This is my personal shame. Until this past weekend, I’ve never had dim sum.
I know, I know. Someone should take away my foodie credentials.
For those of you who don’t live on the coasts, or don’t live in a city with a Chinatown, Dim Sum is essentially a buffet in reverse. Instead of you going up to the steam tables and picking what you would like to eat, the steam tables are brought to you. This is indeed a good thing.
Dim sum, translated into Cantonese, means “dot heart” or “order heart”, implying that one should “order to one’s heart’s content” is usually a light meal, eaten sometime from morning-to-early afternoon with family or friends. It’s history is as follows (from Wikipedia):
Travelers on the Silk Road needed a place to take a nap, so teahouses began growing up along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would also go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed that this would lead to excessive weight gain. However, people later discovered that tea can aid in digestion. Therefore, teahouse owners began adding more variety of snacks, so the tradition of dim sum evolved.
In Hong Kong, and most cities in Guangdong province, many Chinese restaurants start serving very early in the morning at around 6:00. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises, often enjoying the morning newspapers. For many southerners of China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. Consistent with this tradition, dim sum restaurants typically only serve dim sum to the afternoon; other Cantonese cuisine would be served in the evening. Nowadays, various dim sum are also sold in takeaways as many students and office workers’ day-to-day breakfast.
To repeat, Dim Sum is not one specific dish, but a style of serving/ordering food. Tradition calls for tea to be served, as well as dumplings and many a steamed dish. Typical dishes include shrimp har gow, stuffed eggplant, hum baus of varying ingredients and, of course, tea. The rule of thumb is that you can eat as much as you like before you finish your initial cup of tea.
Tara and I went to China Gate in the International District here in Seattle. While the food was good, it didn’t bowl me over as much as whole dim sum “experience” did. I did like the Sesame Rice Dumpling (called ‘matuan’), with its crunchy exterior and sweetened bean paste inside. I am quite looking forward to trying dim sum at the many, many locations here in Seattle.