You Win Some, You Dim Sum: A First-Timer's Guide to Eating Dim Sum

Dim Sum Cart.jpg
Photo by Sapna Patel
What's not to like about simmering hot tea, savory, steamed gow gee and marinated chicken feet? Dining without adventure is no fun. If you're looking for an authentic Chinese culinary experience -- or even a fat-filled, fried hangover brunch -- the wild east of dim sum has you covered.

For the inexperienced, dim sum can prove daunting, leave you hungry and confused. Without further ado, here's a step-by-step guide to perfecting the flavorful art of this ancient Chinese tradition.

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Photo by Sapna Patel
10. Timing Is Everything: Who knew? Apparently, dim sum, that age-old tradition started in the tea houses that dotted China's famous Silk Road, inconveniently is available at different times depending upon your location of choice. Some stop the cart at 3 p.m., and some stop as late as 8 p.m. Before heading out, check to make sure the light is on. The most popular time for dim sum seems to be the American Sunday, when sons, daughters, parents, toddlers, grannies and friends crowd into lobbies and seats like it's Easter. But, the upside is that the cray-cray ambiance provides a boisterous, lively, loud, happy family-style dining experience that fills your heart and belly.

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9. Take an Experienced Guide: You don't know how to order, you don't now what to order, the cart driver can't hear you and doesn't even understand you when he does. Dim sum is way easier if you go with someone who knows the difference between pork siu mai and pork fun gwar, knows not to look into the tea pot to find mysterious, brown, floaty bits and who, preferably...speaks Cantonese. Take an experienced guide or you will be confused and starving when you exit.

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Photo by Salil Datt
8. The Group of Four: A dim sum menu has about one gazillion possible dishes to choose from, and there's often at least 12 different carts boasting various delicacies and dessert. For some reason, when one stops, you lose your damn mind and believe to your core that you want one of every thing you see. There's something about food being delivered and presented to you, that makes you feel you must devour it or suffer FOMO (fear of missing out). Let's be honest. You cannot eat two dried shrimp dumplings, one bean curd roll, four stuffed crab claws, steamed beef tripe, cheung fun rice doodle...and Rainbow Jello. Bringing a larger group ensures you can try many dishes, yet surreptitiously ignore the taro root pudding cake you excitedly demanded and no longer desire. Dim sum remains family-style, with shared plates, so someone else will inevitably eat it.

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Photo by Kayuri Patel
7. Tea at Your Service: Back in the day, dim sum was served in tea houses, where sipping this hot beverage served as the main attraction -- known as the tradition of yum cha, or tea tasting. Today, infinite pots of steaming brown tea are still part of the experience, and you'd be remiss not to indulge in a cup or two. Flavors such as chrysanthemum, green or Black Dragon will relax your senses and spirit as you embark on the sometimes harrowing experience that is dim sum. Again, just don't look inside the pot, as your stomach may churn at the bits circling inside.

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6. The Special Sauce: It's red, it's brown, it's crusty and spicy. Soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil. Mixed together, it looks like the ooze of a car accident, but its delectable juice soaking through your shrimp rice noodle or staining your barbecue pork bun is like a warm, firecracker of flavor in your mouth. Salty, tangy, greasy and hot, this magic sauce is to be made and created by you yourself in those teeny little appetizer plates. If etiquette is not your thing and you blasphemously refuse the tea, that white ceramic tea cup sans handle can serve as your mixing bowl of sauce. And no, skinny bitches, the waiter will not provide you low-sodium soy sauce. But he will serve you a brusque "no" and a nice, big eye roll.

Location Info

New Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant

8520 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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11 comments
Newadventure
Newadventure

Never had dim sum but I think it is about time I dim sumthin' about it. Great article!

Kagan34
Kagan34

 Fung's has dim sum both off the cart, and a la carte. And plenty of four-tops when you go alone, EricS. But it won't feel as claustrophobic as Yum Yum Cha, promise ya.

Eric S
Eric S

Two things: one, I only cited yum yum cha as one example of a dim sum restaurant that allows people to order off a menu rather than subjecting themselves to carts. Both Arco Seafood and Dim Sum King are restaurants in Chinatown that also offer dim sum off a menu. I  am well acquainted with eating dim sum from carts. Over the years, I have been to Ocean Palace, Kim Son, Fung's Kitchen and Lucky Dragon to have dim sum off carts. It's a huge pain the ass. Eating dim sum off a menu is better in pretty much every way. One example, the places with the carts have huge tables. Going with a group of 2 or 3 people can make you feel like an asshole for taking up a giant table. The places with menus generally have smaller tables, which makes dim sum a realistic option for small groups. If you haven't tried any of the menu places, you should. Two, if you haven't been to yum yum cha in awhile, you should give them another chance. After not having eaten there for a few years, I randomly decided to go back last month. I don't claim any expertise when it comes to dim sum, only enthusiasm. As in, I know what I like and am not particularly concerned about arbitrary standards of authenticity. That said, I thought YYC was much better than I remembered and was able to hold its own against my favorite places on Bellaire. In particular, I enjoyed the little soup dumplings and shu mai as much as I remember enjoying any dumplings anywhere. Also, being able to get dim sum at night is kinda night. I get that's not when it's "supposed" to be eaten, but I've been known to polish off a plate of pancakes for dinner every now and then, too.  tl;dr: Menu dim sum exists in Chinatown. It's better than carts. Haters who think Yum Yum Cha sucks are wrong.

CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist
CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist

This makes me crave for dim sum. I wish I can experience authentic dim sum dishes, the most I've had are commercialized versions.

SirRon
SirRon

and if any of you guys are in California and need some work on those jacked up pegs, CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist dot com.

Chuck
Chuck

Ha ha! Exactly.

RPaul
RPaul

Bodl, if you are confined to eating in West U, you are 100% correct. If you're able to get to Chinatown, you would soon think that Yum Yum Cha is very mediocre and not too exciting.

Silkysharma16
Silkysharma16

great article! I will definitely use these pointers when I go eat dim sum! 

Djend
Djend

Going to yum yum cha for dim sum is like going to olive garden for italian

Flaubertg
Flaubertg

 No thanks. That's akin to attending a Luau, and ordering pulled pork sandwiches from the kitchen.

Matt
Matt

good article, even better headline

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