Chinese brunch, where laughter and convocation flow as freely as the fragrant tea. Dim sum is the beating heart that has connected loved ones since the 10th century. Dive into this ancient Chinese tradition.

As you step through the doors of a traditional dim sum restaurant, a sensory feast begins. Alive with the hum of conversation, the clinking of tea cups, and the rhythmic melody of dishes being carried around on carts. 

As you walk through, your gaze is drawn to the dining hall, adorned with ornate Chinese decorations, vibrant red lanterns, and the elegant display of bamboo steamers stacked high. The room is filled with the fragrance of freshly steamed dumplings, sizzling woks, and the aromatic notes of freshly brewed green tea, all cross-sectioned with the delicate sweetness of egg tarts and custard-filled pastries. 

Let us immerse ourselves in the enchanting tradition of dim sum, where each morsel is an invitation to savour, connect and celebrate the art of communal dining. 

What is Dim Sum?

The term ‘dim sum’ beautifully translates to “touching the heart” in Cantonese, perfectly capturing the essence of these mouthwatering bite-sized wonders

Dim sum’s roots can be traced back to ancient China when travellers along the Silk Road broke their journey by stopping at tea houses. It was discovered that drinking tea helps with digestion, so small pieces of food were offered alongside the tea – and so the tradition of dim sum or yum cha (drinking tea) began. 

Typically enjoyed as breakfast or lunch, Dim Sum is a social occasion for speaning time with friends and family, priming togetherness and bonding. Restaurants and tea houses rotate carts or trolleys filled with small bamboo baskets containing portions of steamed, baked or fried delights.  The small size allows the customer to order a great variety of dishes, creating a banquet of different tastes and flavours.

How to Order Dim Sum

Ordering dim sum from the carts may be an intimidating experience for non-Chinese speakers and those not familiar with the custom. A good ordering strategy is to observe what other tables are ordering and select the same items from the carts. Cart attendants will also voluntarily showcase their items to diners and it’s perfectly polite to point and order. 

Nowadays, many dim sum restaurants don’t feature carts, opting instead for small paper menus where diners can check off what they want. Remember, most dim sum dishes are small, usually featuring 3-4 dumplings per order.

The Etiquette 

While indulging in dim sum, there are certain etiquette practices that you can adhere to: 

  • Sharing: Dim sum is meant to be shared, dishes are ordered multiple times. 
  • Tea Pouring: Tea is a vital element of the dim sum experience. It is customary for the youngest member at the table to pour the tea for the older guests as a gesture of respect. 
  • Chopsticks: When your chopsticks are not in use, it is customary to place the chopsticks nearly on the table. Crossing the chopsticks is considered taboo and symbolises death

8 Essential Dim Sum Items:

Har Gow (Prawn Dumplings) 

prawn dumplings dim sum

These succulent and translucent prawn dumplings grace almost every dim sum table.  The dumpling wrapper is made from tapioca flour, giving it a super smooth and chewy texture, which most people associate with dim sum dumplings. Har gow are delicious by themselves or dipped in a bit of chilli oil.

Siu  Mai (Pork Dumplings) 

pork dumplings

A classic Chinese surf and turf combination of diced pork and shrimp, siu mai are meatier in flavour than har gow. Some siu mai can also contain mushrooms and water chestnuts, while others are topped with crab roe.

Char Siu Bao (Barbecue Pork Buns) 

char siu sao dim sum

Probably the most accessible item taste-wise for the Western palate, char siu bao can be either steamed or baked, and topped sometimes with a crumbly, sugary crust. The filling is a red, sugary-sweet chopped mixture of Cantonese style barbecue pork.

Lo Bak Go (Turnip Cake)

turnip cake

Traditionally made from shredded radish and rice flour, this turnip cake holds a texture like no other. Also mixed with an assortment of savoury ingredients such as Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and mushrooms, the cake is steamed, thinly sliced and then fried until golden and crispy.

Egg Tarts 

egg tarts

One of the best parts of dim sum is that desserts are served alongside the savoury items. One of the most popular sweet pastries is the egg tart. There are two main types of egg tarts in dim sum: Cantonese or Macanese/Portuguese. Both versions feature a flaky crust holding a sweet, egg-forward custard. The Portuguese egg tarts are less “eggy,” more custard-like and dotted brown on top from scorched sugar.

Check out our recipe below:

Cheung Fun (Steamed Rice Roll) 

steamed rice roll

These white, soft rice noodles can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including shrimp, barbecue pork or beef. The texture of Cheung Fun is soft and slippery, a great contrast to the different savoury fillings. Cheung fun is usually served with a sweet soy sauce that is poured over the top.

Chicken feet 

chicken feet

Chicken feet (called “phoenix talons” in Chinese) can seem like a complicated eating endeavour at first glance. The Chinese palate holds great value in the offcuts often deemed inedible by Western palates. This chicken feet dish is first fried and then steamed in a sweet, slightly spicy sauce. There’s no meat, instead, the appeal is the soft texture of skin and tendon, all packed with an intense chicken flavour.

Loh Mai Gai (Steamed Glutinous Rice)

loh mai gai

Wrapped in a lotus leaf, this bundle of steamed glutinous rice is laced with diced chicken or pork, sweet Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. Glutinous rice will have a natural sweetness that tastes different than other types of rice. Some restaurants will also add salted duck eggs or dried shrimp. Finally, it’s important to remember that this item is more filling than other dim sum dishes, so order accordingly.