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Dim Sum: Chinese "Fast" Food

Updated on February 18, 2011

Dim Sum -- The Perfect Lunch

Dim Sum restaurants all over the world serve the delicious, Cantonese small-eats over the lunch hour. Each small dish is shared family style with all eating together. Usually, eating is a loud, energetic experience. The food is brought out in small, bamboo steamer baskets with three or four bite-sized pieces of food in them. The bamboo steamer containers are stacked up high on hand-pushed carts. Restaurant workers push the carts around while yelling out the contents of the containers. When the food interests the patrons, they flag down the cart and the restaurant worker serves the dish.

Patrons have a wide array of dipping sauces for their bite-size food, ranging from basic soy sauce to spicy mustard and chili paste.

There are several categories of food in the steamed containers as well as other foods that are fried and otherwise cooked.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) | Source
Steamed Pork Dumplings (Xiu Mai)
Steamed Pork Dumplings (Xiu Mai) | Source

Steamed Dumplings

The most popular type of food served in the bamboo baskets are steamed dumplings. The two most common dumplings served are the shrimp dumpling (har gow) and the pork dumpling (xiu mai). These tend to be the most popular among both native Cantonese and "foreigners." The shrimp and ground pork for each of the dumplings are both wrapped in a rice sheet and steamed.

There are also many other types of steamed dumplings served for dim sum.  They include:

  • vegetable dumplings
  • shark's fin dumplings
  • pork dumplings with soup in them
  • crab dumplings
  • beef dumplings

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns
Steamed BBQ Pork Buns | Source

Steamed Buns

Another popular or common type of food served in the steamed bamboo baskets is the large variety of buns or bao served during the dim sum hours.  The filling of these buns range from the most popular Chinese BBQ pork buns to creamy egg custard buns.  Sometimes, you can also find ground chicken or beef balls in the buns as well.  The Chinese BBQ pork flavored buns are usually a favorite among toddlers and children.

Egg Tart (Dan Tat)
Egg Tart (Dan Tat) | Source

Baked Tarts and Other Desserts

Dim sum lovers also enjoy a variety of desserts during their lunch.  The most popular dessert is the baked egg custard tart (dan tat).  This dessert is often sold out at popular dim sum restaurants so you have to order it early.  The egg custard tart is slightly sweetened and contains a creamy custard in a pastry tart. 

Other desserts in the dim sum repertoire include sticky rice balls filled with lotus paste or red bean paste.  Sometimes they are also stuffed with sesame paste and slightly coated with powdered sugar, sesame seeds or dried coconut.

Miscellaneous Items of Interest

There are a myriad of other items served in dim sum restaurants that are worth trying if you've never experienced this style of eating before. These include:

  • Fried turnip cakes with dried shrimp
  • Rolled rice noodles with shrimp or Chinese BBQ Pork filling, in soy sauce
  • Steamed sticky rice and chicken in lotus leaf
  • Chinese broccoli or Chinese spinach stems / leaves in soy sauce or oyster sauce
  • Spring rolls

If you've never had dim sum before and are feeling adventurous over the lunch hour, look for a restaurant that serves these scrumptious bite-sized morsels and enjoy!!

A Dim Sum Experience


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