Mar 16, 2018

Dim Sum: A Parcel of History


Cantonese Cuisine


Dim Sum, is a kind of dumpling, which are culinary treats that date back hundreds of years.  The first mention of dim sums appearing as long as 2,500 years ago, in the music and poetry of that time. Although they are believed to have originated in northern China, they are majorly associated with Cantonese cuisine.


The Canton area lies on the southern side of China and its cuisine is characteristically different from the rest of China. Cantonese Cuisine is one of the eight traditional cuisines of China, and originates from the Guangdong Province of China, particularly the capital of the province, Guangzhou or Canton.


The west has been aware of Dim Sums for a long time. This is primarily because Guangzhou or Canton has been a major trading port for centuries. Dim Sum dumplings, therefore, incorporate a variety of foreign and traditional Chinese meats and other fillings, ranging from pork, beef, chicken, duck, and even frog along with vegetarian varieties.


The Name and Silk Route



The practice of eating Dim Sums began with the old Chinese tradition of yum cha (which translates to ‘drinking tea’). Travellers and traders, when passing through the Silk Route, started their journeys early in the mornings. Since drinking tea had already been a widespread practice in China for centuries and was prevalent even around the time when the Silk Route was active, these travel-weary traders rested and refreshed themselves at little teahouses on the wayside. After a time, Dim Sums began to be served at these teahouses as well, offering the visitors a snack as well as a drink.


Once the Chinese realized tea’s digestive properties, they started having little bites with their tea for breakfast. This was, perhaps, the origin of the Dim Sums. People enjoyed both sweet and savoury Dim Sums of varying shapes for snacking during travel. They were made to be light on the stomach and were intended to be delicious, rather than to sate the appetite.


The traditional yum cha spots still open early in the morning and shut by afternoon. But Dim Sums have come a long way in the last two and a half millennia.



Modernization of the Dim Sum


Once enjoyed mainly as roadside snacks, Dim Sums have now caught the imagination of not only mainland China and Hong Kong, but also the rest of Asia. A vibrant culture of serving Dim Sums in restaurants that run in the mornings, evenings and nights, is becoming increasingly popular. Different regions, over the years, have developed dim sums that are distinct to the area.



Xiao Long Bao or the Northern Dumplings



Xialong Bao, also known as the soup-dumplings or the northern dumplings. These delicious bites are light, steamed dumplings which explode in the mouth in a flood of meaty soup. Traditionally, they can be eaten any time during the day except for breakfast. They are typically served on a bed of dried leaves or on a paper mat, in a bamboo basket, and often served alongside a clear soup and dipped in vinegar before consumption.


These dumplings are unique in that almost all other Dim Sums have dry fillings, of meat or vegetables. The characteristic soup-filled dumplings are created by preparing a gelatin solidified aspic, which is wrapped inside the skin along with a meat filling. The heat from steaming melts the aspic, creating the soup. Modern technology has made preparation of Xialong Bao significantly easier. Refrigeration of the aspic makes it easier to handle and prepare the Xiaolong Bao in summer months, and mass production and cold chains have made it possible for this delicacy to be prepared easily at home.


Xiaolong Bao is believed to have originated from Nanxiang in the year 1875. Nanxian is a town in the Jiading District of Shanghai, earning the name of ‘northern dumplings’ for Xiaolong Bao.



A few choice Dim Sum Restaurants in Hong Kong:



Tim Ho Wan Restaurants, in IFC Central, Olympian City 2, Causeway Bay and Shek Kip Mei


Tim Ho Wan is known for its authentic preparation and fresh ingredients, at reasonable prices. The chef, Mak Kwai-pui, has opened his restaurants in four different locations throughout the city and the popularity of this Dim Sum chain has only increased with time. The queues are literally hours long – testimony to the high quality and taste of the food here!



Yan Toh Heen, InterContinental Hotel, TST


Yan Toh Heen provides a completely different dim sum experience and is highly recommended for first-timers. The Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings is a popular combo that has the crowds queuing up. It includes a dumpling with steamed scallop, black truffles and vegetables, a steamed lobster and bird's nest dumpling, and a steamed dumpling with king crab leg and vegetables.



Fook Lam Moon, Johnston Road, WanChai


Enjoy the superstar experience at the Fook Lam Moon. Not only is the food simply delicious, the service is absolutely unforgettable. The charming staff knows the difference between service and over-service! They will leave you to enjoy the meal with your family, but will always be there whenever you need them. Fook Lam Moon’s signature dishes include the Shrimp Cheung Fun or rice rolls, and Lau Sa Bao.



City Hall Maxim’s Palace, Central


A traditional dim sum restaurant which still follows the old way of delivering dim sums by trollies being pushed around the restaurant and has been in existence since the 1970’s.  With lovely views over the Central harbour waterfront, a perfect place to take out of town guests or local friends for a delicious meal.



Are you hungry yet? Hong Kong is studded with dim sum eateries, large and small, that make it a haven for dim sum lovers. So all you need to do is get out and get exploring! Happy eating!


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