What is Dim Sum
Shanghai, Shanghai Chic, Dim Sum, Dim Sum Chic, Dim Sum in Shanghai Chic
Dim Sum is part of Cantonese cuisine with the pronunciation of the word in Cantonese dialect.
In direct Cantonese translation, Dim means a dot or order (also means select) and Sum means heart. How could the meaning of dot and order, so different and yet have the same Chinese character, you may wonder? Let me explain. In a Chinese restaurant, when you say you want to “dim choy” it means you want to order dishes (selecting the dishes you like). This is the reason I translate the meaning of dim as order. In China, however, Dian Xin pronounced in Mandarin but has the same Chinese character as dim sum usually refers to little or small, dainty dishes. In Malaysia, Dian Xin also refers to light food for late night supper. Coincidentally, Chinese dim sum in Malaysia looked dainty and served in small portions with 2 to 3 pieces in one dish. So in my view, dim sum definition means order a little of each dish from the dim sum varieties to your heart’s desire!.
Anyway let’s skip this topic and go past the dim sum history as well, shall we? I am sure you can find a lot of information regarding this topic on the Internet. Here I would like to talk more about the dim sum the food!!!!!!!!!!, my favourite subject.
This is a simple yet inviting Guide to Dim Sum For those who are trying this Chinese delicacy for the first time, this can be a new experience to your taste bud as well as your sight. This is because each Chinese dim sum restaurant has at any one time selling between 30 to 50 types of dim sum dishes.
Some even more. In Malaysia and Singapore, you can buy dim sum from the Chinese dim sum restaurants situated in shop lots or from the hawker stalls. However hawker stalls have fewer choices for you to choose from. If you prefer air-conditioning and nicer environments, try this dish at the Chinese restaurants in hotels or fine dining Chinese restaurants (not all will sell though). My old working ground has a magic dim sum selection………These are also good places for you to try special dim sum made from ingredients such as shark’s fin, abalone and many premium ingredients with unique recipes. But as we become more aware of our surroundings and try not to leave a bigger footprint that we have already left some favorite stuffing are not on the market any more…………….For Muslims, hotels are good places to look for halal dim sum as some restaurants do not serve pork and are extremely contentious of their clientele………Some restaurants serve dim sum buffet style but most specialty restaurants serve a la carte dishes.
Best Time to Eat Dim Sum is in the morning……….in Singapore We usually ate dim sum for breakfast. However, dim sum brunches are also popular during weekends and lately it is eaten for lunch and late night supper as well.
Dim sum restaurants are the busiest during weekends. If you do not like crowd, avoid weekends or arrive early at the restaurant. In Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, a good bet to enjoy this favourite Chinese breakfast peacefully will be before 9 am but hotels may serve this dish from late morning to late afternoon. However in Chinatown, a dim sum restaurant by the name of Yook Woo Hin serves this delicacy as early as 5 am. Be there before 7.30am if you want to park your car near this restaurant before other shops open for business. I have visited this restaurant on 4 occasions and it also serves what I called the traditional Kuala Lumpur dim sum which has more pork meat than the famous Ipoh dim sum.
Ipoh (a town in the state of Perak) which has one of the best dim sum in Malaysia ( yes i have been here) has more prawn and fish filling with less pork meat which I personally prefer as I am not a prolific pork eater, Nowadays, it is easy to find dim sum similar to the ones made in Ipoh from many restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore dim sum tends to be more generous with the fillings but at times i find to sweet…………..but it is still awesome!!!!
Hong Kong dim sum is popular in Malaysia and Singapore too. The Hong Kong version generally has more varieties and includes dishes like popiah, pot sticker, siu loong pau or dishes from tofu. It is also more fancy in presentations…… Now… let’s talk about how you can get to eat this dish fast! You see lots of delicious fresh food served in front of you. Your stomach is hungry. You drive to your favorite dim sum restaurant….You don’t want to wait too long do you? So, do this quickly! Start looking for an empty table or share a table with someone if the restaurant is crowded by the time you reach there. Grab your partner and tell her to nail her self to one chair whilst holding the other chair where you will seating………….if you do not find a table then share…..It is common to ask for permission to share a table if you see any empty seats by the table. Ask whether anyone is occupying the empty seats.
