The week-long celebration of the Lunar New Year is right around the corner (Saturday, January 28 to be exact), and what better way to celebrate half of my genetic history than with a salute to one of my favorite Chinese meals – dim sum. And yes, I said week-long celebration. Officially the holiday is celebrated for 7 days, but unofficially some may begin the celebratory activities as early as three weeks before hand (wouldn’t it be nice if we celebrated the New Year for three weeks, nevertheless 7 days – hint hint corporate America).
Originally a Cantonese custom, dim sum is a classic meal typically served in the mid-morning/early afternoon on the weekends (hello origin of brunch), and it is comprised of bite-sized food served on small plates or in steamer baskets. While I have been dining on the tradition my whole life, some are new to the concept. For all the newbies out there, below is some advice for your first venture into the world of dim sum:
- It’s Tea Time – dim sum is a marathon, not a sprint. Tea is an excellent digestive that pairs well with the meal. The concept of dim sum originated as snacks in the early tea houses throughout China so naturally the two go hand-in-hand. It’ll also help alleviate feeling like you have a Buddha bod and allow you to take the extra bite.
- Dump Your Picky Eating Habits – a lot of what you’ll see being pushed around are dumplings. You can find classics like pot stickers, or feel free to branch out on some har gau (translucent shrimp dumplings) or siu mai (open-faced steamed shrimp or pork dumplings). Dim sum is not a time to be picky, after all you typically order by pointing to the dish you want versus a menu so stop asking questions and just eat. (Pro tip: utilize the spicy chili sauce to enhance each bite, but not too much).
- Love Your Buns – bao buns (prounounced like to “bow down”) are a serious staple of dim sum. Some restaurateurs have even taken the concept and run with it, opening stores that simply serve bao buns with a variety of fillings. The most loved buns are the traditional BBQ pork buns. The breading is incredibly soft and light, and the pork filling is the perfect semblance of savory and sweet.
- Roll Up with Your Homies – rolls are not a blacklisted word in the dim sum community. We love our rolls, especially the rice noodle ones filled with beef, pork or shrimp smothered in sweet soy sauce (we’re talking cheong fan here). While the food is important, it’s also about who you are sharing the meal with. So choose your feasting friends wisely for this one-of-a-kind bonding experience.
- Be Rice – rice pairs well with Asain food no doubt, but order the lo mai gai. The sticky rice combined with pieces and flavors of chicken, sweet Chinese sausage, mushrooms and scallions wrapped in a lotus leaf will trump just your basic white rice and even fried rice any day. (Pro tip: the lotus leaf is not for eating).
- Don’t Skimp on the Sweets – but do you ever skip out on dessert? No. So why start here? A fan favorite in my family are the egg custard tarts. They look like mini pies with a flaky pastry-like crust filled succulent sweet, yellow eggy filling. Often times our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we are quite full by the time these roll around, so order them early in the meal or get a bag of them to-go.
For a further breakdown of the dim sum menu and illustrations of dishes, visit here.
Suggested places to grab sum food for thought
- Canton House
4825 Buford Hwy NE, Chamblee GA 30341
- Oriental Pearl
5399 New Peachtree Rd, Chamblee GA 30341
- Singing Bamboo Chinese Restaurant
2845 N Military Trail, West Palm Beach FL 33409
- Hong Kong City BBQ
5301 N State Rd 7, Tamarac FL 33319
- Kon Chau
8376 Bird Rd, Miami FL 33155
- MingHin Cuisine
2168 S. Archer Ave, Chicago IL 60616
2100 S. Archer Ave, Chicago IL 60616
- Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers St, New York NY 10013
(also located in the Nolita neighborhood & Philadelphia)
Have sum suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!