Steamy, hot, juicy, succulent and filling, they burst open with a medley of flavours as soon as you put them in your mouth – if you haven’t guessed it already, I am talking about delicious dim sums, the marvellous bite-sized snacks that are a unique culinary Cantonese creation. Generally steamed in bamboo steamers, pan fried, baked, or deep-fried, these dumplings, buns, wraps, puffs, tarts and stuffed cakes are among the world's finest hors d'oeuvres.
Personally, dim sums serve as my other favourite for lunch, because although filling, they don’t make you feel heavy and lethargic afterwards. Having said that, within a 40 minute lunch break, it’s impractical to travel to a restaurant, beating the crazy traffic in this heat, ordering, dining in and making my way back to work.
Just a few days back, one of my colleagues gave me the sweetest surprise for lunch at work – a beautiful red ‘Yum Cha’ box from Chows, the fine dining Cantonese restaurant’s newest launch containing an assortment of dim sum.
It took me back to my late teen years when I was located in Hang Zhou for a fashion internship. There I got to know that in Chinese custom, locals loved to go to teahouses and restaurants with friends and family, especially during the weekend to unwind over a cup of tea and dim sum served in carts that are pushed around from which diners can order. The drinking of tea is as important as eating dim sum.
Dim sums originated in China thousands of years ago and has grown increasingly popular in the Western world in recent years. According to some sources, they were first made more than 2,500 years ago, as evident in the music and poetry of that time. Although inextricably linked to Cantonese cuisine, the first dim sum is believed to have been made in Northern China and has changed and developed enormously over time. The popular story is that it was created by chefs of the Royal Court many centuries ago as an exclusive luxury, in order to touch the heart of Chinese emperors.
‘Dim sum’ is intimately linked with ‘yum cha’, so much so that the two phrases are often used interchangeably. ‘Dim sum’ literally translates to ‘touch the heart’, which is an ideal way to describe the small, scrumptious, sweet or savoury dishes while the term ‘yum cha’ translates to ‘drink tea’. The small portions were designed to merely touch the heart and not sate the appetite and as such were first enjoyed as snacks.
The filling, pastry and shape depends on the region and climate from which it originates. The tastiest and best, according to many, comes from Southern China, Canton and Hong Kong. Many of the dim sum are classic, their roots inherently traditional, but all are given a uniquely contemporary twist, either in technique or the ingredients used.
Most items come in a serving for four to six, allowing diners to share a good variety of delicacies around a table. Although every restaurant has its own dim sum menu, certain traditional items can be found in almost all dim sum outlets.
My long relationship with dim sums continued even when I returned from Hang Zhou to Melbourne, one of the most culturally diverse cities across the globe. I realised that this Chinese version of Spanish tapas, indeed, has carved its name as one of the top favourites in the world of appetisers. With Dhakaites having demonstrated fascination for Chinese and Thai cuisine (although with a deshi twist) for years, it was only a matter of time that dim sum and many other authentic dishes in Chinese cuisine earned quick acceptance amongst them, once they were introduced.
I have tried Dim Sums in almost all the good restaurants offering them in Dhaka. The dumplings in Hakka Dhaka are alright as part of the platter deals, although they are outshined by the other dishes such as wrapped prawn and hunan chicken in the platter menu. Both Flavors of China and Mainland China do pretty decent jobs with the few different types of Dim Sums they offer to their clientele. It was at Chows that I felt no other restaurant in Bangladesh knows dim sum better than they do; their beef and chive sui mai and crispy prawn cheung fung are to die for. Their BBQ chicken bao as well as steamed mushroom and herb dumplings are also extremely popular to the repeat clients. I’d recommend ordering a Beijing Black mocktail made from blackberry, orange and cinnamon to cleanse your palate. If you want a small trial before going in for the ultimate experience of fine dining there, just get their latest Yum Cha box with assorted Dim Sums for take away; trust me, you will want to go back for more of these delectable delights.