Be patient during busy hours as there will be no waiter to take you to the table in most restaurants. If you prefer restaurants that have waiters/ waitresses taking you to your seat, opt for a restaurant in hotels or fine dining restaurants. Once you are seated, the waiter/waitress will come to take order for your drinks. Get their attention if they didn’t see you in a crowded restaurant. Put up your hand and call them. Sometimes when it gets too crowded, you will see people standing near your table waiting for you to finish your meal.
Please do not feel offended. They are standing near your table because when you leave, the first who sits on the chair at the table will get the table. It feels like war sometimes but when you are hungry, you will fight for it. Ha! Ha! Ha! So, do not feel pressured. Take your time. Enjoy your food and savour every bit of it. Popular restaurants are always crowded. It is a sign of good food in Singapore and Malaysia. Follow where the crowd goes, remember?
Drink Chinese tea with Dim Sum it is the most suitable drink but you can order milk tea, coffee, fruit juice or herbal tea if you desire. Order Chrysanthemum tea (Kuk Fa) if you want to cool down your body or Kuk Pou (Chrysanthemum with Pou Lei tea) if you like to have a flower-tea combination. I normally like to order a mild tea flower and fruit whilst eating for the nice fragrance that the flower infuses in the tea. Other tea include Char Wong and Thit Koon Yam. Just order any tea if you are not particular because the tea served is not premium grade tea unless you request for it. Not many places serve premium tea unless it is a fine-dining restaurant or specialty tea house.
In fine dining Chinese restaurants or hotels. After ordering your tea, the servers will come to your table with the dim sum cart. In some restaurants, they will come to you with a big tray filled with steamed dim sum, fried dim sum or dessert. Steamed dishes are normally served in dim sum steamers made from bamboo. Others are normally served in coloured plates with each colour representing a different price. In a typical dim sum restaurants in Malaysia, you will not see a menu. You will have to choose from what is shown to you. Yes, everything may look delicious to you but refrain yourself from ordering too much at one go. Order a few dishes and enjoy it slowly because dim sum is best served warm especially the steamed dishes. If you order a combination of dishes, finish the steamed dishes first before trying the fried ones. After a few rounds of food and you still do not see what you want, request your favourites from the server. They will obliged and serve it to your table. Remember to enjoy your dim sum dining experience slowly and drink lots of warm Chinese tea to get your palate ready for the next dim sum dish. When you have finished your meal, raised your hand to call the waiter and say “My tonne”. It means that you are ready to pay your bill. In some restaurants, you pay with a bill where quantities of dishes are jotted down for each order. For others, you pay according to the number of bamboo steamers and coloured plates you have taken at the end of the dim sum meal. To give you an indication, each of this dainty dish normally cost around 1.00 to 2.00 Sing….Dollars, if you eat at mid-range restaurants and stalls located in shop lots. Well, this also depend on the cities you eat from.
If you want to know the price of each dish, you can ask before you order them or when you are about to pay. Also giving tips are not a common practice in Singapore and Malaysia. One more thing, you can always ask for a fork if you want one. It is better for you to eat happily than clumsily with fish balls bouncing around. Don’t worry, eating with chopsticks are not “the standard way” or a big deal here. Singapore-Malaysian Chinese eat Chinese food happily with forks and spoons as well. More questions?
Will I like this popular Chinese food? Too many choices? Which dishes must I try? Well, how about me sharing a simple dim sum guide and descriptions of my favourites?
How about describing you the different dim sum so that you can order like a local? That will be a great feeling I think. If you are ready, let’s take a little tour of this wonderful Chinese creation enjoyed by the young and the old.
