Monday, December 5, 2011

Dim Sum Primer

Chinese New Year Foods
I grew up in Sydney (which has a huge asian population) and it's very common for everyone (asians and non-asians) to go to Yum Cha or Dim Sum as it is called in Europe and North America. Pretty much everyone goes semi-regularly. It's quite a magnificent thing - the restaurants are huge. And I mean huge. They seat upwards of 1000 people and the decor is over-the-top gilt Chinese at its best.

If you think you don't like Chinese food, think again. This is nothing like the Chinese food you think you know. No sticky lurid sauces with "Chicken Balls". It's real, authentic Chinese, or more specifically Cantonese, food.

What you'll see at a good places is hundreds of women pushing silver carts. The carts can be piled high with bamboo steamer baskets, can house griddles where they stir fry lovely things on the move, or have vats of boiling water (yes! on wheels!) where they can freshly cook you some lovely chinese greens! As you get a dish off a cart they stamp a box on card with a tiny circular stamp. The men are strictly waiters ((feminism hasn't quite made it here!) and they will get you drinks. The women who are dressed up in Cheong-Sams are the matriarchs and will take your money. Feudalism rules.

You'll start off by ordering tea. At good places you'll have a choice. Jasmine Tea is nice. One person must serve everyone at the table before themselves. If you want more tea, you must at least put a dash in everyone else's cup. As someone serves you tea, you tap your index finger on the table. If you do this in front of Chinese peeps, you'll get some major brownie points.

If you live in a big city, this is probably what you'll see. You'll be able to gesture that you want to take a look in their cart if they don't speak English. However, here in North America you often have to order off a menu which makes it very intimidating for the newbie. So I thought I'd do a bit of a primer so you too can experience one of my favorite cuisines!

Bamboo Nation
These are Ha-Kau (pronounced Haa Cow) and are small dumplings containing shrimp and garlic. There are many, many variations on the fillings, though Ha-Kau is the most common. Basically anything that looks like this (with the whisper thin white dumpling skin) is a good bet. My favorites have snow pea shoots, garlic and shrimp. You won't find any strange animal parts in these, so order with abandon! You could always ask you server for Ha-Kau and ask if there is anything similar if you can't actually see the things!

Goodies First
These are Cheong Fan (Chong-Faan). It's a slippery rice pancake steamed and then filled with yummy things - Shrimp, Pork. I recommend you get Cha Sieu Chong Fan which is Chinese BBQ Pork.

Wired Destinations
Now these are actually Dim Sum or Siu Mai (See-ooh My). It's prok and shrimp mined together and wrapped in a wonton skin. Very yummy.

Goodies First
Turnip Cake. I'm not sure what the Cantonese is for this, but get it. It's not actually turnip, but radish and is yummy. Often it has little bits of pork or shrimp in it. Trust me on this one.

Serious Eats
 These are Cha Siu Bao (Chaa See-ew Bow) or Chienese BBQ Buns. Everyone loves these. The dough is quite sweet. Kids especially dig these. Just don't eat the rice paper on the bottom of them!

Serious Eats
Now this just wouldn't be a Dim Sum post without the scary Chicken's Feet pic. I know it's gross, BUT if you can get over the grossness, order them. They are wonderfully melt-in-the-mouth and the sauce is to die for. Just don't get the white yucky steamed ones. If you can eat escargot, then order these. You won't be sorry.

Goodies First
This is either Almond Jelly or Coconut Jelly. Either is awesome and a nice clean way to end your meal.

For more on Dim Sum, check out this great post over at Serious Eats.

I'd love to hear about your virgin Dim Sum experiences!

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