Ever get confused with the different dumpling names as they are all either in Mandarin Chinese or in a Chinese dialect? We know, it can be pretty frustrating – especially when you are in-charge of ordering. We thought this beginner’s guide to the most commonly consumed dim sum in Asia will do you some good, and they include many of the more popular ones Hong Kong egg tarts to the well-loved Shanghai Xiao Long Baos.
It is actually pretty fun to dissect your dim sum (mentally, of course) and to know what each piece is made of, right? They may be of the simplest ingredients, but these exquisite bite-size delicacies are ever popular with the world for many reasons. We had so much fun understanding more about them as we put this guide together for you.
Feel at ease the next time you visit a dim sum restaurant with our Beginner’s Dim Sum Guide to 15 Essential Dim Sum You Must Try.
#1 SIEW MAI
A siew mai is essentially minced pork and/or prawn wrapped up in a thin sheet of lye water dough, only exposing the top side of the filling, and steamed until cooked before serving. The filling of this dumpling is traditionally mixed in with herbs and seasonings such as chives, soy sauce and sesame oil.
#2 HAR GAO
First introduced and created in Guangzhou, China, the Har Gao is a traditional Chinese steamed shrimp dumpling that features a translucent layer on the outer side to hold the inner filling of minced shrimp. This dim sum staple is usually served alongside the siew mai.
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#3 CHAR SIU BAO
The char siu bao is a freshly steamed bun that contains barbecued pork. The bun is traditionally made in two ways – steamed or baked. In Hong Kong, they created the char siu bo lo where the exterior is made with a crunchy pastry exterior instead of a bread bun. Either way, we love a good BBQ pork bun.
#4 EGG TART
Primarily served as the Hong Kong version in dim sum eateries, the Egg Tart is a popular choice as a dessert or snack around the world. This tart consists of egg custard cupped with a flaky pastry layer. In some instances, the custard is flavoured such as Pandan Egg Tarts or Bird’s Nest Egg Tarts.
#5 BAKED CHAR SIU SOU
Similar to the Char Siu Bo Lo buns but instead, wrapped up in a puff pastry exterior that is made with lard or shortening. The Char Siu inside may be cooked with extra flavours from shallots or various sauces for an enhanced taste.
#6 STEAMED GLUTINOUS RICE WRAPPED WITH LOTUS LEAF
Wrapped up in lotus leaf before steaming, the inside of this popular dim sum dish generally contains sticky rice, chicken, shiitake mushrooms and salted egg yolk. There are different variations of it around the world but this is the basic and most commonly used one.
#7 STEAMED CHICKEN FEET
Chicken feet are fried, the braised before steaming with black bean sauce to extract all the flavour into the skin surrounding the bones in the feet. The process is long, but the end result is a dim sum dish so flavourful that it is a crowd’s favourite in many Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong.
#8 STEAMED PORK RIBS
This dish is also made by steaming marinated small cubed pork ribs and steaming them with fermented black beans, chinese rice wine and a variety of other spices and ingredients. In some traditions, they are consumed alongside white rice and the pork ribs are saturated with juicy flavours after steaming for hours.
#9 GUO TIE
The guo tie or pot stickers are essentially pan-fried pork and chive dumplings. These dumplings are cooked by steaming first, then fried on only one-side to bring out the flavours of the fillings. Pot Stickers are traditionally eaten with ginger in vinegar sauce.
#10 FRIED CARROT/RADISH CAKE
Served in most dim sum restaurants, these cakes are made mainly with radish or carrot and steamed before pan frying for a crispy outer layer.
#11 BEANCURD ROLL
The inner pork filling is wrapped up in a layer of beancurd or tofu skin before either deep-frying or steaming it. In some variations, the beancurd roll can be filled with different ingredients such as fish paste or chicken instead.
#12 CHEONG FUN
Cheong Fun is a rice noodle roll originating from Hong Kong. There are various ways of serving this roll. In Singapore, it’s served simply with sweet sauce and chilli. The Hong Kong-style Cheong Fun is sometimes stuffed with minced barbecued pork or shrimp, and drenched in light soy sauce.
#13 SALTED EGG YOLK CUSTARD BUN
Runny salted egg yolk custard is housed inside a warm fluffy bun. There are also a few variations of this crowd-favourite bun – some use duck eggs and some use coconut milk inside the custard to enhance the overall flavour. The molten custard should flow out when you break the bun open, if served freshly steamed.
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#14 PRAWN ROLL
The prawn roll is usually served as a dim sum this way – prawn diced up and marinated before wrapping in tofu skin then deep-fried to a golden brown. More often than not, this crispy prawn roll is served with a mayonnaise dip.
#15 XIAO LONG BAO
As one of the most popular dim sum dumplings ever, this Shanghai-originated dish consists of a thin flour skin wrapping up minced pork with a rich pork broth. One bit into, the warm broth will rush out and you will have to sip it in quickly. The Xiao Long Bao is usually served with a side of sliced ginger and vinegar.
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