Hong Kong is the undisputed home of dim sum; those little bamboo baskets are as synonymous with the city as its iconic skyline. Recently, this Cantonese institution has fast become a fashionable cuisine that’s all the rage in cities from London to New York. However, dim sum is more than just a passing trend in this city, so head to an old school restaurant for an authentic ‘Yum Cha’ experience.
There’s a real raw and interactive vibe at local dim sum restos, but amid all the commotion, don’t forget to soak up all the sounds and smells (and the shouting!). We’ve already let you know our fave dim sum haunts and tips in our Dim Sum Guide here, but if you’re still unsure how to identify one dumpling from another, then these adorable illustrations specially made for Sassy from Les Petits Carnets might help you remember!
Shrimp dumplings – Har Gao
Har Gao is the poster girl of Dim Sum, universally recognisable as the face of Canto Cuisine. Despite their dull demeanour, these translucent wheat starch pockets are actually full of succulent shrimp. Mmm… a favourite comfort for many of us at Sassy HQ!
Barbecue Pork Bun – Char Siu Bao
With a more appetising aesthetic, Char Siu Bao is another key dish you can get your hands on at any Dim Sum joint. Dressed a little more conservatively, the exterior of the steamed pork bun is thicker and doughy. Its interior is a pleasantly surprising fusion of sweet and savoury tastes. The BBQ pork filling, accompanied by a syrupy mix of oils, honey and vinegar, could have you confused as to whether this is intended to be a dessert. But fear not, in dim sum etiquette there’s no such rule that dessert must wait until last. So go ahead and grab that egg tart you’ve been ogling – like we needed another excuse!
Pork Dumplings – Siu Mai
Siu Mai is also a dim sum favourite that never goes out of style. The pork, a lot like the shrimp, comes wrapped in the same transparent starch coat. Siu Mai is the dish that is served looking most groomed, usually accessorised with a delicate garnish. For extra decoration you can even see a teaser of the dumpling’s filling poking out the top.
Sticky Rice with Chicken and Lotus Leaf – Lor Mai Kai
Lor Mai Kai is a local favourite that you’ve got to try. Its most striking feature is its lotus leaf jacket that holds in a huge helping of glutinous sticky rice. One of the more filling options on the trolley, the rice is a treasure trove of surprises, most often a mix of chicken and pork. Sadly the lotus leaf is solely ornamental, although it does serve a purpose by infusing the rice with extra flavour.
Steamed Beef Balls – Ngau Yuk Kau
Looking much like an Italian meatball, this is probably the dish you’ll be most familiar with if you’re coming from a Western background. A timeless classic sure to suit everybody, the Ngau Yuk Kau is quite simply a ball of beef. This old girl swears by the ‘what you see is what you get’ mantra and is most commonly complemented by with Worcestershire sauce here in Hong Kong.
Pan Fried Kobe Beef and Preserved Vegetables Bun
Taking dim sum to international heights, the Kobe beef is somewhat of a delicacy. Known for its individual texture and unique flavour, this beef comes from the wagyu cattle of Japan. A dish that’s maybe more familiar to a Western palate, the Kobe beef comes fried and crispy, just the thing to cure that hangover on a Sunday morning.
As for most buns, the chicken bun comes steamed or baked. Made from wheat flour, the steamed buns are fluffy, cloud-like specimens that resemble giant marshmallows. These buns, filled with chicken, are a safe bet for any apprehensive first-timer.
This one is pretty much what it says on the tin. If you like your seafood declawed, prepped, and primed beyond recognition, then steer clear as the claw of the crab is the main attraction of this dish. The crab claws stand out on a dim sum trolley, as they don’t have the starchy dumpling-vibe of most traditional Asian foods. You’ll find the crabmeat bread-crumbed and deep-fried much like Western fast food.
You can’t have Chinese fare without it involving noodles somehow. Leek pockets are half-moon-shaped pastry envelopes that are jam-packed with vermicelli noodles, leeks and egg.
Jade Dumplings – Fay Choy Gow
The jade dumplings acquired their colourful name due to the chives (or green onions), which are visible through their cellophane-like skin. Fay Choy Gow is one of the few vegetarian options on a dim sum menu, aside from a less-tempting plate of Pak Choi. Other ingredients you’ll find inside a Jade Dumpling are chestnuts, asparagus, garlic and ginger. All of which come charmingly wrapped up and presented in a twee parcel.
Mango Mochi Balls
They do say orange is the new pink, which is a relief because Mango is definitely ‘in vogue’ in this city. The Mango Mochi Balls are doughy treats plumped up with mango and mochi and then sprinkled with coconut. For any newbies, mochi also comes courtesy of the Japanese; a sweet ingredient made from glutinous rice and most likely found in confectionary.
Cocount Balls with Peanut
A close relative of the Mango Mochi Ball, these round, rice-dough cakes are crammed with peanut butter in lieu of mango. Often dubbed ‘energy balls’, they provide a filling but tasty treat that satisfies your sugar craving without feeling like you’ve fallen off the wagon.
Fried Sesame Balls – Jin Dieu
Jin Dieu, or sesame balls, are made from chewy pastry that is fried to give it a crispy edge. The hollow of the ball is then filled with one of the many pastes found on the Chinese-cake-circuit, for example, red (or black) bean paste. The outside of Jin Dieu is glazed with sesame seeds, and I hear on the grapevine that this oily nut is believed to prolong youth and beauty – I’ll take 10!
All these beautiful illustrations are courtesy of the very talented Marie Pottiez, copywriter and freelance illustrator.
About the blogger
Part-time foodie and full-time sybarite, I’m a writer and blogger with a penchant for all things I can’t afford. Hailing from the U.K, I came to Hong Kong as a fresh graduate to teach English and subsequently found myself eating and writing my way around the city.
Check out Hannah’s blog, English Exile.
Illustrator, copywriter and, above all, passionate traveler, I left my Parisian life to realise my dream and go see the world. Explore, taste, meet, venture and enjoy. At just 25, I’ve lived in New Zealand, Indonesia and am now settled in Hong Kong. I created my travel illustration website showing excerpts of my travel logs collection, which never stops growing.
Check out Marie Pottiez’s work at www.les-petits-carnets.com.