Dim Sum is essentially a Cantonese brunch. In Chinese, it is called “yum cha” which literally means, “to drink tea.” This comes from back in day, when rural farmers would travel along the Silk Road and stop to rest at tea houses. Eventually, the tea houses started to serve food and thus came the tradition of yum cha. It is served from morning til about 3 in the afternoon and it consists of assorted steamed and fried snacks, such as watercress dumplings, shrimp dumplings, Shu mai (pork and mushroom dumplings), chicken feet, beef tripe, and congee (which is a savory rice porridge). The food is served in steamer baskets and usually pushed around in steam carts and servers offer the dishes to the table. The pricing is categorized by Small, Medium, Large, and Special, depending on the item, and is recorded on a grid (which is your check) by each server that brings you your food. The total is then calculated at the end of your meal. In our culture, going to dim sum is something families treat as a family weekend day. In most places in Chinatown and Flushing, dim sum is a little pricier specifically on Saturdays and Sundays for this reason.
The drinking of tea also plays a big role in dim sum. When you first arrive, you are asked what type of tea you’d like. Choices include Chrysanthemum, Oolong, Bo-Lei, or Green tea. This is served in a pot and the proper etiquette is that you always pour tea for others before you pour for yourself. In Cantonese tradition, you thank the person pour your tea by tapping the bent index finger if you are single, or by tapping both the index and middle finger if you are married, which symbolizes ‘bowing’ to them. We were always taught that the kids should pour the tea for the adults as part of having good manners. I have found that places in Flushing (the Chinatown of Queens) offer a wider selection of dim sum than a lot of places in the Chinatown in Manhattan. Wherever you decide to go, going to tea is certainly an experience.