What’s Dim Sum?
Traditional Chinese bite sized delights eaten over brunch with tea a bit like tapas. Dim Sum translates to “Touch of Heart”. Three to Four pieces of each dim sum are served in steamers or on small plates – perfect to share. I like about 4 – 5 individual dim sum just to myself for the perfect lunch.
Dim sum is eaten for breakfast and lunch in China particular in Cantonese cuisine and often eaten out, it takes a lot of preparation to make these bite sized treats so they are rarely made at home. Although frozen one’s are widely available, even in England think of spring rolls, prawn toasties and triangle filled pastries, which look a bit like samosas. Dim sum can also include ribs, fried chicken and rice and the Chinese classic chicken feet.
It’s history is from old Tea houses set up on the Silk Road for travellers to rest and ‘Yum Cha’ (drink tea). The Chinese discovered tea aids in digestion so offered small snacks to their guests. The art of dim sum originated in southern China with the Cantonese, later spreading to other areas around China. Apparently many restaurants in Hong Kong and around the Guangdong province start serving dims from 5am for breakfast. Making the perfect breakfast meal after morning exercise. It is often eaten by family at weekends as a mid morning treat but more and more restaurants are offering dim sum all the way through lunch as well.
It’s an absolute must to try – some of the things are unusual for a western palate like the Fung Chun, which I absolutely love its a steamed rice noodle the size of a lasagna sheet wrapped in sometimes a fried long donut like pastry, but I prefer the BBQ pork, occasionally I’ll go for the prawn or minced beef version – all lavished with a slightly sharpe vinegar and soya based thin dressing. Yum
Then there is the Steamed Pork Buns – whiter than white stuffed buns steamed to a smooth soft fluffiness and filled with my favourite char sui pork – a red marinated roasted pork fillet with BBQ sauce flavours. Red bean paste stuffed buns are also popular but a little sharpe for my tastes.
Something I always order is the Turnip Cake – which is in-fact grated mooli (white radish / daikon) steamed in rice batter with Chinese sausage and other goodies – its always served with chilli sauce and tastes so nice.
Of course there is a good selection of Won Tons and Spring Rolls all fried crispy pastries – delicious morsals. Vietnamese spring roll are made with rice wrappers and usually dipped in egg and deep fried making them soft to the bite. Thai spring rolls are the crisp ones sometimes stuffed with rice noodles but often stir fry vegetables sometimes with mini pieces of prawn and pork. Won tons can be filled with a whole bevy of delights – mainly minced pork, beef or chicken often mixed with herbs, vegetables and onion, sometimes with water chestnuts, prawn or / and ginger. Even the prawn based ones will have minced pork in them. Adding fatty pork binds them perfectly and brings out the flavour of the prawn – which also works the other way round if using a pork base = Bad news for Vegetarians. Won ton pastry can be bought in all Asian supermarkets in the freezer section. Traditionally they are shaped in to money bags but shapes are numerous. You can also bake and steam won tons.
Dumplings – are a slightly different pasty to won tons, usually minus the egg making them pure white and translucent when steamed. The fillings can be the same as won tons only steaming them makes then succulent.
I also like the (Lotus Leaf Stuffed Rice) Glutenous Rice Rolls – you get 2 per portion small 3 inch by 2inch lotus leaf wrapped parcels stuffed with sticky rice, meat and veggies. But don’t eat the leaf – its just to flavour and protection, unwrap and enjoy.
But Crispy Savoury Meat Puffs are to die for – a weird rice dough pastry, very similar to play dough is wrapped around a minced pork mix and deep fried. Its crispy on the outside, yet the dough forms a second sticky slightly chewy layer before the hot pork kicks in.
Thats the thing with dim sum its unlike anything English its tastes and textures are unique, often weird and in the odd case often revolting like the infamous Chicken Feet – if you like a chewy nugget of gristle and fat go for it, try it in a sauce for added flavour!!! I tried it but I didn’t like it so I was allowed to leave it!!! Even licking a black bean sauce off a chicken foot feels weird.
Other Dim Sums inc mini pieces of ribs in black bean sauce, crispy taro pastry puffs (like the meat puffs but lots of crispy bits on top), fried bean curd rolls (a little like a soft spring roll and fried dough), the donut pasty I mentioned earlier, deep fried cuttle fish cakes – – see my replacement recipe below using prawns (who needs to look for cuttlefish!!!) and more more more.
Plus on a Dim Sum menu mixed with the savoury stuff is all the sweet stuff – like mango or coconut pudding, my favourite custard buns (baked buns filled with creamy firm custard), egg tarts, tapioca pudding and soft light sponge cake – if you can fit one in after all that Dim Sum experimenting.
I simply love dim sum and couldn’t imagine a culinary life without them.
Hers’s one of my recipes from my Dim Sum cookery Course – – see my cookery class page for more information
Lodge Farm Kitchen – Cookery Courses
Deep Fried Prawn Balls (12-14)
2 large egg whites
75g pork fat / fatty bacon or very fatty minced pork – minced
450 -500g prawns – minced
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
½ inch grated ginger
oil to fry
- Whip the egg white – until light and just white but not to make a meringue (not stiff, but all white).
- Whisk the pork and prawn in to the whites.
- Stir in the wine, starch, ginger, season well – mix well.
- Meanwhile heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or with caution in a wok to approx. 180*c.
- Carefully place dessert spoon fulls of the mix in the hot oil, turning occasionally until golden all over and floating in the hot oil.
- Drain and serve with a dip.
Recipe by Zena Leech-Calton (c)