Dim sum is for diners who love variety with a touch of the traditional and who aren’t afraid to try something new. While there’s a special experience to be had dining in a dim sum restaurant, you can recreate delicious dim sum flavors and enjoy a unique and exciting meal right from the comfort of home. Here’s a little of what you’ll want to know before you begin.
What is Dim Sum?
Dim sum is an eating experience that revolves around tea and many small dishes. It’s an excellent way to connect with friends and loved ones around a delicious meal and to try new flavors and find new favorites.
Chinese food is rich with history and culture, and the dim sum story is no different. Research indicates that with the doing away of opium houses along the Silk Road, travelers searched for alternative gathering spots in which to rest. What started as tea rooms quickly became something more, a place to enjoy local food and good company, and the practice spread quickly across China.
Today, traditional dim sum meals still revolve heavily around tea. Still, influences from many regions of China, as well as immigrant experiences in America and Europe, have allowed unique dim sum flavors and practices to evolve.
For a truly classic dim sum experience, you will want to visit a restaurant where servers with carts walk around the dining room to be flagged down for the best dishes. Many modern restaurants offer a similar experience, with a menu card, which allows your party to pick the most appetizing dishes with ease.
One of the best parts of eating dim sum is the opportunity to try many new dishes. Because plates are small, you don’t have to worry about ordering a meal that is too hot or that doesn’t match your taste palate. It’s about sharing with friends and loved ones and having a true coming together around a wonderful meal. And when you’re ready to make it at home, there are lots of ways to get started.
Dim Sum Etiquette
When it comes to dim sum, dim sum etiquette and practices are as essential to the meal as the food itself. Whether you’re looking to dine out or simply to bring new practices to your kitchen, it’s wise to know the etiquette of the meal and employ it with care. Here are some basic dining rules for eating dim sum.
Order As You Are Ready
With dim sum, it is expected that you will order more dishes when your table is ready, so don’t worry about picking everything out at once. Not only will this make it easy to avoid over or underordering, but it actually ensures that the dishes taste better. Many dim sum dishes must be eaten fresh, and you don’t want them sitting around on the table until you get to it. Pick a few plates—or recipes—your table is interested in and return for more if you want to.
There are several reasons why you’ll want to take small bites of your favorite dim sum dishes. To start, you’re sharing many different foods with the others at your table, and you want to be polite and eat at a slow pace to avoid overeating your share.
Many of the dishes are also very hot—and should be eaten just out of the kitchen. If you pop the whole thing into your mouth, you run the risk of not being able to taste anything else for the rest of the evening.
It’s also essential to savor the food you’re eating. Part of the fun of a dim sum meal is the chance to try new flavors and see what appeals to you, so you can order it again or make it at home. When you take small bites of your food and really engage with the spices and oils, you’ll get a true taste of the culture and flavors.
Skip the Soy Sauce
We believe firmly in the power of spices and cooking oils, but you’ll want to taste your dim sum before adding too much soy sauce. If you’re the one cooking dim sum at home, trust yourself and the recipe you followed to steer the dish in the right direction.
Dim sum dishes already have soy sauce, sesame sauce, and those other delicious flavors mixed in, and you’ll want to enjoy them in their original flavor first. Soy sauce on the side can be overpowering or upset the balance of flavors, so give your dish a nibble and see if it really needs that extra flavoring.
Remember the Tea
Tea plays a huge role in both the history and practice of a dim sum meal. There are a few key things to note about tea and dim sum. To start, you don’t want to order a coffee to go with your dim sum. Tea flavors pair with the food you are ordering and the strong taste of coffee will prevent you from enjoying the bite to the fullest.
Tea also plays an essential role in the dim sum experience. If you are serving, you will pour tea for your dining companions before yourself. If you wish to have your tea refilled, simply leave the top of the pot ajar.
Dim Sum Recipes
There are so many delicious dim sum recipes to pick from, and you won’t be able to try them all in a night—let alone make them all at home. Popular dim sum dishes include seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes, such as dumplings, pork buns, and rice noodles. If you’re looking for great recipes to start with, here are some dim sum flavors and classics that are sure to become instant favorites.
Pork buns can seem a little intimidating, but with patience and practice, you can make easy and delicious pork buns right in your own kitchen. The slight sweetness of the dough combines perfectly with a savory filling for a flavor that simply cannot be topped. You might not get the pleating right the first time around, but they’re guaranteed to taste delicious, no matter what.
Dumplings are one of the most versatile and delicious Chinese dishes, and they are a great option when ordering for a crowd. You can find seafood, meat, or vegetable dumplings and decide between steamed, fried, or baked to get those flavors you know you’re going to love. Not only are they a party favorite at the restaurant, but they’re easy to make at home. Cook with our spices and oils to get those great tastes.
You have many types of dim sum dumplings to pick from, but shrimp dumplings and soup dumplings are some of the most popular.
Pork Siu Mai
Siu mai are similar to dumplings but made with a thin wrapper and left open on top, so a crown of filling and vegetables can be seen on the plate. Some recipes will call for shrimp in a pork siu mai, but the texture of the vegetables is the most important part of the dish, whether you’re at a restaurant or trying out a recipe at home.
Rice Noodle Rolls
You can find rice noodle rolls with seafood or meat fillings, and they promise to be equally delicious no matter which you order or decide to try at home. Large thick rice noodles are wrapped around shrimp or another filling and served with soy sauce. You may even see them as part of a breakfast menu alongside a classic cup of tea.
It can be difficult to make the noodles at home, but you can certainly try. If you’re looking to scale up your dim sum cooking experience, start with store-bought rice noodles and focus on getting those great flavors.
Finish the night out with a delicious, sweet pastry—the egg tart. It’s a baked egg custard in a pastry crust and, like many of the wonderful dim sum dishes you’ve tried, blends textures and flavors for a satisfying eating experience every time.
When you sit down to a dim sum meal, whether at a restaurant or at home with friends, you get to engage in a unique and exciting experience. Dim sum dining is as much about the practices involved as it is about the food, and it’s something you can share with your family in your own personal way.
Explore your favorite new dim sum recipes the next time you go out to dinner, and then try out the recipes at home yourself. And don’t forget to pair the meal with a tea that promises as much flavor and comfort as the food itself.
There are just so many wonderful dishes to choose from that it’s hard to know where to start first. We’re willing to taste-test everything, just to be safe!