“Do you want to dim sum?” is a common question a dim sum lover would casually ask a family member or friend on a weekend morning. The omission of a verb (go, have, eat, et cetera) in that question keeps it concise and highlights dim sum as more than a meal: it can be a social gathering, an activity, and an unforgettable experience all in one.
So, what exactly is dim sum? Think of it as the Cantonese alternative to brunch. This type of Chinese cuisine originated in Guangzhou in China’s Guangdong province and eventually made its way to Hong Kong (where dim sum has been deeply embedded in its culture). The Cantonese-speaking regions call it yum cha, which directly translates as “drinking tea”.
Dim sum, or yum cha, consists of bite-sized food items served in steamer baskets or on small plates, typically enjoyed with different Chinese teas—an integral part of the meal. Because many dim sum items can be a bit heavy, tea can aid in digestion.
Popular and traditional dim sum picks include har gow (shrimp dumpling), siu mai (steamed dumpling with pork and prawns), cheung fun (steamed rice-noodle roll), char siu bao (barbecued-pork bun), pai gwat (steamed pork spare ribs), and dan tat (egg tart), among others.
If you’re one of the few people who haven’t had the chance to enjoy this type of Chinese cuisine in the city (you’re missing out), it will be helpful to know some dim sum etiquette before you go.
Be sure to make a reservation unless you want to wait 30 minutes to an hour for a table (especially on weekends at a busy restaurant). It’s okay to speak loudly (or yell across the table) during dim sum, because you will be eating in a noisy atmosphere—it’s part of the experience. Always pour tea for others before filling your own cup; if someone pours tea for you, thank them by tapping your index and middle fingers on the table to say thanks. (It’s a practice with history that dates back to China’s Qing dynasty, involving an emperor eating dim sum in public.)
Having good chopsticks skill will also be beneficial, but don’t be afraid to ask for a fork or spoon if needed. Otherwise, the above tips should allow you to enjoy a smooth-sailing experience.
If you feel like you need some handholding, this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival is offering two new events that focus on dim sum: Introduction to Dim Sum and Hidden Gem Dim Sum Tour. Guests will learn about dim sum in Vancouver’s Chinatown while feasting on tasty dishes in well-loved spots. Tickets ($74.95 to $79) and more information can be found online.
For those who don’t consider themselves beginners in the dim sum sphere and would like to try more than just siu mai and char siu bao, here are a few of our picks for tasty and elevated dim sum around town.
Sun Sui Wah (3888 Main Street and 102–4940 No. 3 Road, Richmond)
This Chinese restaurant is known to be bustling on weekends, when the masses come out for Chinese brunch. Besides the traditional dim sum picks, guests will also find little baskets of sticky-rice rolls with minced pork, rice rolls with crispy bean curd and fish paste, and its famous deep-fried squid. Be sure to ask your server if they are offering any daily specials—you don’t want to miss out on a unique dish.
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant (108–777 West Broadway)
You don’t always have to venture into Richmond to find creative dim sum: this multiple Golden Plates winner is known for its consistency and presentation. Executive dim sum chef Garley Leung likes to create new dim sum options, including steamed black-truffle dumplings and crispy seafood rolls. Of course, traditional items like barbecued-pork buns and egg tarts are also favourites at this joint.
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant (101–4600 No. 3 Road, Richmond)
Don’t try to find parking in front of this eatery on weekends, because dozens of other families are doing the same thing. Why? They all want to eat at Chef Tony because this critically acclaimed restaurant serves some of the best dim sum dishes in Metro Vancouver. Its specialty brunch items include shrimp-and-matsutake (Asian mushroom) dumplings, black steamed buns filled with salty egg-yolk lava, and deep-fried taro-and-abalone dumplings. And don’t forget to order the special egg-white custard tarts, which have a silky-smooth interior and a buttery and flaky crust.More