Dim Sum is a cuisine from Southern China’s Canton region that characterizes Chinese food. Dim Sum dishes are small plates of distinct creations made to be shared like tapas. The food is served with Chinese tea and shared with companion. However, what makes “doing Dim Sum” really standout is appreciating the comprehensive experience of tea, food, and ambiance that comes along with it.
After being seated at your table and ordering tea [Doing Dim Sum Right — Tea], there will be a dizzying array of food options around you. Depending on what type of Dim Sum restaurant you are at you may or may not have the time to observe and understand your options as servers are trying to unload their cargo on your table.
Your food preferences are your own, but while there is a huge quantity of Dim Sum dishes, I have compiled below what I believe are the common Dim Sum dishes that are worth trying and/or are must-haves at every Dim Sum outing (number of hungry people allowing). Feel free to comment on any disagreements.
The Dim Sum experience is about sampling a large variety of food: dumplings, steamed and baked pastries, rolled noodles, rice cakes, deep-fried pastry puffs, and various miscellaneous specialty items! Let’s begin!
Dumplings are often referenced to illustrate Chinese appetizers. It is therefore no surprise that some of the Dim Sum must-haves in every visit are the dumpling types described below.
虾饺, XiaJiao, Har-gow, Shrimp Dumplings This steamed dish of juicy, plump shrimp wrapped in translucent rice wrapper is often iconic of dim sum cuisine. Small shreds of minced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts are often tethered with the succulent lumps of shrimp.
烧卖, ShaoMai, SiuMai, Shumai. A combination of pork, mushroom, and shrimp wrapped in a wonton wheat wrapper and steamed to perfection, Shumai is always part of the dim sum table.
潮州粉果, ChiaoZhouFenGuo, ChiuChaoFanGuo, Chu Chow Dumplings. Steamed dumpling with pork, shrimp, peanuts, and cilantro. The savory and crisp filling gives an enjoyable contrast to the soft, tender rice wrapper around it.
韭菜饺, JiuCaiJiao, GawTsoyGow, Chive Dumplings. Often mixed with shrimp paste, steamed chive dumplings contain an explosion of refreshing aromatic flavors.
Chinese Buns and Pastry
Chinese Buns (包子, BaoZi) are filled pastry buns often prepared with various combination of meats and vegetables. There is a variety of pastries both sweet and savory involved in Dim Sum.
叉烧包, ChaShaoBao, CaaSiuBaau, BBQ Pork Bun. Likely the most popular steamed bun, the roast pork bun is generously filled with char siu (pork red roasted with soy sauce, oyster sauce, honey, and five spice). The soft, fluffy dough moderates the savory sweet barbecue pork within.
叉烧餐包, Chasiutsanbao, Baked BBQ Pork Bun. This round and baked variety of the above is glazed with a sweet syrup. The smooth texture and additional sweetness compliments the savory sweet filling for those looking for more flavors in a bun.
菠萝叉烧包, BoluoChaShaoBao, BoLoChaSiuBao, Pineapple BBQ Pork Bun. The is a variation of the Baked BBQ Pork Bun, where instead of a syrup glaze, a pineapple-flavored crust is added above. The crunchy and subtly sweet crust contributes an additional texture and taste to the BBQ Pork Bun.
奶黄包, NaiHuangBao, LaiWongBau, Milk Custard Bun. Soft steamed dough filled with a rich egg-yolk and sugar custard. The sweet, buttery custard made with the addition coconut and condensed milk is simply delightful.
莲蓉包, LianRongBao, LienYongBau, Lotus Seed Bun. Soft steamed bun filled with sweet lotus seed paste. A Chinese bun classic that is known for more than just dim sum cuisine.
流沙包, LiuShaBao, LouShaBau, Golden Lava Bun. This unique custard bun is filled with creamy, runny egg custard filling made from milk and salted egg yolk. When cracked open, the steaming hot filling will flow. Eat this without burning yourself!
蛋挞，DanTa, Daan Taat, Egg Tart. Classic Hong Kong style egg tarts filled with a sweet, eggy custard supported by a flaky, crisp crust.
Deep Fried Pastries
Hot and Crispy on the outside, warm and soft in the inside. These dishes are a must-have if you want a taste of contrasting textures.
咸水饺, XianShuiJiao, Haam Sui Gau, Haam Seoi Gau. Deep fried oval-shaped dumpling made with a rice-flour skin and filled with minced pork and vegetables. This dish plays with contrasting elements using rice-flour that is crisp, sweet, and sticky, while the inside filling is soft, savory, and loose.
煎堆, JianDui, JinDeui, Fried Glutinous Rice Ball. . Stretchy and chewy glutinous rice balls coated in sesame seeds and filled with lotus paste or red bean paste. These rice balls are deep-fried to obtain a puffy shape and crunchy texture.
Rolled noodles are a variety of dim sum dishes with steamed rice noodles wrapped around a variety of meats and ingredients. It can be prepared in many ways.
