Your Guide to All Things Dim Sum
The following is an excellent description from Serious Eats
“You all know what dim sum is, right? The original dim sum houses originated in Canton, and were a lot like diners: small, roadside establishments that served tea along with a bit of sustenance for weary travelers or rural workers. Just like Spanish tapas, which were originally simple accompaniments to glasses of sherry, these simple Cantonese tea snacks eventually became the main focus of the meal, though tea is, of course, still served. These days, in many parts of Southern mainland China, and in Hong Kong in particular, it’s become a weekly ritual family meal, generally taken on weekend mornings.
Food comes served in steam table trolleys stacked high with bamboo or metal steamer baskets. They get pushed around the restaurant from table to table, anddiners order by pointing at the dishes they want. Each table gets a card that’s stamped with the number of dishes ordered (generally for a couple bucks apiece, though price can vary by dish), and you pay when you leave.
It’s tough to find a better way to spend a Sunday morning than a table of friends and family, bottomless tea, lightning-fast (if a little rude) service, and a whole table full of tiny plates crammed with dumplings, steamed buns, and Chinese pastries. That you usually end up paying no more than a few bucks apiece at a dim sum restaurant (no matter how much you order, it seems) helps, of course.”
If you are planning on trying dim sum, here is some basic dim sum etiquette: (also fromSerious Eats)
“There’s nothing too difficult about ordering and dining at a dim sum restaurant, but here are a few tips to clear up any confusion.
- Share! As with most small plates dining, the more people you have and the more dishes you order, the better the experience will be for everyone. Bring people, and be prepared to share.
- Start with tea. You should be given a pot of tea as soon as you first sit down. Most dim sum restaurants will have a few varieties of tea on hand and will probably get you a different type if you prefer it over their house tea. Check the tea before you pour to make sure it’s steeped enough. When you empty the pot, turn the lid upside down or leave it ajar to let the waiter know you want a refill. To be extra polite, make sure to fill up other people’s glasses before your own, and tap the table to thank someone for filling yours.
- Ordering. This is pretty simple: just let the food come to you. The server will generally offer you each one of the two or three dishes their cart is carrying. Just nod or say “yes” if you’re in. Good rule of thumb: if you’re not sure what it is, try it. Don’t see your favorite dish in the dining room? Most large dim sum restaurants can bring you a fresh one straight from the kitchen—just ask for it. Make sure to keep your card out so the cart pusher can stamp it. If there’s a buffet-style line at the restaurant, bring your card with you when you go there.
- Cart chasing. You see the steamed rice roll cart all the way on the other side of the dining room and you’re afraid they’re going to run out before they make their way over to you. What do you do? It’s perfectly acceptable to get out of your seat and chase down the specific cart you’re looking for. Just don’t swoop in and steal the last one.
- Utensils. Chopsticks are the norm, but don’t feel bad about asking for a fork if you need one. The basic rules of chopsticks apply: don’t spear your food with them, and don’t leave them sticking straight up in a bowl of rice when you’re not using them. Instead, lay them horizontally on the edge of the plate.
- Want rice with that? Steamed white rice can be ordered upon request, and it’s a good way to cleanse your palate between bites of strongly seasoned dim sum fare. Oh, and you can pour sauce on your rice if you want, but it’s intended to be a plain, bland accompaniment.”