There is really no place in the world that does dim sum better than Hong Kong. Once exclusively enjoyed as a family brunch pastime, dim sum has become so popular that diners can now enjoy dim sum at night with friends and as a special treat for visitors at Michelin-starred venues.
Whatever the occasion though, once the table is set and the tea is ready, there are those undeniable favourites that make a complete dim sum line up. Here are twelve that we highly recommend you try.
1. Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gao)
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Never can there be too many baskets of shrimp dumplings at the dim sum table. Variations include shrimp and scallop, shrimp and pea shoot and more, but the plain shrimp har gao is the true classic.
2. Pork Dumpling (Siu Mai)
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Savoury, meaty and often mixed with shiitake mushroom, this timeless dumpling is usually wrapped in a bright yellow skin and topped with crab roe. A more retro version is topped instead with pork liver and can still be found at old school dim sum tea houses.
3. Steamed Rice Rolls (Cheung Fun)
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This classic Cantonese breakfast is not easy to make. The batter has to be just the right consistency and has to be steamed on a large cloth, and then rolled by hand and served immediately. At dim sum restaurants, rice rolls can be stir-fried with soy sauce or stuffed with a variety of fillings like shrimp, beef and bbq pork.
4. Chicken Feet (Fung Jiao)
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Euphemistically called “phoenix claw” in Cantonese, this wonderful steamed dish is marinated in a flavourful sauce of garlic, black bean, wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce and much, much more. Chicken feet are beyond dim sum 101, and apparently wonderful for your skin, according to every Asian mom. Feel free to give it a try if you’re feeling brave. Otherwise, more for your local friend.
5. Turnip Cake (Lor Bak Goh)
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Made with shredded turnip and rice flour batter, the turnip cake is a delicious expression of the humble Asian vegetable. Also popular during Chinese New Year, each household has their own recipe as the batter can be loaded up with dried meats, dried seafood and mushrooms. Enjoy it steamed, pan-fried till crispy or stir-fried with XO sauce.
6. Savoury Deep Fried Dumplings (Ham Sui Gok)
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A more retro recipe, the ham sui gok is chewy, semi-sweet deep fried dough stuffed with minced meat, radish, chives and seasoning. It may look strange at first, but the crispy and chewy combo grows on you, and hardcore dim sum fans will recognise this one in a heartbeat.
7. BBQ Pork Bun (Char Siu Bao)
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Everyone’s favourite steamed bun at dim sum would have to be the bbq pork bun, but did you know that it also comes baked? Give both a try at your next yum cha adventure!
8. Sticky Rice (Jun Ju Gai)
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Steamed in a lotus leaf, this sticky rice dish is usually mixed with chicken, ham, mushroom and other goodies. It will stick to your chopsticks, your plate and your teeth, but there’s nothing more satisfying to share with a friend.
9. Beef Meatballs (Ngau Yuk Kau)
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This classic is beef whipped until springy, then mixed with water chestnut for texture. Enjoy these delightful steamed meatballs with a bit of black vinegar.
10. Custard Bun (Lai Wong Bao)
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Whether it is the classic or the more recently popular lava custard bun, these savoury sweet buns made with sugary egg yolk are the perfect transition into the dessert portion of your dim sum excursion.
11. Steamed Cake (Mah Lai Goh)
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A special note to only order this if the restaurant serves the brown variety rather than the bright yellow. This means that instead of dyeing the cake yellow and adding generic white sugar, the cake is made with brown sugar instead – yum!
12. Egg Tart (Daan Tat)
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Finally, the all-time classic egg tart is no stranger to the dim sum table. Originally popular at Cha Chaan Tengs, this sweet dish is made with either a butter tart shell, or puff pasty shell. Order only if fresh! Nobody likes a cold egg tart.