We stood outside the door of Fresco Dim Sum at Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, eyeing the life size menu covering the restaurants exterior, while patiently awaiting our turn to be seated. A family came out, and in we went, moving past the noise and business of tiny tables placed so close, that you really couldn’t tell one from the other.
We found our spot, a table for three and adjusted ourselves into the cramped space. A waitress placed a large pot of tea, saucers, cups, a large bowl and chopsticks in front of us, without saying a word. The big bowl in the middle made no sense and I gave a “I am lost here” look. Accompanied by a friend from Hong Kong and the mister who had done this previously, I was happy for them to take over and be a silent observer.
And then it began, the ritual.
The cleaning of all utensils. You pour the tea into your cup and bowl and twirl it around, then discard the tea into the main bowl(Ah, so that bowl HAD a purpose 😉 ). You can pour tea over your plate and chopsticks holding it above the main bowl. Once everyone has cleaned their utensils, you pour tea into the cups to drink, first fill everyone else’s cup and then yours. The tea is to be enjoyed with the Dim Sum, and is to be refilled regularly throughout the meal.
What is the Dim Sum really?
It’s bite sized food to be had with tea, like the Spanish Tapas, just with tea instead of alcohol. Traditionally served as small bites in tea houses, the modest Dim Sum has evolved into a meal experience in itself called as Yum Cha, which literally means “drinking tea”.
Dim Sums can be steamed(mostly), friend or baked. Vegetarian and meat based. Sweet and Savory. There are no rules to order one type before the other. In fact, it is perfectly fine to order a sweet dim sum in between the meal.
How to best enjoy a Dim Sum meal?
People and time are essential in my view.
Go in a group so that you can order a lot of variety and sample different things. If you are travelling solo, I would really recommend looking for a food tour to make the most of your experience.
This is not a meal to be rushed or had on the go. It’s the sort of meal which is comforting, with people, conversation and food.
What to expect in a Dim Sum restaurant?
It really depends on the sort of place you go to. The one I mention here is a local place, cramped, loud and busy. The menu had an English translation, because this was Kennedy Town, Hong Kong. Otherwise go with Eenie Meenie Miny mo and cross your fingers 😉 .
Don’t expect perfect hygiene, table linen and cutlery. If that’s not your cup of tea, pick the more upmarket places.
As soon as you are seated, tea and utensils will be placed on your table, which need to be rinsed with tea to take off any traces of grease, as I have shared earlier.
Chopsticks are the way to go but if you are not used to them, I would really recommend carrying a packet of plastic forks in your bag. Over multiple meals and practice, using chopsticks becomes easier but if you are new to it, imagine the frustration of trying to pick up a piece of food and dropping in five times before it lands in your mouth. Ask me. Just not worth it.
If you need a refill of hot water for the tea, just let the lid hang by the side and someone will come and refill it. Don’t shout at the top of the lungs for water, it’s likely no one will understand 😉 .
Order is to be made on a paper form, where you can tick what you want. In many restaurants, ladies will go around with carts of steaming dim sums and stop at your table and take the lid off the basket. If you like what you see, go for it.
Show your thanks to the server when they refill your pot of tea, or to the people you are eating with if they fill your cup by tapping the middle and index finger twice together on the table, as a show of thanks.
And that’s it. Thank me now 😀 .
The Dim Sums I loved (Honestly I could kill for these)
The variety is ginormous and I tried a lot over six meals and different places. I am sharing the ones I absolutely loved and would recommend you to try.
Har gou(Right Most): Steamed Shrimp dumplings, delicate and flavorful.
Siu mai(Top Left): Ground pork, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, wrapped in thin wheat dough and seasoned with Chinese rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Lo baak gou(Middle): Shredded radish mixed with rice flour and flavored with ham, shrimp, or other vegetables, then pressed into cakes and fried. Called turnip cakes as well.
Cheong fan(Top): Fresh steamed rice noodles with a variety of fillings, mostly beef, shrimp, or pork. Drizzled with a sweet soy sauce.
Haam sui gau(Bottom Right): Deep-fried glutinous rice dumpling with pork.
Cha siu bao(Bottom Left): Steamed barbecue pork-stuffed buns.
Lo mai gai(Not in photo, very popular as street food also): Steamed sticky rice flavored with chicken, mushrooms, sausage, served in a lotus or banana leaf.
Fung zao: Fried steamed chicken feet. It’s considered a delicacy, but I just did not have the heart to try.
Lai wong bau(Top): Bao dough stuffed with an eggy milk custard and steamed.
Ma lai go(Bottom): Soft, eggy, steamed sponge cake.
Do fu fa: Soft, silken tofu served with a ginger or plain sugar syrup.
Dim Sum is definitely one of my most favorite foods ever. Would love to know if you have been to a Dim Sum place and what your experience was like.