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The real, traditional Cantonese dim sum


hzrt8w
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Nowadays when you go to a dim sum restaurant, you can see all kinds of items carried out on dim sum carts. Many non-Chinese diners simply think that's part of the "dim sum" experience. But this is quite far from the truth. Many of the items you see sold in dim sum restaurants today are simply not real "traditional" dim sums. But if the patrons like them, why not? The restaurant operators would be happy to carry those items. They would sell you slices of cheese cakes or apple pies from a dim-sum cart if there is enough demand.

I am judging from my own experiences - dating back to the 60's on what I ate and saw in dim-sum restaurants in Hong Kong and Guongzhou: two of the most populous cities in Canton.

The traditional:

Har gow (shrimp dumplings)

Siu mai (pork dumplings)

Steamed beef balls

Steamed spareribs

Cha Siu Bao (steamed BBQ pork bao)

Nor Mai Gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves)

Steamed Chicken feet

etc.. (the list is long)

Those are traditional, "real" dim sums.

Now...

Suckling pigs, roast goose, roast pork, barbequed pork slices, jelly fish... no. These are traditionally items sold in Cantonese barbeque specialty shops. But because of popularity, they push them out on a dim-sum cart.

Congee (jook), cheung fun (steamed rice noodles), zha leung (steamed rice noodles wrapping a deep-fried crueller)... well, these are traditionally items sold in "dai pei dong" specialized in making congee. For that matter, soy-sauce chow mein too.

Beef organs: tripes, intestines in a big pot... these are traditionally sold in specialty noodle houses. For that matter: wonton (soup), boiled brocolli, boiled squid or tripe.

Dan tarts (egg tarts), baked BBQ pork baos, cha siu so (BBQ pork pastry): these are sold in western style tea restaurants made by their bakers.

Fried "stuffed" bell peppers, mushrooms, eggplants, tofo with fish paste: these used to be "street food" sold by hawkers.

"Ma Lai Goh" (Malaysian steamed cakes) - imported from Malaysia.

"Dou Fu Fa" (soyamilk custard sweet) - used to be sold only in tofu specialty shops or by hawkers.

Xiaolongbao - sorry, that really is a Shanghainese small eat rather than Cantonese dim sum.

Mango pudding - you think this is Chinese???

As you can see, the real traditional dim-sums have rather limited varieties. As time progresses, the society changed. Food once sold by specialty shops or hawkers on the street are now included in the "dim sum" umbrella. But... food is food, right? Who cares where it came from and what classification it has as long as you can conveniently point and order from the dim-sum cart and have it delivered right to your table, right?

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I'm one of those who want everything, traditional or not. :laugh: Wellll, perhaps not cheesecake. :wink:

With dim sum, I often order a dish of gai lan with a drizzle of oyster sauce, or choi sum. Gota have my veggies. Guess that's not traditional... :unsure:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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What about other steamed items like look fun?

What about deep-fried items like taro puffs or those pork turnover in salty glutinous rice dough (I don't know their name)?

Pan-fried items like lo bok goh?

I remember, fairly early on (1970s) eating dan tart and beef-blood stew (it was cut in cubes and served in a glass bowl) with a Chinese friend at dim sum place in NYC. She felt it was "traditional" at that time.

SuzySushi

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What about other steamed items like look fun?

What about deep-fried items like taro puffs or those pork turnover in salty glutinous rice dough (I don't know their name)?

Pan-fried items like lo bok goh?

I am not sure what "look fun" is.

Taro puffs (croquette) and "ham siu kwok" (the pork turnover you mentioned) are pretty traditional. So is "lo bok goh" (daikon cake) and taro cake.

The traditional ways of making dim sums are: (mostly) steamed, deep-fried and pan-fried.

"Hung Dou Sa" (red-bean sweet dessert soup), "Chi Ma Wu" (black sesame sweet dessert soup): they are quite traditional Cantonese dessert soups, though I don't recall seeing them offered in dim sum restaurants back in the old days (before the 70's).