I hope you will enjoy it as much as I write it and lastly for the health conscious…do not count the dim sum calories. Just eat it! Dim Sum Varieties It is well known that a good dim sum chef will have his own secret dim sum recipe like a young master Chef Eddie’ recipes……. A lot of emphasis is placed on the food. For me, without a good sauce even the best dim sum of all will fall short on its taste. So let’s start with the sauce. Dim Sum Sauce You will find 2 types of sauces on the table. One is the spicy chilli sauce and the other the sweet sauce that is generally black in colour. Sometimes you may also find the spicy bottled chilli sauce that has a combination of sweet, sour and salty taste with garlic and ginger in it. My favourite sauce? Half of the bottled chilli sauce and half of sweet sauce. Dumplings There are many varieties of dumplings for you to choose from.
Basically it is divided into steamed dumplings and fried dumplings made from fish, prawn, chicken, pork or a combination of meats with vegetable and seaweed. Shrimp Dumplings Steamed shrimp dumpling or Har Gau in Cantonese is a must try. This prawn dumpling usually comes in set of 3. Fresh shrimp dumplings will have prawns that are crunchy to the bite and have natural seafood sweetness in taste. A good Har Gau must also has very thin and translucent dumpling skin that feels smooth and soft when eaten. Fried Shrimp Dumpling This is one of the favourite Chinese dim sum for kids. It’s called Sar Lut Ha Kok in Cantonese. It is delicious when you dip it in mayonnaise.
Steamed pork dumplings known as Siu Mai is another popular dumpling. A good Siu Mai will have the right combination of lean meat and fat that is tender and flavoursome.
Chicken dumplings are normally found in halal dim sum restaurant. Here the pork meat is replaced with chicken meat so that the Muslims can enjoy this Chinese delicacy.
Siu Loong Bao
Siu Loong Bao as pronounced in Cantonese or Xiao Loong Bao in Mandarin is steamed dumpling with soup and pork in it. Siu means small or little and Loong means basket or cage. Chinese dishes always have fancy beautiful name to highlight a dish. In this case, I guess this dish got its name because of the bao (bun) placed in small bamboo basket or it symbolises a little cage with soup and meat trap in it. At the moment, this dish is not available in every restaurant. You normally find this dish in restaurants selling Hong Kong dim sum.
Chinese Steamed Buns
Steamed buns come in 2 different sizes. Small bun is called Sai Bao and big bun is called Tai Bao in Cantonese. Small buns have a variety of fillings with names such as Char Siu, Lin Yoong and Tau Sar while Tai Bao comes with one type of filling only.
Char Siu Bao
Steamed pork buns known as Char Siu Bao is a popular steamed bun. A yummy steamed pork bun must have white, fluffy and soft bun with tender, juicy pork meat as filling. Meat filling must be generous with the right combination of fat and lean meat that is tender and juicy.
Lin Yoong Bao
This bun has a sweet filling that is made from lotus seed paste.
Tau Sar Bao
Tau Sar Bao has filling made from sweet red bean paste.
Most of the big buns have fillings such as pork meat, chicken meat, Chinese mushroom, turnip, boiled egg, and Chinese sausage in it.
Porridge Congee or rice porridge is commonly known as porridge in Malaysia. Pork congee with century egg is the popular one and other porridge ingredients used include salted egg, fish or chicken. Often, porridge is served with spring onion and ginger slices. Sometimes you may find some delightful small pieces of Yau Char Kuai (Chinese cruller) accompanying this dish. Porridge is a good choice for kids because it has carbohydrate and protein all in one meal. It’s good to fill the stomach of big eaters as well.
