How to Navigate Dim Sum
Dim sum originated in Cantonese tea houses as quick afternoon snacks. Today it is commonly served banquet-style from early to mid-morning. Eating dim sum is anything but fine dining. Rather, it’s a casual get-together restaurant experience where you’re supposed to be surrounded by good company, bottomless tea and piping-hot baskets of food. You and your guests order from the dishes pushed around the room in steam table trolleys by simply pointing to your favorite items. Waitresses stamp your bill for each small plate you order, and the entire bill is paid after the meal.
1. Once you’re seated, make sure to pour cups of tea for your guests before filling your own. The tea runs out fast, but instead of calling your server over, indicate you want a refill by leaving the lid of your teapot ajar. Sometimes servers will ask for your choice of tea, in which case, ask for one of these teas that pair best with dim sum: bo-lay (pu-erh), wu-long (oolong) or gook-fa (chrysanthemum).
2. Although you should be sure to note the waitress in charge of serving you and your guests (since each waitress is assigned to a certain set of tables), don’t hesitate to chase down other push-carts for your favorite dish.
3. It’s perfectly acceptable to order sweet buns and tarts alongside more savory dishes. Anything goes when eating dim sum, so long as you share with your guests.
4. If you don’t see the particular item you want in any of the carts, feel free to ask if you can special-order it from the kitchen. Restaurants may not always put all of their items on display. In fact, many even offer set menus upon request so that you can order additional plates like congee, barbecue pork and lobster noodles.
5. Although some dim sum restaurants expect that you pay your bill at a separate cashier, you should remember to leave a tip on your table for your waitress like you would at any other restaurant experience.
You can’t go wrong with food ranging from steamed dumplings to baked buns and sweet desserts, but here are some must-order dishes to try at any dim sum restaurant. You can also check this link for a few extra suggestions.
1. Har gao
Shrimp dumplings wrapped with a chewy wheat starch skin
2. Xiao long bao
Shanghai-style steamed dumplings traditionally filled with pork
3. Fung zao
Chicken feet, either served cold with a light vinegar dipping sauce or deep-fried in a stew
4. Daan taat
Mini Hong Kong-style egg custard tarts
5. Do fu fa
Silken tofu served with a simple syrup (sometimes ginger-infused)
6. Cheong fun
Rice noodles that can be rolled with a variety of fillings including beef, shrimp or duck
7. Lai wong bao
Steamed buns with an eggy milk custard filling