Image by Maya Visnyei
We ate plenty of dim sum while in Hong Kong—and here’s what you should order.
In Canada we are blessed with an incredible variety of cuisine, and it’s often authentic, coming from people who brought recipes from their own cultures when they moved here. We are, it must be said, spoiled for choice, especially in our major cities. Which is why, when I went to Hong Kong at the beginning of the year, I was already fairly familiar with dim sum, the brunch-esque dining experience that has its roots in China. In fact, I grew up with it having spent my formative years in Markham, which is home to a plethora of dim sum options. But, I must say, it was pretty special to be in Hong Kong and get to participate in this meal in a truly authentic way. So I paid attention to what the locals made sure to put on their plates and I followed suit. Here’s what you need to know about ordering dim sum—whether you’re travelling to experience the meal authentically yourself, or you’re ordering breakfast right here in Canada.
Image by Maya Visnyei
First, what is dim sum?
Dim sum is a style of meal, usually defined by small, bite-size options that are often steamed. Although there are different types of dim sum, we’re probably most familiar with the Cantonese style in North America, and it’s what is commonly enjoyed in Hong Kong as well. An older style of dim sum had you sit and choose your plates off of carts that were pushed around the room, but in Hong Kong and in Canada, that’s being replaced by menus and ordering. In Hong Kong, I was lucky to go to Lin Heung Tea House which is considered a must-visit dim sum spot in Hong Kong and still uses the cart system. It’s easy to understand why its so popular—it opened in 1889 and though it has been in several different locations its commitment to traditional dim sum always attracts an audience.
Image by Maya Visnyei
So what should I order?
On my dim sum trip to Lin Heung Tea House, I made sure to ask our guide what most locals order when they enjoy dim sum—here are some of her sugestions.
1. Sui Mai
Sui Mai is typically a steamed dumpling that includes pork or shrimp as the filling. Although there are plenty of styles, in North America (and on my trip to Hong Kong), the prevailing style is Cantonese Siu Mai, which is often garnished with crab roe. At Lin Heung in Hong Kong, sui mai was by far the most popular dish, often getting picked up by hungry who swarmed the moving carts—you have to be aggressive if you want to have a taste. Luckily, I did and it was delicious.
2. Beef Balls
Steamed beef balls are another staple of Cantonese-style dim sum and they are pretty self explanatory, with minced beef and water chestnut making up the bulk of the ingredient list.
3. Shrimp Dumplings
Shrimp dumplings (or har gow) is another dim sum must-have. These steamed dumplings are often found hand-in-hand with sui mai and are transparent dumplings full of shrimp in a pleated shape. While I’ve had plenty of delicious har gow in Canada, I will say that the best I had was in Hong Kong. It seems like a simple dish, but the ratio of filling to starch in this perfectly cooked bite was next level at Lin Heung.
4. Steamed Rice Rolls
Another starchy dish, steamed rice rolls often come in different shapes and sizes and with different fillings, but they’re always on the table at a Hong Kong dim sum spot. They’re soft in texture, and almost look like crepes—though expect a much more glutinous experience. I usually order them with shrimp, but I’ve had delicious versions with mushrooms and meat or even just plain.
Congee, the rice and water mixture that resembles porridge a little bit, is another classic dish in Hong Kong and is often eaten at breakfast or dim sum. When I asked our guide in Hong Kong how it’s usually eaten she said that in the morning you’ll often find a simple congee dish with shredded ginger and green onion, which is how we enjoyed it in Hong Kong.
6. Chicken Feet
I have to admit, this was the first dish I came across that I hadn’t had before in North America. It is however a dim sum staple in Hong Kong and can be found on plenty of menus in Canada.
7. Red Tea or Green Tea
Dim sum is usually served with tea (sorry coffee aficionados). In fact many dim sum spots are actually tea houses. Our guide suggested red tea or green tea while we were in Hong Kong, which is common, but you’ll also find jasmine tea or pu’er tea as options as well.
8. Egg Tart
You may as well grab an egg tart if it’s available. A Hong Kong style egg tart resembles a Portuguese custard tart, and indeed many of the ingredients are probably similar. You’ll find this one leans more into the egg than the sugar though, so expect this tasty treat to be in a category of its own.