You Dim Sum, You Lose Some

Invited for a Yum Cha party but confused what to order from the Dim Sum cart? Let us try and help you manoeuvre through the perplexing profusion of these delectable morsels without looking ill-informed.

While it began as a snack to be savoured with tea, over time, as it gained popularity across the world, Dim Sum began to be eaten through the day from breakfast to dinner. 

Dim Sum is becoming so popular that not just Oriental restaurants but even other multi-cuisine eateries are putting them on their menus. Now, some people know their Har Gao from their Siu Mai but the majority think that dim sum stands for steamed and stuffed rice dumplings. Unfortunate, because the history of these tiny morsels can be traced back to China to about 2000 odd years ago, when it was a delicacy reserved for the pleasure of royalty alone.

Later it was served to the prosperous merchants who stopped at the upscale tea houses of the famous Silk Route and became part of the Yum Cha tradition, which basically meant a tea time ritual. Dim sum is meant to appease the appetite but not satiate it and hence is the perfect tea time accompaniment. Eating dim sum at a restaurant is also called Yum Cha, which means ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese, or Dian Xin in Mandarin, which means ‘touch the heart’.

While it began as a snack to be savoured with tea, over time, as it gained popularity across the world, dim sum began to be eaten through the day from breakfast to dinner. After all, there is no wrong time to enjoy it! In China, dim sum restaurants do not have a menu. They usually have a cart or a section where the bamboo steamers have various dim sum and guests are encouraged to try any of them. Dim sum can be of different types – steamed, boiled, pan fried or deep fried. There is variety in the wrappers, such as the wonton skins or doughy buns. The buns are made with flour, yeast and baking powder and are either steamed or baked.


Selecting dim sum can be quite confusing if you are new to ordering this delicacy. With so many options to choose from, it can be quite bewildering. Here are some of the more popular options to help make things easier:

  • Har Gao or Xia Jiao: These classic steamed dumplings have a translucent wrapper with around 7 to 10 pleats. The covering is made with a wheat starch which gives it extra stretchiness and lends it translucency and keeps it sturdy so that the prawn filling does not come out.
  • Cha Siu Bao: Bao means buns in Chinese. These steamed dumplings are made with a filling of BBQ pork. The dough of the bun is slightly yeasty and dense, which is offset by the sweet and savoury marinade of the pork.
  • Siu Mai or Shao Mai – This is an open kind of dim sum with varied fillings of pork and chicken, chicken and shrimp, etc. It is often topped with roe and can be bland, so try it with the accompanying chili oil.
  • Turnip cake – It is a popular peasant dish made up of a mixture of shredded radish and rice flour as both of these ingredients are found in abundance in the countryside. It is steamed and then cut into square pieces and sometimes pan-fried.
  • Zheng Jiao – These dumplings look like gumdrops with multiple pleats on their top, which is their characteristic feature. They are usually stuffed with a combination of juicy stir fried meat or vegetables and are then steamed.
  • Fun Gao or Fun Gor – They are also referred to as Chiu Chow Dumplings. The filling can have chopped peanuts, garlic, chives, minced meat or diced vegetables and shiitake mushrooms.
  • Chun Juan – Another unlikely contender to the dim sum menu, these crispy fried spring rolls are made from very thin rice paper wrappers. They are dipped, moistened slightly, and then stuffed with vermicelli, stir fried vegetables and meat like prawns, chicken, or pork.
  • Chang Fen – What sets these apart from Chun Juan is that these rolls are made of rice noodles. They can be quite runny as they are made of rice flour and tapioca flour that are both very starchy, then combined into a gooey mixture, poured into a flat pan with holes, steamed into thin sheets, stuffed with mildly spiced fillings, and then served with various sauces.
  • Guo Tie – These crescent shaped dumplings are also called pot stickers, because they are pan fried in a cast iron pan and if not cooked properly in the right mixture of oil and water, then they can stick to the pot literally!

Interestingly, while tea is generally the preferred brew to be enjoyed with dim sum, few people know that champagne also pairs very well with it! Yes, you read that right. The acidity of champagne compliments the soft flavours of the dim sum. So, the next time you have a champagne party at home, why not lay out an array of dim sum to go with it?! This will surely surprise your guests and be the talking point at your dinner table, in a good way.

Vinita Bhatia with inputs from Chef Rahul Hajarnavis, Associate Director – Culinary, JSM Corporation