Dim sum refers to a style of Cantonese food prepared as small portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. A dim sum restaurant session was about tea appreciation once upon a time. Eating dim sum at a restaurant is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea", as tea is typically served with dim sum.
These days, in many parts of Southern China, and in Hong Kong in particular, it's become a weekly ritual family meal, generally taken on weekend mornings.
Here is a list of popular dim sum dishes.
Har gau (steamed shrimp dumplings): Translucent shrimp dumplings with a wheat starch skin that's cut with tapioca to give it extra stretchiness and translucency. Pork, scallions, and bamboo shoots are often used to flavor it.
Chiu-chao fan guo (steamed dumpling with pork, shrimp, and peanuts): A crunchy, fresh-tasting mix of shrimp, pork, and peanuts, often flavored with cilantro and crisp chunks of jicama. These are awesome if you're looking for a unique textural experience in your dumplings.
Siu mai (open-topped steamed pork or shrimp dumplings): Open-topped steamed pork and/or shrimp dumplings made with a wheat flour wrapper, they often come topped with fish roe or grated carrot, or occasionally a single pea.
Cha siu bao (steamed barbecue pork-stuffed buns): The classic steamed yeasted buns stuffed with Chinese-style barbecue pork. The dough has a soft, dense crumb similar to American sandwich bread, while the filling is savory and sweet.
Lai wong bau (custard-filled buns): Steamed buns with sweet milk custard filling.
Shanghai steamed buns: These buns are filled with meat or seafood and are famous for their flavor and rich broth inside. These dumplings are originally Shanghainese so they are not considered traditional Cantonese dim sum. They are typically sold with pork as a filling.
Cheong fan (rolled rice noodles): One of our favorite dishes, fresh steamed rice noodles are rolled around a variety of fillings, most commonly beef, shrimp, or pork. They come drizzled with a sweet soy sauce.
Zhaliang (fried, noodle-wrapped crullers): An interesting variant on cheong fan, in this version, the slippery steamed rice noodles are wrapped around crispy, savory fried crullers flavored with soy sauce. Get them fresh and eat them fast to maximize that crisp, slippery and tender contrast.
Pei guen (fried tofu skin roll): Tofu skin, the thin layer of coagulated soy proteins that forms on top of the vats used for heating soy milk in tofu production-is used to wrap various ingredients, such as shrimp or chicken before being deep-fried.
Other Meat-Based Dishes
Fung zao (fried steamed chicken feet): Also known as "phoenix talons," these are made by deep frying chicken feet until they become puffy and inflated, then are stewed in a sweet and savory sauce flavored with fermented soy beans. They have a unique, spongy, tender texture.
Ngao yuk kau (meatballs): Steamed beef meatballs served with simmered tofu skin, they're often flavored with Worcestershire sauce.
Pai gwut (steamed ribs): Small sections of pork rib that are coated in starch then steamed with fermented soy beans until they get a moist, slippery texture. They've got bones, so careful when you bite down!
Other Vegetable Dishes (But Not Vegetarian)
Lo bak gou (turnip cake): Shredded daikon radish is mixed with rice flour and flavored with ham, sausage, shrimp, or other vegetables before being pressed into cakes and fried. They're called turnip cakes, but are technically made with radish.
Taro cake: Like the Lo baak gou, but made with starchy taro. Soft and somewhat chewy on the inside, it gets a crisp crust from frying.
Lo mai gai (steamed glutinous rice ): One of the more filling dishes on a dim sum menu, it's made by steaming sticky rice flavored with chicken, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and/or scallions in a lotus leaf, though you'll often find it wrapped in a banana leaf instead.
Daan taat (egg custard tart): Classic Hong Kong style egg tarts, they're similar to Portuguese egg custard tarts, but with a stronger egg flavor. The crust can be flaky or shortbread-like.
Jin deui (fried glutinous rice balls): Made from glutinous rice powder, these balls have the stretchy, chewy texture of Japanese mochi (which is essentially identical). They get coated with sesame seeds and deep-fried until they puff, and are then piped with a sweet filling like lotus paste or red bean paste.
Do fu fa (tofu pudding): Soft, silken tofu served with either a ginger or plain sugar syrup.