July 6, 2020

A short guide to eating dim sum — what is it, what I like to eat, and how to order

Dim sum, directly translated into English, is called “touch the heart”. It was originally a snack that was supposed to be light – you only ate a few pieces of dim sum but it has grown into a breakfast / lunch / brunch. Ever since being exposed to it as a kid, I have always enjoyed it and being from Hong Kong, we eat dim sum almost every single day for breakfast whenever I am there. In fact, when I’m in Hong Kong, usually to visit my Grandma, we have to wake up extremely early because in Hong Kong (and in some other places, it’s slightly cheaper if you eat from 7 – 9 AM in the morning, and then there’s another slightly smaller discount from 9 – 11 AM and then even in some places, there are discounts from 11 – 1 PM).

What makes it so great? I think it’s the fact that you get to taste small morsels of delicious meat, seafood and vegetables and if you are with a lot of people, you can share with others.

How do you order?

Depends on the restaurant. I have seen two different ways to order at Chinese restaurants.

One is that when you sit down at the table, they will ask you for what kind of tea you want and then hand you an order form. The order form looks like an Excel spreadsheet and might have different rows with different price points. As you order each tray of dim sum, the cart lady will use a stamp to put a stamp on the row with the price point of that dim sum you ordered. Then when it is time to pay the bill, the cashier at the front will add up the stamps to figure out what you need to pay. It’s really a smart and transparent way to keep track of what you have ordered because the order form is with you the whole time and you can count how many stamps, i.e., trays of dim sum that you have ordered.

Let’s break down what everything is so that you know what to eat:

Ha Gow (hard G sound) – Shrimp Dumplings

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Big tasty prawns with a translucent, light skin. It’s a staple at every single Chinese restaurant (along with the next dim sum item). A lot of the Chinese restaurants these days have variations in the shrimp dumplings – some come with scallops, some come with chives – all are incredibly tasty.

Shao mai (shao rhymes with how with a ‘sh’ sound and mai is pronounced ‘my’) – Pork dumpling

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Pork dumplings is another staple at Chinese restaurants (staple in the sense that most people will order it). It’s a dumpling that consists of ground pork, shrimp, chinese mushroom, green onion, ginger and wrapped in a lightly coloured dough. I’ve heard that traditionally, the pork dumplings should not have shrimp, it should only have pork but that I’m not 100% sure about.

Cha siu bao (BBQ pork bun) and Lo Mai Gai (Steamed glutinous rice with chicken)

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The BBQ pork bun is the top image and the steamed glutinous rice with chicken is the bottom right (wrapped in bamboo leaves). The BBQ pork bun is bbq pork wrapped in chinese dough and then steamed to cook. My dad says that this is the way to judge a chinese restaurant – by the BBQ pork bun – how big it is, how tasty the bbq pork inside is, and most importantly, how the skin stays together (or falls apart) when you pick it up. You can get BBQ pork buns at T&T too but these ones do not need to be steamed and look a bit different – you can eat these cold or hot.

The steamed glutinous rice with chicken is something that I can’t do justice through words. The glutinous rice is sticky and the chicken is nicely marinated in the rice. The texture is quite a bit different from regular rice and there is not only chicken but sometimes mushroom, chinese sausage, scallions, dried shrimp and a salted egg inside. When I was living by myself, I would often go to T&T and buy two lo mai gai’s, eating the both of them for a quick dinner.

Fong Zao (Fong rhymes with lung but with a ‘f’ sound and zao has a ‘tz’ sound) – Chicken feet in black bean sauce

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Okay, let’s get into some of the more strange or exotic dim sum items. Chicken feet in black bean sauce is something that I’ve always enjoyed – I remember eating it the first time and my parents told me not to eat the bones. I know there’s probably something treacherous about sucking the skin off the chicken feet but that’s what you do! There’s also some tasty cartilage.

Ha cheung – Shrimp rice rolls

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There are different variations in rice rolls – some come with shrimp, mushrooms, beef and others are wrapped around a deep fried ‘chinese’ donut. Sure you can order the one with the fillings you like (both the shrimp and mushrooms are great) but the important thing here is the rice roll and dipping it with soy sauce, sweet seafood sauce or peanut sauce (or all three if you like).

Fen guo – (fen pronounced ‘fun’ and guo pronounced with a ‘gw’ sound) – chiu chow dumplings

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A different dumpling that I liked after eating it for a while – it can contain peanuts, ground pork, shrimp, chives, radish and mushrooms – I especially like the peanuts in this dumpling because it gives the dumpling a different crunchy texture that other dumplings do not necessarily have.

Seen Zhoc Gun – (seen, zhoc kind of sounds like choke and gun rhymes with ‘goon’) – Pork roll

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Ground pork with a tofu bean curd skin wrapped around it. I believe the whole thing is deep fried at first and then covered in a Chinese gravy – similar to how the Japanese create the prawn tempura and then put it in a bowl of noodles. It is almost like a spring roll except without that crunchy exterior.


Oh man, dim sum brings up lots of great memories of my family getting together on the weekends and sharing and enjoying tasty morsels of bite sized meat and seafood. It may be just a meal to others, but to me, it’s a way of immersing myself and upholding my Chinese culture.

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