Offbeat New York

Want Dim Sum? Want to Know What It Is? It's a Chinatown Treat

(But You Can Get it Elsewhere)

Think finger food -- but use your chopsticks! -- by way of Spanish tapas. Served directly from stacks of bamboo containers atop wheeled carts, and traditionally accompanied by tea, Dim Sum is a sampler's delight. The best-known variety are the steamed or fried dumplings with various fillings, but there's much more to Dim Sum.

Dim Sum is most commonly a breakfast, brunch or lunch meal, and is best enjoyed with a group in order to sample a wide variety of offerings. The dim sum experience is as much about how the food is served as about the food itself. Trolleys filled with several different choices are continuously wheeled out from the kitchen and pass by each table. Customers choose the dishes they want, and the server marks the price on a running tab kept on each table.

You'll recognize dumplings among the offerings, but dim sum is much more than dumplings. Generally steamed or fried, common choices also include barbecued pork buns, spring rolls and rice noodle rolls--all fun finger-type food, served three or four pieces to the dish. Dim sum restaurants usually serve a wide range of dishes, and ingredients include beef, chicken, shrimp, pork and vegetables. Although most traditional dim sum contains meat, vegetarian options are commonly offered as well. Because of this assortment, and because dim sum restaurants tend to be loud and boisterous scenes, it's an ideal meal for a large group of friends or family.

Here are some of the most popular

  • shrimp dumplings (har gow) -- shrimp filling, wrapped in translucent rice-flour skin in a half-moon shape; dim sum connoisseurs often judge a restaurant's dim sum by the quality of their har gow.
  • steamed barbecued-pork buns (char siu bau) -- soft, fluffy and white, these buns are a favorite among frequent dim sum goers.
  • lotus leaf rice (law mai gai) -- glutinous sticky rice that contains egg yolk, chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage wrapped in a fragrant lotus leaf and steamed.
  • spring rolls (chun guen) -- rolled inside a delicate flour skin and fried, they contain ingredients such as carrots, pork, shrimp, and Chinese mushrooms and are eaten with soy sauce.
  • rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) -- can be steamed or fried, they can be filled with either roast pork, beef, shrimp or are available plain, and are eaten with soy sauce or peanut sauce.
  • pork and shrimp dumplings (siu mai) -- a dim sum staple, these round steamed dumplings contain a shrimp and pork filling that peek out on top through a thin yellow rice-flour wrapper.
  • custard egg tarts (dan tot) -- sweet treats made with egg custard baked in a flaky crust, they are the most popular dessert dim sum.
  • thousand layer sweet cake (chien chang go) -- this delightful dessert is made with several thin layers of sweet egg cake.

Here are some places to start in Chinatown:
Dim Sum Go Go
5 E. Broadway

Golden Bridge Dim Sum and Seafood
50 Bowery

Golden Unicorn
18 East Broadway

Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell Street

This information courtesy of Explore Chinatown.
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