Loh Mai Kai
(Chicken Glutinous Rice) Loh Mai Kai is made from sticky rice or glutinous rice as commonly called in Malaysia. In direct Cantonese translation, Loh Mai means sticky/glutinous rice and Kai means chicken. As indicated by the name, the main ingredient of Loh Mai Kai is chicken meat with Chinese mushroom and sweet Chinese sausage as other ingredients used. A good Loh Mai Kai must be steamed to perfection with soft rice (not too soft) and smooth tender chicken meat with soft Chinese mushroom. It can have a little oil in the rice but not too oily.
Hor Yip Fun (Lotus Leaf Glutinous Rice) Hor Yip Fun is a different version of Loh Mai Kai. It is made from sticky rice/glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf. Therefore it has a nice lotus leaf aroma infused in the rice. Once unwrapped you will find dried shrimp, pork, Chinese mushroom, Chinese sausage and salted egg yolk which add a rich taste to it.
This is another favourite of small children. There are 2 types of fish balls. Steamed fish ball is called Yue Mai in Cantonese and fried fish ball is called Chau Yue Ton. You will find steamed white fish balls softer and the fried version which is brown in colour a little springy.
Chee Cheung Fun
(Rice Rolls) Chee Cheong Fun is actually steamed rice roll. Chee Cheong means pig’s intestine and Fun is usually used for noodles made from rice flour or starch. Why pig’s intestine? If you see the original shape of Chee Cheung Fun you will know why. It has the shape of intestine formed from rolling thin rice sheet. In dim sum restaurants, they sell Hong Kong Chee Cheung Fun which is flat instead of round in shape and with filling in it. Fillings include prawn or Char Siu (barbequed pork). This rice roll is then douse with a special soya sauce and come with a little spicy chilli paste mixed with dry shrimp. Eat your Cheung Fun with a little of this paste to enhance this dish. For the best of both worlds try the combination of prawn and Char Siu filling. You get sweet juicy Char Siu and the crunchy tasty prawn.
I guess the name for this dish is the most confusing one. Some call it radish cake and some called it Chinese turnip cake or turnip cake. Which is which? Let me explain… In Cantonese dialect, there are two types of Lor Pak. (The “a” in “pak” pronounced as in “a” found in the word “park”) Pak Lor Pak directly translates into white carrot which is radish and Hung Lor Pak means red carrot. These two “carrots” are known as Lor Pak as both look similar but different in colour. So Lor Pak Kou means white carrot cake literally. How the word turnip came around? I have no idea. Maybe someone knowledgeable could tell me? Lor Pak Kou is one of my favourites. It is steamed radish cake with dried shrimp. Good radish cakes are steamed and pan-fried lightly with oil. Dipped in a little sauce and it taste heavenly.
Taro Dumpling/Yam Dumpling
This dish is called Wu Kok in Cantonese. Wu Kok has a crispy outer layer with soft yam inside. It has pork filling in it. A good yam texture must not be too soft and have the “powdery texture” being a term used by the Chinese. I like to clarify something here. Taro is known as yam in Singapore and Malaysia. However yam in United States I was told, refers to another root which is called sweet potato here. This is so confusing. Just remember to say yam when you are here, ok?
Pork Spare Ribs
Phai Kuat (Cantonese) is popular among the Singapore people. These are steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce. The Pork rib has tender meat with tasty flavour from the marinade.
When you eat dim sum, chicken feet is one of the Chinese delicacies that you can try. This dish is made of steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce. For those who are willing to try, you will find the skin of good chicken feet to be tender and unique in taste. Unfortunately, I will not be able to explain the flavour to you in writing. You will have to try it yourself because the soft chicken feet have a succulent, rich flavour to it. It is an acquired taste. If you are trying chicken feet for the first time, eat the bony part first (the toes) then only the soft plump middle part of the feet. The soft, gooey texture in the middle is what makes you feel uncomfortable the first time you tried it. How to eat chicken feet? Do not try to bite the skin off from the bone. Just bite off the toes and then take out the bone from your mouth. This will enable you to have the full taste of the skin and bone in your mouth. To make it simpler, imagine eating a grape. Put the whole grape into the mouth and then take/spit out the seeds. Got it? Try it! You’ve got nothing to lose. If you can eat ox tail soup why not chicken feet? By the way chicken feet are called Kai Keok in Cantonese and this dish has a fancy name. It’s called Fung Jau which means Phoniex’s claw.
