(Picture of a cute robot USB card my sister bought in HK)
Merry X'mas from Hong Kong and I hope you received something as cute as my sister's robot USB card pictured above. Let us celebrate with a post on dim sum and proper dim sum etiquette. Dim sum (literally meaning "touch the heart"), which is also known as Yum cha (literally "to drink tea") is a Cantonese dining experience where a wide range of dishes are put on a cart and pushed to your table for ordering. It's only served from the morning until afternoon time... so you must be an early bird to enjoy this speciality. For many Cantonese, dim sum is a weekly family day where the entire family spends some quality bonding time together. The typical image of dim sum includes 1) an old man dining with his bird cage after doing Tai Chi at the butt crack of dawn and 2) the hustle and bustle with loud chinese women shouting the dishes they have in their cart and pushing them to your table.
The loud Chinese women pushing carts image, however has slowly been changing in both the U.S. and in Hong Kong. Many new dim sum restaurants are trying to attract customers by taking a more upscale approach to yum cha[ing]. Restaurants are now getting rid of the carts and letting customers order on a menu and check off all the dim sum they want copying the Jack in the Box logo of "we don't make it til you order it." The dim sum is made fresh after the order, making it more fresh because it hasn't been sitting in some Chinese lady's cart for the past hour and also making it more hygienic since random Chinese people don't go poking and touching the food while trying to flag down these dim sum cart ladies. Chinese people really like to poke and touch food to see if it's fresh. It's bizarre and super weird so I'm kind of glad this new system is now in place. These new style dim sum places are a tad more expensive, but at the same time you know where you can still go to find cheap, loud Chinese ladies & people that like to poke and fight over dim sum.
Place one is Farm House Restaurant in Causeway Bay. What's great about this place is their their side dishes they give you before your dim sum comes is super delicious as pictured in Top box 1 and 2. It's just like Korean banchan- free refills til you fall over. Though they have the typical dim sum, we chose to order the more unique dishes. Box 3 is a tofu dim sum roll. Box 4 is a sausage dim sum. Bottom box 1 is a steamed turnip cake, which is an alternative to the typical fried turnip cake always found in dim sum places. Box 2 is Farm House's famous xiao long bao. Box 3 is chocolate sponge cake. This place is scrumptious!
Place two is Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tidbits. I had to admit that I was extremely hesitant going to this place my Aunt recommended in Happy Valley (跑馬地) just because I noticed a huge amount of non-Chinese in the table in front of us and to the side of us once we were seated, which you can see in the above 2 pictures. Usually the rule of thumb is to run if you see any non-Chinese in supposedly Chinese restaurants. Were we about to eat fried wontons and Panda Express? I was very worried and scared. The decor of this place was super cute and very Hong Kong. Picture on the left is their old school kitchen and picture on the right is their walls, which are filled with old school Hong Kong advertisements. Very cool... but how's the food?
Here we have the typical Ha gow/Shrimp dumpling (Box 1), xiao long bao (Box 2), lotus leaf rice (Box 3), and abalone and chicken in a puffed pastry shell (Box 4). And... to my surprise... it was delicious. The Lotus Leaf rice and the abalone chicken pastry were the standout dishes.
The next batch of dim sum included Gai lan/Chinese Broccoli (芥蘭) wrapped in ham (Box 1), Siu Mai (pork dumplings) & a pork dish (Box 2), Fried milk (Box 3), and a hot fungus with red dates dessert (Box 4). All in all- pretty delicious, plus it's hard to make fried milk dishes good so bonus points for that.
Some Dim Sum Tips & Etiquette
Tea drinking is also very important in dim sum[ing]. It is also customary to pour tea for others during dim sum before refilling one's cup. Cantonese people usually thank others for pouring tea for them by tapping their index and middle finger, which symbolizes "bowing" to them because it is similar to bowing to someone in appreciation. Legend says that this practice started when an Chinese Emperor went to dim sum with his friend outside the confines of the palace trying to blend in as normal folk in disguise. During their dim sum meal, the Emperor refilled his friend's cup with tea and the friend was overcome by the Emperor's action and quickly got up to bow, however not wanting to reveal their disguise, he tapped his fingers on the table instead.
Another tip is as soon as the tea arrives, to fill one tea cup and use the boiling hot tea to sanitize your utensils. Also make sure that if there are people at your table who will not be drinking tea, let the servers know because many places charge you a price for tea per person. Also, a quick, fast, and in a hurry way to get your tea pot refilled is to lift the lid partially open. This is an automatic sign that your tea needs refilling. There's a legend of why they do this as well... but I can't exactly remember it in full right now. Something about a bird and its feathers falling... Anyways...
Also worth nothing is that there are typically at least 5 different types of tea to choose from when dim sum[ing.] If you had too much fried foods, the best tea to choose would be Chrysanthemum to relieve the effects of those foods. And since we are on the subject of tea, if you ever get a chance, go try some 开花茶 which is flowering tea, my favorite! It's a small bundle of dried tea leaves and flowers that are bound together with a thread into a ball so that when it's soaked in hot water it expands and unravels in a process that looks like a blooming flower. Picture above.
Happy Yum Cha-ing!