虾肠粉, XiaChangFen, HaCheurnFan, Shrimp Rolled Noodles. Translucent, slippery rice noodles rolled around plump pieces of whole shrimp and layered with sweet soy sauce.
叉烧肠粉, ChaShaoChangFen, ChaSiuCheurnFan, Barbecue Pork Rolled Noodles. Translucent, slippery rice noodles rolled around plump pieces of char siu BBQ Pork and layered with sweet soy sauce.
牛肉肠粉, NiuRouChangFen, NgauYokCheurnFan, Beef Rolled Noodles.Translucent, slippery rice noodles rolled around savory paste of beef and layered with sweet soy sauce.
煎肠粉,JianChangFen, ZeenCheurnFan, Fried Rolled Noodles. Crispy pan-fried rice noodles fresh off the pan. These are usually pan-fried with dried shrimp, scallions, and carrots and served with hoisin sauce and/or sesame paste.
炸两, ZhaLiang, ZaaLoeng, ZhaLiang. Slippery rice noodles are wrapped around crispy fried dough and topped with scallions, sesame, and soy sauce. The steeply contrasting texture is what makes this dish. This is served with hoisin sauce and/or sesame paste. You want to get these as fresh as possible to ensure the fried dough is crispy.
鲜竹粉圈, XianZhuFenQuan, SingZokFanGuien, Tofu Skin Rolls. Deep-fried tofu kins rolled around shrimp, leek, chicken, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms layered with sweet soy sauce. The crisp texture from the bamboo shoots and tofu skin combines interestingly with the abundance of soy sauce.
Rice Flour Cakes
Mixed with rice flour starch to maintain its shape, these rice cakes mix a variety of minced ingredients into a crispy snack with complex flavors.
萝卜糕, LuoBoGao, Lo bak Gou, Turnip Cake. Shredded daikon radish, rice flour, ham, Chinese sausage, and shrimp are pressed into a cake and pan fried for this crisp and slightly chewy dish.
芋头糕, WuTouGao, WuTauGou, Taro Cake. Savory pan-fried rice flour cake made with taro, pork, mushroom, and Chinese sausages.
Miscellaneous Specialty Items
This section is a cop out from categorizing any further, but generally includes items that are a bit different for those that don’t Dim Sum often.
罗米鸡,LuoMiJi, LoMaiGai, Glutonous Rice with Chicken. Glutinous rice steamed with chicken, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, and scallions, wrapped around a lotus leaf. This savory rice dish wraps an abundance of unique flavors that releases when opened up.
豆腐花, DouFuHua, DouFuFa, Tofu Pudding. Soft, silky smooth tofu served either sweet or savory. The Cantonese preference serves this dish with sweet ginger or plain sugar syrup. Those that prefer the savory version often reference this as 豆腐脑(DouFuNao, TofuBrains) and serve the dish with variations of chili oil, soysauce, scallions, and nuts.
排骨, PaiGu, PaiGuat, Pork Ribs. Small 1/2 inch sections of fatty pork rib coated in starch then steamed with fermented soy beans and chili pepper. It has a moist and slippery texture.
凤爪, FengZhao, FungZaau, Phoenix Talons. Deep fried and steamed chicken claws stewed and simmered in black fermented beans, bean paste, sugar, and/or abalone sauce. They are sweet and savory with a unique, spongy, tender texture.
猪红, ZhuHong, JuHong, Black Pudding. Chinese black pudding is congealed gelatinous pork blood with savory taste and slippery texture. I hear it’s great for circulation and high in iron. Often garnished with green onions and radish.
Aside from the individual Dim Sum dishes illustrated above, Dim Sum restaurants always have menu items available. Traditionally, if the individual Dim Sum dishes don’t hit the spot, the below dishes can be ordered to complete your meal.
龙虾意面, LongXiaYiMian, LongHaYeeMein, Lobster Yi MeinA classic Cantonese stir-fry, Lobster Yi Mein uses a variety of flat Cantonese egg noodle stir-fried with lobster, garlic, and green onions over a chicken broth sauce.
干炒牛和, GangChaoNiuHe, GanCauNiuHe, Stir-Fried Beef Flat Noodles This Cantonese dish stir-fries flat rice noodles with thinly cut beef, bean sprouts, green onions, and soy-sauce using an wok under intense heat.
星洲炒面, XinZhouChaoMian, SingZhaoCauMein, Singapore Noodles Despite its name, this Hong Kong dish is a fragrant stir-fry using rice vermicelli with curry powder, bean sprouts, pak choi, soy sauce, and sliced peppers. Either/or chicken, beef, char siu pork, or shrimps can be added.
炸面, ZhaMian, ZaMein, Fried Noodles. Also known as (两面黄，LiangMianHuang, LeurnMeinWang).Egg noodles are deep fried to a crisp and layered with a thick sauce of beansprouts, mushrooms, snap peas, carrots, and often a choice of seafood (shrimp, squid, fish chips), beef, chicken, or minced pork. The dish must be eaten immediately while the noodles remain crispy.