The first thing to know about Dim Sum is that drinking tea (yum cha) is essentially mandatory with your meal - and for good reason. Tea is a superb digestive aid, as well as being used for hygiene purposes by diners.
If you watch the Chinese around you, you’ll see that before actually pouring the steaming brew into their cups, most will use it to wash their bowls and chopsticks before eating. As soon as you sit down, you’ll be brought a full pot, though in more upmarket Dim Sum restaurants, you’ll be offered a choice of teas which might include chrysanthemum, oolong or pu-erh. Dim Sum is typically a breakfast dish - though nowadays you’ll find restaurants packed for brunch, lunch and even later in the afternoon before the menus are switched to offer more substantial fare.
Next comes the difficult part - choosing your food. Most restaurants will have paper slips on the table for you to fill out, ticking off the Dim Sum you want ordered - many places have over 150 different options. Waitresses will also wheel round trolleys from which you can nab dishes you like the look of. Here are a few classics:
Cha siu bao - The filling in this pork bun consists of a rich barbeque-flavored stewed pork. There are two varieties: steamed and baked. The steamed variety is light and fluffy, while its baked counterpart is glazed and cooked until golden-brown.
Tofu skin roll - Usually steamed, these rolls are often filled with bamboo shoots, carrots and other vegetables.
Har gau - Shrimp steamed in a translucent flour roll
Pai gwo - Steamed spare ribs in sticky black bean sauce
Cheong fan - Steamed noodles that can wrapped around a range of fillings, often beef or shrimp and come in a sweet soy sauce.
Seong hoi siu lung bao - Originating in Shanghai, these are steamed buns filled with a rich broth.
There’s also a sweeter side to Dim Sum which offers some unique desserts well worth a try. Mong guo bou din is a thick mango pudding usually made from chunks of fresh mango and evaporated milk. Dou fu fa consists of smooth silken tofu topped with ginger or jasmine syrup, while jin deui are delicious deep-fried dough balls filled with red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds traditionally eaten around Chinese New Year.