Maybe the introduction of mobile dim sum carts (with portable burners) really has changed the dim sum "industry". Way back when, dim sums are placed on a rectangular box strapped to a worker's (typically male) shoulder and he would walk around selling baskets of dim sums.

Nowadays, some restaurants set up a "frying station". They would deep-fry anything your want "to order".

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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What about other steamed items like look fun?

What about deep-fried items like taro puffs or those pork turnover in salty glutinous rice dough (I don't know their name)?

Pan-fried items like lo bok goh?

I am not sure what "look fun" is.

Look fun are soft rice noodle dough rolled around a (usually meat or seafood) filling. At least that's what they're called here!

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Also in Australia "dim sum" is often called "yum cha" is there a difference or is the Australian meaning incorrect?

Yum cha means drink tea which means going for dim sum.

Dim sum means the actual food items.

Hom siu gok was "tay" that my Mom would make and deliver in baskets for some elder's birthday. "lam tay - carry pastry" - pastry for lack of a better word at the moment.

Ben Sook might be able to provide a better translation. :wink:

Lo bak goh was more of a tradition for CNY, but I guess it's so delicious that we want to eat it all the time?

Look fun sounds like cheung fun.

There are many versions of siu mai: pork, pork and shrimp, shrimp, nor mai, then there's beef made by Chinese Muslims. Whether they are of Shanghai origin...

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I was eating stuffed cheung fun (steamed rice noodles) in London, UK in my childhood - at least the mid-70s. Did the dim sum scene change so much in just 10 years (from the 60s)?

Best Wishes,

Chee Fai.

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ah! no wonder i like all of these most, save for sticky rice in lotus leaves [however i rather like this version of sticky rice parcels. can't decide which i like more though... beef balls or shrimp dumplings. miam miam... other things mentioned are also nice. i like them as breakfast, something i don't take a couple of hours eating while contemplating the universe. besides, who doesn't like turnip puddy, savoury rice porridge, or cheung fahn[?] / steamed rice sheets

Har gow (shrimp dumplings)

Siu mai (pork dumplings)

Steamed beef balls

Steamed spareribs

Cha Siu Bao (steamed BBQ pork bao)

Nor Mai Gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves)

Steamed Chicken feet

etc.. (the list is long)

Those are traditional, "real" dim sums

---------------------------------------------

and a couple more...

beancurd sheet rolls, squid, another version of cheung fahn?, sesame puff [not a fan of].

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Mango pudding - you think this is Chinese???

Yes, I do. :biggrin:

Today, where else can you find mango pudding as readily as at a dim sum restaurant or a Chinese bakery?

I think the fact that it is called a pudding (布丁) is a dead giveaway. Otherwise it would be a 'goh' (糕) of some sort.

Best Wishes,

Chee Fai.

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Back in the 60's, did they ever push out a cart with a burner and wok?

I've seen this at a few places, and the wok usually contains stir-fried clam or some other mollusc. I wish they would stop trying to bring the kitchen into the dining area.

Edited by Laksa (log)
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Mango pudding - you think this is Chinese???

Yes, I do. :biggrin:

Today, where else can you find mango pudding as readily as at a dim sum restaurant or a Chinese bakery?

I think the fact that it is called a pudding (布丁) is a dead giveaway. Otherwise it would be a 'goh' (糕) of some sort.

Mango pudding might have originated elsewhere, but my point is - I can't imagine eating mango pudding today in a non-Chinese context.

I can't even find this dessert easily in a non-Chinese establishment.

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Like most traditions, perhaps the whole experience of yumcha and the eating of tidbits called dimsum started without a "plan", but evolved and became set as a style of dining. Given that the teahouses of China were popular dating back in the mists of time and became the habitat of gentlemen, scholars, and montebanks alike, I can imagine that all these habituees spent long hours in pleasant discourse expounding on their dreams, schemes and the evils of their contemporary world. It is presumed that these immortal "men of the world" would be afflicted with the same corporeal weaknesses that we mere mortals suffer...getting hungry.

