Everyone has their own idea of Chinese cuisine, whether it’s informed by adventurous cookbook readings or late night trips to local take-out restaurants. You can get a taste of China’s long history through the cuisine of each region, whose leaping Buddhas, lion heads and lychee pork brims brim with stories from the Silk Road, Portuguese traders and wayward monks. If you travel in China, you should visit Cantonese Dim Sum.
There is unique thrill in entering a Hong Kong dim sum restaurant and seeing the parade of women pushing carts laden with bamboo steamers. Turning up with a rumbling tum? No problem, pick a steamer straight off the cart, like the crowd pleasing, juicy siumai (pork, prawn and Chinese black mushroom dumplings identifiable with an orange spot). Then you can move on to some silky scallop and snow-pea sprout dumplings with a splash of red wine vinegar. Or cheong fun – long folded rice noodles studded with prawns (variations include chicken and bitter melon) and drizzled in sweet soy sauce and shallot-infused oil. At Tim Ho Wan the speciality is baked char siu bao (barbecue pork buns).
Dim sum magic really happens with the atmospheric details – the noisy entourage of carts that accompany the pots of jasmine tea on white tablecloths, a menu card filled with stamps for every dish you have picked, and a cavernous room decked out with red and gold dragons. This is how dim sum restaurants started a millennium ago, as tea houses for Silk Road travellers. Dumplings began as a complement to the tea drinking (literally yum cha, another name for dim sum).