“Shall we go for dumplings?” is an invite I’ve had with increasing frequency of late. Don’t get me wrong, I always want to go to eat dumplings. It is just that dim sum (of which dumplings are one variety) are at best misunderstood and at worst bastardised.
So, with that in mind, here is a breakdown of Chinese dim sum – what to look for, what to avoid and how to sound like you know what you are talking about.
Dim Sum Decoded
In truth, dumplings are confusing. The best way to get your head around the different types is to divide them by cooking method. Dim sum can be steamed, fried or boiled. Steamed varieties are called dumplings and buns; fried are called potstickers; boiled are called wontons.
Then there is also a category of dim sum that are not wrapped and are usually the more texturally challenging options – think chicken feet, offal, pork ribs and things baked into cakes.
Fast Fact : Dim sum is a brunch food. Yes, you’ve been living a lie. In China, dim sum are traditionally eaten after morning exercise together with endless cups of tea. It’s only in the West that they are a dinner food.
What You’ve Been Eating and What to Order Instead
You’ve been eating: Steamed dumplings filled with anything-and-cream-cheese. It’s time to stop with the Franken-fillings! This includes the butternut-and-feta and salmon varieties.
Now you will order: Har gow (crystal prawn dumplings) – the same translucent casing with the real deal filling. Or better yet opt for Siu mai (open-faced pork and shrimp dumplings); they look a little ugly but they are so delicious.
You’ve been eating: Fried dumplings (no further description usually given on South African menus).
Now you will order: Gyoza. Although Japanese, we are including them because we live in a dim sum wasteland and we have to take what we can get. Available steamed or fried, the fried (potsticker) variety are the best.
You’ve been eating: Char sui bao (steamed pork buns).
Now you will order: Char sui bao – the combination of sweet barbeque pork and soft, fluffy steamed dough cannot be improved on.