A beginner's guide to dim sum - types & recipes

01. November 2023

Our guide to the most popular dim sum on Chinese restaurant menus and how to make a couple of them at home.

What does dim sum mean?

Dim sum originated in Canton, China and can be likened to how the English take afternoon tea or the Spanish have tapas with sherry. They are essentially small bite-sized snacks which were served with tea to weary workers and travellers to see them through until they have their main meal. Nowadays Chinese people tend to eat them on weekend mornings for a long brunch.

In dim sum houses, a whole variety of steamed, baked and fried snacks are served from trolleys stacked high with bamboo steamers which is then pushed around the restaurant for diners to select from. You can keep ordering more whenever they come past and simply pay at the end for what you had. Sharing is advised!

Examples of dim sum

Here is a snapshot of the most common types of dim sum to get you started, but there are many, many more! Serve with plenty of Kikkoman soy sauce for dipping!

Siu mai (open pork or prawn dumplings)

These dumplings are not sealed and have a cup-like appearance so you can see the minced pork or prawn filling inside.

Har gau (steamed prawn dumplings)

These dumplings have a very thin translucent skin which is made from wheat flour and tapioca to make it extra stretchy. They are prettily pleated on one side.

Cheong fan (rolled rice noodles)

Steamed rice noodle sheets rolled around various fillings such as mixed vegetables, prawns, pork and beef and sprinkled with sweet soy sauce.

Potsticker dumplings

A vegetable of minced meat stuffed dumpling with a thickish wrapper which are part-steamed and part pan-fried until crispy on the outside.

Char siu bao (bbq pork buns)

Fluffy cloud-like steamed buns stuffed with slices of Chinese barbecued or roasted pork seasoned with soy sauce, sesame and oyster sauce.

Spring rolls

Deep-fried crispy rolls made from a thin pastry wrapper which is filled with anything from vegetables to prawns to minced meat.

Sesame prawn toast

Minced prawns coated with sesame seeds spread on dainty triangles bread which is then deep-fried.

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