How to Do Dim Sum Like a Pro

A Dim Sum meal is something that you must put on your to-do list while visiting Asia or a bustling Chinatown like the one found in San Francisco. Dim Sum houses originated in Canton as a place to have a snack, with the meaning of the words being “to eat a little something.” The Dim Sum restaurants we encounter in the West today provide authentic Chinese food on a more elaborate scale, making sure that diners leave sufficiently sated. Here is what you need to know to experience Dim Sum like a pro.

(Image Credit: Chili House SF)

When is a Good Time to Eat Dim Sum?

Traditionally, Dim Sum was created as a snack or tea time meal. Yet, the time of day that the meal is enjoyed varies around the world, with some in China having Dim Sum as early as 5:00 a.m. In the U.S., Dim Sum is often enjoyed as a brunch-type affair, while many Chinese restaurants will serve Dim Sum from lunch time all the way through the dinner hours. As a general rule, if you’re hungry and in the mood for Dim Sum, it’s probably a perfect time!

The Dim Sum Ordering Experience

Ordering Dim Sum can be confusing for novice diners because the experience isn’t like a traditional meal. If you’ve had Spanish tapas cuisine, however, Dim Sum might be similar in some regards. Dim Sum is based on small plate dining that you share with your tablemates.

Once you are seated, you’ll be given a pot of tea for the table. As for the food, it’s going to come rolling out of the kitchen on carts. Your server will offer each person several dishes from the cart that they are pushing, and you can take them or pass. As you take dishes to eat, the server will mark a card on your table that will be used for payment at the end of the meal.

Dim Sum Etiquette Tips

There are several things that you can do to make your Dim Sum dining experience more enjoyable. You also might wish to avoid a thing or two for the sake of good manners. For example, when you pour tea at your table, always fill up everyone else’s cup first before filling your own. If you need more tea, just turn the lid upside down to signal the server. There is no designated server with Dim Sum, but it is good manners to offer help to a neighbor. When someone else at your table helps or serves you, tap on the table as a sign of thanks.

When eating Dim Sum, chopsticks are the standard utensils, but there is nothing wrong with asking for a fork. In fact, it’s ok to ask for many things that you want while having this delicious meal. If you want some steamed rice to go with your food, just ask your server. Maybe you see your favorite dish on a cart across the room. It’s acceptable to get out of your chair and approach the cart with a request.

As you sample these culinary treats, be sure to try some new dishes and experiment. There is no particular order to eating Dim Sum, so you might try a sweet dessert item right before a steamed dumpling or pork bun. The important thing is that you relax, have fun, and bring plenty of family and friends with you to enjoy this unique shared meal experience.


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