A Beginner’s Guide to Dim Sum

Dim Sum is one of the reasons I am so grateful to have lived in Asia for eight years – my family LOVE dim sum, and most weekends you will find us in a Chinese restaurant at lunchtime chowing down on a selection of dumplings.

Beginners guide to Dim sum

What is Dim Sum?

Dim Sum, which translates as “to touch your heart”, is the Hong Kong locals’ favourite way to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or lunch with family and friends. This Cantonese specialty consists of several traditional snack-type dishes, including steamed or fried dumplings, buns and pastries, all served in small bamboo steamers or plates.

Each serving is small, just three or four pieces, and so ideally a selection of dishes are shared amongst friends. Dim Sum is traditionally washed down with copious amounts of Chinese tea, hence the alternative name for eating Dim Sum “yum cha” (literally “drink tea”).

How do you eat Dim Sum?

When serving tea, make sure you fill the cups of your fellow diners before yourself, and if you run out of tea, simply tip the lid off your teapot and leave it ajar to let the waitress know you need a refill. Traditionally you should tap your fingers (pointer and middle finger) on the table when someone else serves you tea – handy if you have a mouthful of dumplings, but a simple “thank you” will also do!

Going for dim sum can be a fun experience for kids too, with the procession of little dishes appearing on the table. My kids love the char siu bao (barbecue pork buns) particularly, and shrimp dumplings, spring rolls and egg tarts are also a hit.

Traditionally, dim sum was served from steaming carts laden with bamboo steamers, which were pushed around the restaurant by waitresses shouting out their wares. Nowadays you are more likely to find a list with tick boxes on your table for you to fill in and hand to the waiting staff.

Dim sum carts
Traditionally dim sum was served from steaming carts

What to Eat at Dim Sum

Here are a few popular dim sum dishes to look out for:

Har Gao – steamed shrimp dumplings

Char Siu Bao – steamed barbecue pork buns

Char Siu Sou – baked barbecue pork pastries

Cheong Fun – steamed rice flour rolls, commonly filled with pork or seafood

Lo Mai Gai – glutinous rice stuffed with chicken, chinese sausage and vegetables and wrapped in lotus leaves,

Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai steamed pork dumplings filled with soup

Siu Mai – Steamed dumplings, usually made with pork and shrimp and topped with fish roe

Phoenix Claws – a.k.a chicken feet

Egg Tarts – baked pastries filled with egg custard

Custard Buns – steamed buns filled with custard


Visiting Hong Kong soon? Check out our pick of the Ten Best Restaurants in Hong Kong for Dim Sum.

5 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Dim Sum”

  1. Great information. Many a time have I stood in front of a selection of the tiny gems and wondered what was in them. This will help.

  2. Very nicely explained, I was introduced to dim sum in San Francisco, my husband is Chinese from Hong Kong. I love these different types of dishes. I was raised in Indiana and Arkansas so this was all new to me. After 45 years I can tell you I’ve ate so many different types of Chinese food that the western world would never think of eating. I loved almost every one of them. But Dim Sum is still up top with my favorite. We now fix those little jems at home besides eating out. Two thumbs up on explaining the dishes so others can try them.


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