Entry in progress—B.P.
Wikipedia: Dim sum
Dim sum is the name for a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea. Dishes may include meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. The items are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate. Yum cha (literally “tea drinking") is the term used to describe the dining session, especially in contemporary Cantonese.
The Cantonese phrase dim sum (點心) means literally “touch the heart” or “order to your heart’s content”. It may be derived from yat dim sum yi (一點心意), meaning “a little token”. ("A Touch of Heart” is perhaps the more poetic translation.) Though the English word “dim sum” refers to the Cantonese variety, the idea of a wide variety of small dishes for lunch also holds for other regions of China.
Equivalent terms, such as dianxin in Mandarin, exist in other varieties of Chinese, as a generic term for any of a variety of snacks or small food items. The terms “northern dianxin“ or “Shanghai dianxin“ (dee-shin) have thus come into use. These dianxin are, however, not necessarily Cantonese dim sum, although the two still share the same written script in traditional and simplified characters.
In the US and many other English Speaking countries, the word “Dim sum” is often mistakenly used as the name for Yum cha. In fact, in Cantonese, Dim sum (點心) is just a phrase for wide range of light dishes where Yum cha (飲茶) “tea drinking”, is the process.
In Australia the word dim sim is used for a particular kind of dumpling. Dim sims may have been inspired by dim sum, but are typically ordered with fish and chips.
Travellers on the ancient Silk Road needed a place to take a nap, so teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would also go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks and the tradition of dim sum evolved.
In Hong Kong, and most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many Chinese restaurants start serving as early as five in the morning. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises, often enjoying the morning newspapers. For many southerners in China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. Consistent with this tradition, dim sum restaurants typically only serve dim sum until the afternoon (right around the time of a traditional Western 3 o’clock coffee break); other kinds of Cantonese cuisine are served in the evening. Nowadays, various dim sum items are sold as takeaway for students and office workers on the go.
While dim sum remains a staple of Chinese culinary culture, especially in Hong Kong, health officials have recently criticized the high amount of saturated fat and sodium in some dim sum dishes, warning that steamed dim sum should not automatically be assumed to be healthy. Health officials recommend balancing fatty dishes with boiled vegetables, minus sauce.
The drinking of tea is as important to dim sum as the food. A popular tea which is said to aid in digestion is bolay (pu erh), which is a strong, fermented tea. Chrysanthemum, oolong and green tea can be served as well.
It is customary to pour tea for others during dim sum before filling one’s own cup. A custom unique to the Cantonese is to thank the person pouring the tea by tapping the bent index and middle fingers together on the table.
This is said to be analogous to the ritual of bowing to someone in appreciation. The origin of this gesture is described anecdotally: an unidentified Emperor went to yum cha with his friends, outside the palace; not wanting to attract attention to himself, the Emperor was disguised. While at yum cha, the Emperor poured his companion some tea, which was a great honour. The companion, not wanting to give away the Emperor’s identity in public by bowing, instead tapped his index and middle finger on the table as sign of appreciation.
Given the number of times tea is poured in a meal, the tapping is a timesaver in loud restaurants or lively company, as an individual being served might be speaking to someone else or have food in their mouth.
Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baau, dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart. Having a meal in a Chinese teahouse or a dim sum restaurant is known as yum cha (飲茶), literally “drinking tea”, as tea is typically served with dim sum.
Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Because of the small portions, people can try a wide variety of food.
Dim sum dishes can be ordered from a menu or sometimes the food is wheeled around on a trolley by servers. Traditionally, the cost of the meal is calculated based on the number, size, and sometimes color of the dishes left on the patron’s table (more below). Some modern dim sum restaurants record the dishes on a bill at the table. Not only is this tidier, it also prevents patrons from cheating by concealing or stealing the plates. Servers in some restaurants use distinct stamps so that sales statistics for each server can be recorded.
About.com: Chinese Food
Dim Sum - History, Pictures, Recipes of Chinese Dim Sum
From Rhonda Parkinson
Dim Sum Origins:
Originally a Cantonese custom, dim sum is inextricably linked to the Chinese tradition of “yum cha” or drinking tea. Teahouses sprung up to accommodate weary travelers journeying along the famous Silk Road. Rural farmers, exhausted after long hours working in the fields, would also head to the local teahouse for an afternoon of tea and relaxing conversation.
Still, it took several centuries for the culinary art of dim sum to develop. At one time it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food: a famous 3rd century Imperial physician claimed this would lead to excessive weight gain. As tea’s ability to aid in digestion and cleanse the palate became known, tea house proprietors began adding a variety of snacks, and the tradition of dim sum was born.
