DIM SUM: A LITTLE SOMETHING TO TOUCH YOUR HEART
Experience a Fresh New Way to Brunch at Chinatown’s Dim Sum Restaurants
Chinatown New York City is like no other place in New York because visitors can try hundreds of different kinds of dim sum: bite-sized delights that tantalize the palate. Meaning “a little bit of heart” in Chinese, dim sum restaurants are abundant in Chinatown and cannot be found anywhere else in the city. They are excellent venues to try a wide variety of unique Chinese dishes, enjoy a never-ending stream of tea, and engage in lively conversation.
History and Origin of Dim Sum
A charming tradition that began in Cantonese tea houses, dim sum displays an incredible variety of Cantonese cuisine including dumplings, steamed dishes, rice rolls, and sweet tarts. Harmoniously linked to the Chinese tradition of yum cha or tea drinking, weary travelers on the Silk Road needed places to wind down and rest, so tea houses were built to accommodate them. Farmers from nearby rural communities also flocked to the tea houses after a hard day’s work to sip on tea. Once people learned that tea aided in digestion, their popularity grew, and tea houses soon began serving small food dishes to complement drinking tea. Thus, the tradition of dim sum began.
Dim Sum and its Traditions
For the Chinese, dim sum is considered a breakfast, brunch or lunch meal and is an ideal activity for family gatherings. In most dim sum restaurants in Chinatown, trolleys filled with four or five different types of freshly made dim sum are constantly wheeled out from the kitchen to the table. Customers choose the dishes they want when the trolley passes their table, and the waiter will place the food on the table and mark down its price (depending on whether it is a small, medium, or large dish) on a piece of paper already provided. Other restaurants allow customers to pre-order the dishes from a printed menu.
Dim sum is usually prepared by steaming and frying, among other methods. The size of the dim sum are generally quite small, with three to four pieces to a dish. It is an affordable meal: for five people expect to spend around $40-$50. Usually loud and vivacious, dim sum restaurants are good places to chat with friends and relatives while enjoying a good meal. The best way to enjoy dim sum is in a large group, so there is the opportunity to sample several different varieties and tastes of small dishes instead of filling up on a few items.
Types of Dim Sum
Dim sum restaurants usually serve a wide range of dim sum, and ingredients include beef, chicken, shrimp, pork, and vegetables. Although most traditional dim sum contains meat, vegetarian options are commonly offered in restaurants as well. As a culinary art form, dim sum is aesthetically pleasing and equally tasty. Because most dim sum is rather complex to make and requires much “heart”, skill, and time, most Chinese families prefer to go out to restaurants for their dim sum. However, our fast paced lifestyle has impacted this tradition and there are a number of “fast food” dim sum places offering quick meals or bags of dim sum to bring home.
Shrimp Dumplings (har gow) – shrimp filling, wrapped in translucent rice-flour skin in a half-moon shape; dim sum connoisseurs often judge a restaurant’s dim sum by the quality of their har gow
Steamed Barbeque Pork Buns (char siu bau) – soft, fluffy and white, these buns are a favorite among frequent dim sum goers
Lotus Leaf Rice (law mai gai) – glutinous sticky rice that contains egg yolk, chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage wrapped in a fragrant lotus leaf and steamed
Spring Rolls (chun guen) – rolled inside a delicate flour skin and fried, they contain ingredients such as carrots, pork, shrimp, and Chinese mushrooms and are eaten with soy sauce
Rice Noodle Rolls (cheung fun) – can be steamed or fried, they can be filled with either roast pork, beef, shrimp or are available plain, and are eaten with soy sauce or peanut sauce
Pork and Shrimp Dumplings (siu mai) – a dim sum staple, these round steamed dumplings contain a shrimp and pork filling that peek out on top through a thin yellow rice-flour wrapper
Custard Egg Tarts (dan tot) – sweet treats made with egg custard baked in a flaky crust, they are the most popular dessert dim sum
Thousand Layer Sweet Cake (chien chang go) – this delightful dessert is made with several thin layers of sweet egg cake