Dim sum is a style of Chinese food which is served in bite-sized or individual portions, and usually presented on small plates or in steamer baskets, and is a huge part of Cantonese dining culture. The small size of dim sum dishes means that diners have plenty of opportunity to sample a variety of dishes within one meal. A dim sum course will introduce you to this style of cooking, and teach you to prepare a few popular dishes.
Did you know? Dim sum means ‘to touch the heart’.
History of dim sum
Dim sum was not initially intended to be a main meal, which explains the small portions. In fact, dim sum was first served in southern Chinese teahouses as a snack to accompany tea, usually to weary travellers and rural farmers who were keen to eat and drink after a long day of work. Therefore there is a strong association between tea tasting or yum cha, and dim sum, and tea continues to be served alongside the food today. Modern dim sum restaurants often combine the two, and many dim sum courses will culminate in an opportunity to sample tea as well as the food you learn to prepare.
Did you know? In yum cha, tea drinkers express thanks to the person who filled their cup by tapping the table with two fingers of the same hand. This is called a ‘finger kowtow’.
Dim sum reached the Western world in the 19th Century when Chinese immigrants arrived in America and the little foods have been big favourites ever since. The dim sum restaurants that we are familiar with today are based on Hong Kong restaurants of the 1950s. These had areas for banquets and mah-jongg games, and diners were served food from carts that were pushed around the restaurant by ‘aunties’.
Did you know? Toothpicks are frequently used between dim sum courses, to stop the aftertaste of one course from interfering with the taste of the next course.
Popular dim sum dishes
Did you know? The World Record for the largest dim sum meal was set in Australia in 2013. 750 people enjoyed the meal, which was made up of six different dim sum dishes and accompanied by tea, in keeping with the yum cha tradition.
Since a dim sum course will teach you how to make a selection of dim sum foods, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular dim sum to help you choose the right course for you...
The ingredients of the dumplings are wrapped in a translucent rice-flour or wheat-flour skin, and then steamed. Popular fillings include shrimp, tofu, and pickled cabbage.
Pot sticker is a Northern Chinese style of dumpling, which is often filled with meat and cabbage.
Either steamed, or baked with a light sugar glaze to produce a smooth golden-brown crust, bau are fluffy buns filled with various meats and vegetables. The most popular version is the cha siu bau, which is filled with barbeque flavoured pork and cabbage.
Rice noodle rolls
Rice noodle rolls are made by rolling wide rice noodles that have been steamed. They are served either filled (with meat / vegetable) or unfilled.
Dim sum’s a bit exotic, but you don’t actually get to eat mythical birds. Phoenix talons are actually chicken feet that have been deep fried, boiled, marinated in a black bean sauce, and finally steamed.
Cha siu sou
Cha siu sou is a baked flaky pastry, topped with sesame seeds and honey.
Probably the most familiar dish, spring rolls are made by rolling a filling instead a thin flour skin, which is then deep-fried for a crispy outside.
Crispy fried squid
Crispy fried squid is prepared coating the squid in batter and then deep-frying it – it is usually served alongside a sweet and sour dip.
After a dim sum course
Dim sum courses tend to offer informal qualifications, and will equip keen amateur chefs with new skills that are bound to dazzle your dinner guests. If a dim sum course inspires you to learn more about Chinese cookery, you may look into general Chinese cooking courses. If it’s the bite-sized portions that appeal to you, you could go on a tapas course, or a sushi course to stick with the theme of miniature dishes.
By Fiona Hughes
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