (珍珠雞 jan jyu gai).
Congee (粥 juk1): Thick, sticky rice porridge served with different savory items. The porridge one will see most often is “Duck Egg and Pork Porridge” (皮蛋瘦肉粥 “pei daan sau ruk juk”)
Sou (酥 sou): A type of flaky pastry. Char siu is one of the most common ingredient used in dim sum style sou. Another common pastry seen in restaurants are called “Salty Pastry” (鹹水角 “haam sui gok”) which is made with flour and seasoned pork.
Taro dumpling (芋角 wu gok): This is made with mashed taro, stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork, deep-fried in crispy batter.
Crispy fried squid (魷魚鬚 yau yu sou): Similar to fried calamari, the battered squid is deep-fried. A variation of this dish may be prepared with a salt and pepper mix. In some dim sum restaurants, octopus is used instead of squid.
Spring roll (春捲 cheun gyun): a roll consisting of various types of vegetables — such as sliced carrot, cabbage, mushroom and wood ear fungus — and sometimes meat are rolled inside a thin flour skin and deep fried.
Tofu skin roll (腐皮捲 fu pei guen): a roll made of Tofu skin
Turnip cake (蘿蔔糕 lo bak go): cakes are made from mashed daikon radish mixed with bits of dried shrimp and pork sausage that are steamed and then cut into slices and pan-fried.
Taro cake (芋頭糕 wu tao go): cakes made of taro.
Water chestnut cake (馬蹄糕 maa tai gow): cakes made of water chestnut. It is mostly see-through and clear. Some restaurants also serve a variation of water chestnut cake made with bamboo juice.
Chien chang go (千層糕 cin cang gou): “Thousand-layer cake”, a dim sum dessert made up of many layers of sweet egg dough.
SweetsEgg tart (蛋撻 dan tat): composed of a base made from either a flaky puff pastry type dough or a type of non-flaky cookie dough with an egg custard filling, which is then baked. Some high class restaurants put bird’s nest on top of the custard. In other places egg tarts can be made of a crust and a filling of egg whites and some where it is a crust with egg yolks. Some egg tarts now have flavors such as taro, coffee, and other flavors. There are also different kinds of crust. There is also a flaky crisp outer crust with layers and layers of crunchy crumbs.
Jin deui or Matuan (煎堆 or 麻糰): Especially popular at Chinese New Year, a chewy dough filled with red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep fried.
Dou fu fa (豆腐花): A dessert consisting of silky tofu served with a sweet ginger or jasmine flavored syrup.
Mango pudding (芒果布甸 mong guo bo din): A sweet, rich mango-flavoured pudding usually with large chunks of fresh mango; often served with a topping of evaporated milk.
Sweet cream buns (奶皇包 naai5 wong4 baau1): Steamed buns with milk custard filling.
Malay Steamed Sponge Cake (馬拉糕 ma5 lai1 gou1): A very soft steamed sponge cake flavoured with molasses.
Longan Tofu: almond-flavoured tofu served with longans, usually cold.