The original dim sum originated in the Chinese province of Canton. Historically, travelers stopped at tea houses for dim sum, enjoying afternoon tea and snacks.
Now popular as a festive weekend ritual with family and friends, dim sum is widely available across Asia and in cities from Sydney to San Francisco. Most people enjoy it for Sunday brunch, although some specialty restaurants serve dim sum seven days a week. To the uninitiated, the meal can be a bit overwhelming at first: A wide variety of savory and sweet dishes are stacked on carts and rolled out throughout the dining room. Plates typically contains three to four bite-size steamed or fried items meant to be shared family-style.
Order tea first, and if you like sauce with your snack, mix a little soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil for dipping. Then, arm yourself with chopsticks and eat adventurously! Here’s a beginner’s guide:
Savory and Safe
1 – 3. Steamed Dumplings: Rice-flour parcels filled with different varieties of meat (shu mai), shrimp (har gow), or vegetables. You can sort of tell the flavor by the colors under the translucent parcels. Shrimp dumplings are my personal favorites.
4. Shanghai Soup Dumplings: Also called Xiao Long Bao, they’re filled with pork and stock. Put it on the spoon and devour in one bite – carefully, as the soup inside is steaming hot.
5. Pot Stickers or Gyoza: Steamed, pan seared, or fried dumplings with meat or vegetables inside.
6. Steamed Buns: Soft and pillowy, filled with sweet barbecue pork or lotus-seed paste in vegetarian versions.
7 – 8. Sticky Rice with Meat: Varieties include chicken, sausage, pork, and a range of other meats steamed inside a lotus leaf. Ask the server to cut them in half for easy sharing.
9. Chinese Broccoli: Steamed, drizzled with sesame oil, and served with salty oyster sauce on top.
10. Prawn Balls: Deep-fried minced prawns shaped into a ball.
11. Stuffed Peppers: Green bell peppers, stuffed with shrimp paste and basted with a light sauce.
12. Rice-Sheet Rolls: come with different fillings, such as pork, shrimps, or vegetables.
Intermediate to Adventurous
13. Taro and Radish Cakes: Crispy and creamy, these contain either taro root paste or radish paste steamed with rice-flour batter, then pan fried.
14. Tofu Skin: Steamed tofu sheets filled with meat. I promise, it tastes better than it sounds.
15. Beef Tripe: Beef tripe that’s boiled, stir fried, and then steamed with ginger and green onions.
16. Chicken feet: If it looks like a chicken foot, it’s a chicken foot. Normally, I pass the plate of claws that have been steamed with fermented black beans to my dad and let him enjoy it all by himself.
17 – 18. My two favorite sweet bites are sesame balls (filled with sweet red bean paste) and mini egg custard pies, which are similar to Portugal’s famous Pastéis de Nata.
Dim Sum Dos: Four Favorite Brunch Spots
My favorite restaurant for Sunday Brunch is Kirin Court in Dallas. I asked several dim-sum loving travel photographers, who shoot for Virtuoso Life, for theirs as well. Singapore-based Lauryn Ishak, recommends her local: Imperial Treasure Nan Bei. Ball and Albanese, an NYC-based duo, have high praise for Dim Sum Go Go in NYC, Imperial Tea Court in Berkeley, California, and Yank Sing in San Francisco.
All photos by Virtuoso Life art director Melanie Fowler.
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