Bean Curd Dim sum
there are many dishes made from dried bean curd sheet. Fish paste, prawn, pork or a combination, Let us look at popular dishes made from bean curds.
Fried Bean Curd
Crispy fried bean curd skin that is not too oily makes this dish a hit with children as well as adult. Remember to dip your Fu Chuk (bean curd in Cantonese) in your favourite sauce for that extra flavour. It is even good to eat it on its own.
Steamed Bean Curd
Steamed bean curd with popular fillings such as fish, pork and prawn are the alternatives for lesser oily dishes.
Eggplant is usually stuffed with fish paste or a combination of fish and pork meat. This dish is tasty when the vegetable is soft and moist. It must not be overly oily with the stuffed meat pan fried with little oil. Other vegetables that are commonly used include red and green chilli, okra (commonly known as lady’s finger in Singapore and Malaysia).
Egg tart is called Dan Tard in Cantonese (Pronounced as tonne tard). In Chinese egg tart, lard is used in the crust to make it delicious. It is never the same taste if you try one without lard. Most egg tarts you find are the normal cookie crust type. For this type of crust, I like the one that is crumbly and melt in your mouth with a little salty taste to it.
However, I like egg tarts that have layered, flaky crusts that are a little difficult to find nowadays. Egg custards on the other hand must not be overly sweet and must be smooth in texture with the creamy egg taste to it. The salty and sweet combination of taste in egg tarts are what I like best.
Fried sesame balls are made from glutinous rice with sesame seed on the outer skin. The filling is usually sweet red bean paste (traditionally) or lotus seed paste. With crispy texture on the outer skin and soft chewy texture inside, this dessert is a good deal for those with sweet-tooth.
Char Siu Sou
Baked pastry with Char Siu as fillings.
Fa Sang Wu
A sweet dessert made from groundnut or peanut paste. To explain to those who have not tried it, I would say it tastes like peanut butter to me. This dessert taste heavenly when it is thick, creamy and has a strong rich taste. Fa Sang means groundnut or peanut and Wu refers to paste in Cantonese.
Jie Ma Wu
Jie Ma Wu which means sesame seed paste is a sweet dessert made from black sesame seed which is very nutritious. You may not find Fa Sang Wu and Jie Ma Wu in all restaurants because it takes a lot of work to prepare these desserts.
TIPS : Often, we could not try all the dishes in one seating. In order to try as many different dishes as possible, choose dishes from each of these groups. • Steamed dim sum (Har Gau and Siu Mai is a must and Siu Loong Bao if you see one). • Fried dim sum (radish cake, prawn dumpling with mayonnaise, pork dumpling, Char Siu Sou, Wu Kok). • Order Hor Yip Fun and skip Loh Mai Kai as you can easily find it in many Chinese coffee shops. • Steamed rice rolls. • Fa Sang Wu or Jie Ma Wu if you are lucky to find it. It’s quite difficult to find these nowadays. • Egg tarts or sesame balls. Try other desserts if you like sweet things. • Fish balls if you like or else order fish ball noodle soup for your next meal. • Chicken feet if you dare and pork spare ribs if you like pork. • Some dishes made with bean curd skin and tofu. • Stuffed vegetables or else try these in shops selling Yong Tow Foo, another favourite Chinese food. • Porridge or steamed buns if you are still hungry or else try to find these in Chinese coffee shops.
Now that you know a little about Dim Sum you must visit us at Ibn Battuta Gate……………..in our soon to open Shanghai Chic…………..where Eddie and Jenny will be eagerly waiting to take and cook your order……………………….