One of the most popular Chinese dishes among tourists and locals alike is the famous Dim Sum. Not actually a single dish on its own, Dim Sum are petite portions of steamed dishes traditionally served together with tea. Literally meaning “to touch the heart”, some of the most endearing dishes in Chinese cuisine, fall under the category of Dim Sum.
The art of drinking tea was known is known as Yum Cha (lit. Drinking Tea). The Chinese have always taken great pride in their tea and tea houses were a popular spot to unwind in ancient times. Dim Sum evolved from this culture, as a light snack to accompany the tea.
The creation of Dim Sum is credited to the people of Canton, who inhibit the southern port cities of Guangzhou and Hong Kong. They were the traditional traders and scholars, during those times the Cantonese settled overseas to open their own businesses, hospitals, schools and of course restaurants.
Most Chinese found outside China today are Cantonese (with the exception of Singapore, which was and still is dominated by coolies) and the dish can be found commonly at Chinese settlements throughout the world.
Back in the early 90s, it was actually rare to find decent Dim Sum in Singapore apart from a few pricey restaurants. Due to lack of patronage from locals, small shops didn’t survive long. The standard of living has improved slightly though and with greater spending power comes a new insatiable desire for good food. The boom of dining options also means that that Dim Sum shops aren’t nearly as rare anymore.
These photos were taken from Wan Dou Sek (Found To Eat), the name a pun on the location of the shop at 126 Sims Avenue. It is just one of the many new Dim Sum shops opened by new immigrants at the red light district in Singapore.
Instead of the fancy, overpriced restaurants, these smaller roadside stalls, serve as a throwback to the traditional tea houses from ancient times. The location also means that patrons can enjoy more touching before or after their meal.
Modern day Dim Sum differs slightly from its traditional counterpart. Apart from certain defining staples, stores specializing in Dim Sum also carry their own signature dishes. It is also no longer unusual for Dim Sum to be eaten as a full meal.
The most iconic Dim Sum dish has got to be the Shu Mai (lit. Cook Sell). They are ground pork dumplings wrapped in yellow dough. The most common Cantonese version is also filled with shrimp and Shiitake bits. The ones here are particularly good. Savory, yet light enough to leave you wanting more.
Har Gao (lit. Shrimp Dumplings) is another staple Dim Sum dish. It is common ordered together with Shu Mai. Har Gao also contain ground pork and shrimp but their defining feature is the translucent starch “skin” wrappers. Har Gao are best savored after dipping in soy sauce.
Steamed buns or Pao are savory breads that are often consumed as a meal on their own. The ones served with Dim Sum, are usually of miniature size, such as this ever popular roast pork buns. The barbecue flavored sweet meats are wrapped inside fluffy steamed bread.
If the buns aren’t enough for your daily carbohydrates, you can always consider ordering some rice porridge. The congee is served either plain or with a particular meat. Commonly used condiments include shredded chicken, ground pork, century eggs or even frog. The porridge is often eaten with fried bread sticks known as Yau Ja Gwai.
Fung Zhao or Phoenix Claws are stewed chicken feet in black sauce. It is another commonly ordered Dim Sum dish, though I cannot bring myself to try it.
Chee Cheong Fun are white rice noodle rolls served with soy sauce. It is eaten plain or filled with shrimp or roast pork. The ones pictured here are a more uncommon fried version of Chee Cheong Fun.
As mentioned, each restaurant is bound to serve some of its own specialties. Here are some examples of other bite sized fritters that were available at this shop.
Part of the charm, comes from the lightness of each dish. Dim Sum is best enjoyed with company, allowing you to sample a larger variety of dishes. The servings in each steamer, is usually prepared with 4 people in mind and a single dish will usually cost between $3-$5. When enjoying the delicate bite sized pieces, it is easy to lose count of how much you’ve ordered.
If there was only one meal that could portray the splendor of Chinese cuisine, it would be Dim Sum. If you’re visiting the orient anytime, be sure to savor the chance. The dining experience is bound to leave favorable memories.