Now everyone knows that exercising the brain and the mouth requires as much energy, collectively, as building the Great Wall :rolleyes: . Now imagine that it is between mealtimes...do you eat another big meal so soon after you have eaten well at home, or so near to the next meal that your wives/concubines have slaved over? (We Chinese men know what pestilence descends on our heads if we refuse our womenfolks' offerings :blink: ) Uhh... no, so you call out to the publican, maitre d', major domo, owner, whatever, and ask for something, a tidbit, a bit of pastry, a bit of meat, whatever, to attenuate the unseemly growling that is emanating from underneath your silk robes.

TA-DA!! the birth of dimsum :raz:

Given the scenario which I presented, I am almost certain that there were no flashing bolts of lightning with the accompanying thunder announcing in one single instant of creation the "MENU" of dimsum items and that these would be forever be called "traditional". Like the scenario suggests, dimsum is and should be constantly evolving, and it is a grand testament to the creativity of the chefs involved that they can continually bring out new items, adapting new methods and ingredients.

I love progress and I am a glutton for dimsum, the more varieties the better.

Evolution...number 9...number 9...number 9.....number 9.....

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  • 14 years later...

Staff note: This post and the repsonses to it have been moved from the Dim Sum, San Francisco topic, to maintain focus.

 

 

I rarely eat dim sum these days. Cantonese food is way down my list of preferred cuisines in China. However, when I have had it, it has never been for lunch. In fact, the dim sum places here are nearly all shutting shop at around 11 am. Yum cha, the event at which dim sum is traditionally eaten is a strictly breakfast or brunch event. They open as early as 5 am and are packed. Also very noisy. Chinese people like a good shout with thir breakfast.

Also, I don't recall ever seeing chow mein being served with dim sum. Not spring rolls often, either. Especially not now. Spring has long gone!

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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6 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I rarely eat dim sum these days. Cantonese food is way down my list of preferred cuisines in China. However, when I have had it, it has never been for lunch. In fact, the dim sum places here are nearly all shutting shop at around 11 am. Yum cha, the event at which dim sum is traditionally eaten is a strictly breakfast or brunch event. They open as early as 5 am and are packed. Also very noisy. Chinese people like a good shout with thir breakfast.

Also, I don't recall ever seeing chow mein being served with dim sum. Not spring rolls often, either. Especially not now. Spring has long gone!

I saw plenty of spring rolls at yum cha in Hong Kong, but never chow mein.  In fact, i don't recall any kind of noodle anything?

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24 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I saw plenty of spring rolls at yum cha in Hong Kong, but never chow mein.  In fact, i don't recall any kind of noodle anything?

 

When in the year was that? I more often see spring rolls at the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). I'm not sayig they never appear as dim sum, but not that regularly round here.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

 

 

 

When in the year was that? I more often see spring rolls at the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). I'm not sayig they never appear as dim sum, but not that regularly round here.

It was summer - it was really hot that year also - about 35-38C every day!  It was the end of June/beginning of July.  We spent a little over a week in HK and had yum cha every day - each time at a different place so we were able to go to most of the major players there at the time.

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3 minutes ago, KennethT said:

It was summer - it was really hot that year also - about 35-38C every day!  It was the end of June/beginning of July.  We spent a little over a week in HK and had yum cha every day - each time at a different place so we were able to go to most of the major players there at the time.

 

Obviously not there, but here and around - I always see various cheong funs on the menu or on carts. did you notice that there?

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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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6 minutes ago, KennethT said:

It was summer - it was really hot that year also - about 35-38C every day!  It was the end of June/beginning of July.  We spent a little over a week in HK and had yum cha every day - each time at a different place so we were able to go to most of the major players there at the time.

 

35-38℃ is normal. I've never eaten dim sum on HK. I can only talk about what I have seen and eaten here. But, as I said, Cantonese food isn't my favourite. Sadly the city is about 50% Cantonese!
 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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20 minutes ago, weinoo said:

 

Obviously not there, but here and around - I always see various cheong funs on the menu or on carts. did you notice that there?

We had tons of them in HK.  That was actually our introduction to them and it quickly became one of our favorites.

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