Dim sum normally refers to little steamer baskets with 3-4 bite-sized delicious morsels in it, but beyond the food itself, dim sum is also a culture in itself. Linked with yumcha, it’s normally the act of getting together with friends and family over breakfast or brunch.
Though it’s not so much a fine dining affair, here in Singapore dim sum has morphed into a casual, on-the-go munchie or a late-night supper option, so dining in a chalau might seem intimidating. Fear not, here are some basic dim sum etiquette to save you from receiving death stares from locals in Hong Kong.
Perhaps though this seems like common sense, accidental faux pass still happens. From basic things to not leaving your chopsticks sticking out of your bowl, to leaving little bits of food stuck to your chopsticks before taking food from the general plate, these are all considered extremely impolite.
As much as possible, using serving chopsticks and spoons is preferred. Should chopsticks prove to be a hassle to use, it’s perfectly alright to request for a fork, rather than to spear your food with a chopstick.
DON’T OVER ORDER
As tempting as it is to order a lot of food, the name “dim sum” means to touch the heart, therefore portion sizes are small to better appreciate the flavour, rather than to spoil the appetite. It’s also much better to enjoy the food while it’s still hot, and rest assured should you still feel hungry, chances are there’s a dim sum trolley nearby.
Like any other Chinese setting, the elders take priority. When it comes to serving tea, it’s done so in the order of age before finally helping yourself to it, whereas when it comes to food, allow the turntable to turn towards the eldest first, before it rotates back to you.
As it’s considered impolite to hoard a dish to yourself, do make sure to ask everyone else if they’d like the last piece. Chances are no one would refuse you if you ask.
When it comes to dim sum, there are many variations and whether you do it traditionally or with a little twist, no one can truly fault you. The Cantonese version focuses more on the freshness of the ingredients used, and how best to bring out the natural flavours.
Do try to reserve the need to add chilli and appreciate the flavour as the chef intended it to be. Only should you really need a kick, ask for their XO chilli instead of the regular sweet chilli.
Instead of verbally thanking your fellow diners, you can show your appreciation by tapping the table with two slightly bent fingers. It’s not a sign to tell the pourer to hurry up, but rather represents the bent knees of a kowtow, and this practice dates back to olden Chinese dynasties.
If you’re out of tea, signal to the waters to top up on water by placing the lid on the handle and the side of the teapot. Should you find it difficult to balance the lid, feel free to place it on the plate the teapot is served on.
In certain places, orders are taken through dim sum trolleys, but in others, they’re very much like western restaurants where a server attends to your table. What’s different is that every table has their assigned waiter, and it’s best to keep track of who they are so you know who to turn to, rather than to call the manager over for a simple request of ice water.
Though less so in Singapore, it’s very much prominent in Hong Kong to wash your utensils before you begin your meal. Cheap tea is provided for you to rinse and scrub your utensils with.
You do so by pouring a bit of tea over your chopsticks and spoon into your bowl and rubbing them a little, followed by turning your teacup on its side and scrubbing it in the bowl. A shared basin is provided to discard the used tea in.