The Canton region in the south of China perfected the art of dim sum, which was then transplanted around the world by Cantonese emigrants. Originally a midafternoon snack to accompany tea, dim sum is now often eaten at breakfast or lunch. Noodle dishes, steamed buns, fried or steamed dumplings, vegetables, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, soups and even sweets all have a place on the dim sum menu. Though dim sum originated in China, the small-plate concept is popular across a wide span of global cuisines. Spanish tapas, Middle Eastern mezes, Russian zakuski all express the convivial spirit of dim sum in another language. And it’s a great idea for home entertaining—so why not offer some dim sum selections at your next cocktail or holiday party?
There are countless varieties of dim sum, with new ones invented every day. In fact, there’s a teahouse in the Canton region of China that offers two thousand different dim sum on a rotating basis! Here’s a sampling of some of the more common ones you might enjoy:
Dumplings: Savory pork, seafood or vegetable filling wrapped in tender wheat or rice flour wrappers, then steamed, boiled or pan-fried—however they’re made, dumplings are ubiquitous on the dim sum cart. Pork-stuffed pot stickers are pan-fried, then boiled or steamed until tender. Delicate steamed shrimp shumai are wrapped in a thin skin that lets the pink filling show through. Chinese chives often add flavor and color to shrimp or pork-based fillings.
Breads: Bread dough is another favorite way to enclose fillings. The stuffed dough is then baked, pan-fried or steamed. Bao (buns), made from a raised dough filled with savory char siu pork or sweet bean or lotus seed paste, are steamed until light and fluffy. Baked bao are brushed with egg glaze to make a golden crust. Pan-fried scallion pancakes are chewy and satisfying with a flaky, layered texture.
Rice Dishes: Rice and rice flour figure in many dim sum dishes. Sheets of rice flour batter are steamed and wrapped around meat or vegetable fillings, or simply rolled and topped with sweetened soy sauce. Packets of sticky rice mixed with mushrooms, chicken, shrimp and Chinese sausage, wrapped in lotus leaves and then steamed, are fun to unfold, as well as to eat. Thick congee (rice porridge) makes a satisfying breakfast.
Deep-fried Dishes: Deep-frying adds satisfying crunch to breaded shrimp paste wrapped around crab claws. The same mixture, spread on toast triangles and deep-fried, is transformed into the ever-popular shrimp toast. And who doesn’t love deep-fried spring rolls—crisp flour wrappers enclosing savory meat or vegetable fillings?
Meat: Char siu, or hoisin-marinated roast pork, fills pork bao and rice noodle sheets, enlivens sticky rice and is delicious thinly sliced on its own. Pork spareribs seasoned with soy sauce, hot chilies, garlic and fermented black beans before steaming are rich and tender. Though pork is the meat found most often in dim sum dishes, roast duck and foil-wrapped chicken are also favorites. The more adventurous diner can sample tripe, chicken feet and even duck tongues!
Next Week: Dim Sum for Holiday Parties