There’s nothing more confusing than a bewildering array of Cantonese dishes (be it steamed, fried or baked) thrust into your face during dim sum outings. Here’s a guide on what to ‘dim’ the next time you go for brunch.
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‘Har’: shrimp; ‘gao’: dumplings
Little steamed packages of fat juicy shrimp encased in translucent rice flour dough with delicate pleats. Usually served in bamboo steamers, in groups of three.
Lo mai gai
'Lo mai': glutinous rice; 'gai': chicken
Lo mai gai is gloriously fragrant and sticky glutinous rice cooked with meats (usually pieces of chicken or pork, and slices of Chinese sausage) and if you’re lucky, shiitake mushrooms. Some dim sum joints still steam them wrapped in lotus leaves.
Chee cheong fun
‘Chee cheong’: pig’s intestines (a reference to the appearance of rolled rice flour); ‘fun’: noodles
A good chee cheong fun is one of the markers of a good dim sum restaurant, and it’s one tough test to get right. Rolls of thin, silky rice flour noodles are usually stuffed with char siu or shrimp (or both), and then served in a shallow puddle of light soy sauce. Recent innovations include crispy stuffing.
Char siu bao
‘Char siu’: roast pork
The humble steamed bun is elevated to a fine art at dim sum kitchens; fluffy dough stuffed with sweet roast pork filling. Because these buns are so fluffy, it usually splits when steamed, resulting in a craggy (some say smiley) top and its other name, ‘smiling char siu bao’.
Xiu long bao
‘Xiu long’: small bamboo steamers
The Shanghainese soup dumpling is a pretty parcel of steamed soup and pork stuffing in paper-thin wrapping, usually served with shredded ginger in vinegar. Nibble a tiny vent to release the steam from the soup to prevent burnt palates or tongues.
Lao sar bao
‘Lao sar’: molten salted egg custard
Before croissants were stuffed with salted egg yolk custard and went viral, there was the lao sar bao. Put one in your mouth and the small bun will pop, releasing a flood of creamy salted egg custard.
Tiny bowls of elegantly constructed flaky pastry shells are filled with sweet egg custard before being baked. Handle with care.
A close contender with har gao for popularity, the siu mai is a partially wrapped dumpling that’s packed with minced pork and shrimp and garnished with crab roe or orange bits (sometimes it’s chopped carrot).
Small but juicy cuts of pork ribs are steamed in its own meaty juices and fermented black bean sauce. There’s just the right mix of fat, meat, sinew and bone to gnaw on.