Hong Kong, though once controlled by the British, remains quintessentially Chinese, though its role as a port and trade center reflects a mix of cooking styles from a wide range of Chinese regional cuisines.
As for the food part of the experience, the dim sum chefs' artistry and ingenuity is astounding, for some dim sum dishes seem to defy all the laws of physics and gravity. Even the standard shrimp dumpling—har gau—is a minor culinary miracle whereby a wafer-thin rice-flour wrapping cloaks a baby shrimp and some minced meat. The skin of rice-flour is so translucent that the ingredients can be clearly seen. Soup dumplings are another marvel of culinary engineering in which a portion of soup is magically sealed inside a gossamer skin, and steamed without a drop of leakage.
Although rice flour is a favorite wrapping for dim sum's tasty "small chow" snacks of mixed meats and vegetables, pure vegetable alternatives have enthusiastic fans, and not just among Buddhists and vegetarians. Try some of the beancurd rolls (chuk) to see why. Or experience the firm, flavor-filled pleasures of deep-fried taro vegetable puffs, woo kok.
Another favorite wrapping is the lotus leaf, particularly filled, as in ho yip fan, with steamed fried rice. Some meat dim sum are not hidden glories: see chiu ngau pak is a magical spicy dish of steamed tripe in black bean and chili sauce. Tripe is not everyone's favorite dish, and maybe you would prefer to ignore the chicken's feet and duck's webs that are favorite in Hong Kong.
Do not, however, pass up the chance to try dim sum desserts, which more than make up for the fact that Cantonese restaurant menus contain few sweet desserts. "Thousand-layer sweet cake with egg topping" (chien chang go), a piece of flaky sweetness; nor mai chi or coconut snowballs; or daan sarn, the crisp and sticky sweet cakes topped with almonds are all for the sweet-tooth.
There are many other standard dim sum selections. Trying them is one of Hong Kong's most rewarding and least expensive diversions. The amazing variety is proof yet again that Cantonese cooking is an art form. No wonder the Qing Dynasty emperor came south and visited a teahouse, to sample the new culinary institution of dim sum. Nowadays in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, the expressions vum cha and dim sum are inseparable.
One solution to any problem of drinking tea and eating dim sum is to go to one of the Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong's major hotels during their dim sum service hours. These are usually at lunchtime and all day on Sundays and public holidays. One can make reservations and your party will be assured of a table to itself (neither of these facilities is available at most ordinary dim sum restaurants). There will also be a dim sum menu from which selections can be made. These will be brought from the dim sum cooks' kitchen area by attentive waiters and the whole experience will be a comfortable culinary delight. But it will not be anything like the yum cha that Hong Kong people know and love!
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This page modified January 2007
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