You Win Some, You Dim Sum: A First-Timer's Guide to Eating Dim Sum
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.
Photo by Sapna Patel
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.
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.
Photo by Sapna Patel
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.
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.
Photo by Salil Datt
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.
Photo by Kayuri Patel
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.