Today, dim sum is served throughout China. In The Taste of China, Ken Hom shares his memories of enjoying regional variations of “small eats”: jiaozi in Beijing, pearl balls in Shanghai and spicy huntuns (wontons) in Szechuan province. But, he agrees with others that the best dim sum in China is found in Canton, with its wide assortment of sweet and savory dishes ranging from meatballs to sweet cakes. Still, it is probably true that the best Cantonese dim sum chefs are found not in China but in Hong Kong, where restaurants begin serving dim sum as early as 6:30 in the morning and continue through mid-afternoon.
A Sampling of Chinese Dim Sum Dishes
Char Siu Bao
Egg Custard Tarts
Flower Scallion Rolls (Hua Juan)
Mini Spring Rolls
Potstickers - Vegetarian
Sesame Seed Balls
Sesame Seed Balls - made with Sweet Potatoes
Spring Rolls - Cantonese
Steamed Chicken’s Feet (includes a good recipe for Honey Walnut Shrimp)
Main Entry: dim sum
Inflected Form(s): plural dim sums also dim sum
Etymology: Chinese (Guangdong) dímsām, from dím dot, speck + sām heart
: traditional Chinese food consisting of a variety of items (as steamed or fried dumplings, pieces of cooked chicken, and rice balls) served in small portions
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[Cantonese dím sàm; cf. Chinese dinxin.]
A savoury Cantonese-style snack; a meal consisting of these. Also attrib.
1948 R. W. DANA Where to eat in N.Y. 75 Dim sum varies according to the season.
1952 D. Y. H. FENG Joy of Chinese Cooking ii. 56 The Chinese word for appetizer is deem sum..which means ‘touch the heart’.
1956 B. Y. CHAO How to cook & eat in Chinese II. xxi. 242 Then dishes of tim-sam (Cantonese for tien-hsin), each containing four pieces, are placed before you.
1966 M. GLASER Underground Gourmet 125 Dim-Sum is served continually every day. 1967 New Idea (Austral.) 25 Feb. 20/2 It was all pretty authentic except for the Australian dim sims that went with Chinese beer.
1977 ‘S. LEYS’ Chinese Shadows (1978) ii. 37 The sacred custom..of spending a good part of the morning eating tim-sun (tien-hsin) in the teahouses (ch’a-lou).
New York’s Chinatown
by Louis J. Beck
New York, NY: Bohemia Publishing Company
Pastry, Twelve Cents a Plate or Three Cents Each: --
Dem Sum—(Minced Pork Dumplings).
17 April 1903, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Chinese Gave A Notable Banquet...Oriental Dishes Startle Christian Palates,” pg. 4:
“Dim Sum” sounded like a Latin verb, and in substance was beyond analysis.
22 March 1908, New York (NY) Herald, second section, pg. 6:
MANDARIN GARDEN DEDICATED TO HIGH TEA.
Chinatown Hails New Restaurant, Elborately Fitted—Imperial Standards Rule Cuisine, and Leong Gamm, Lord of Cooks, Directs the Kitchen.
(...) (Col. 3—ed.)
With the beverage are served such delicacies as dim sum, which is a second cousin to steamed sponge cake, and ha kow, a soulful dumpling modelled about an armature of water chestnuts.
Where to Eat in New York
with drawings by Bill Pause
by Robert W. Dana (of the NEW YORK WORLD-TELEGRAM--ed.)
New York, NY: Current Books
The Chinese eat a version of hot hors d’oeuvres known as dim sum (literally, “dot the hearts").
Dim sum is quite different from the regular Chinese fare.
Noodles and Rice and Everything Nice
by the Hong Kong Young Women’s Christian Association
Hong Kong: Local Printing Press, Ltd.
Around one o’clock came “dim sum,” “touch the hearts,” which are small prepared delicacies such as crisp egg rolls, steamed filled dumplings, fried yam patties, noodles, chow mein, etc.
29 April 1952, New York (NY) Times, “News of Food: Chinese Dishes” by Jane Nickerson, pg. 30:
Finally came Lee’s great specialty—yum char or dim sum. These little steamed cakes of rice flour with centers of shrimp, pork, chicken and so on are usually luncheon or snack foods, and Lee’s employs three chefs who prepare nothing but them. Presented last at the party they were something like the savory—say, an oyster in bacon—that used to end an English dinner in happier days as a foil for the last glass of wine.