Beyond siopao and siomai: Dimsum A to Z

By Stanley Ong See 30 August, 2017

Part of my personal as well as ChinoyTV’s advocacy is to educate non-Chinoys to everyday aspects and facets of Chinese-Filipinos. One of the best and certainly yummiest way is through food. Chinoys, like our Filipino brothers, love to eat and certainly count dim sum/dimsum (點心) as one of their favorites.

While casual fast food joints offer their versions of steamed siopao with either asado or meatball fillings and even siomai, there are other dishes that are included in this type of Cantonese cooking (and other origins) - small bite-sized portions of food served in steamers/bamboo baskets or small plates - and are best eating with a pipping hot cup of tea. 

Asado - also known as char siu (叉燒, Chinese) or cha siu (Cantonese) is a versatile barbecued pork ingredient that used in a variety of dimsum dishes like siopao and rice noodle roll or Cheong Fan (腸粉) and dishes like congee, noodles, and even for rice toppings.

Cheong Fan.

Bao - bao or pao (包) literally means wrapped in Chinese and refers to meat or filling wrapped in either a flour or rice dough or wrapping. Char siu bao (叉燒包) is probably the most famous and eaten type of bao, while Xiao long bao (小籠包), while technically can be eaten during Yam cha (飲茶), traces its origins from the Jiangnan (江南) region of Mainland China.

Char siu pao.

Condiments - a teaspoon (or tablespoon if you want) of chili oil and two pieces of calamansi will go a long way. Use black vinegar for dishes like Xiao Long Bao, congee, or soups.

Dessert - one of the few dimsums that can be eaten after more savory ones is sesame ball, or more popularly called by its local name buchi (煎堆). Aside from mung bean (monggo) paste, lotus paste is also used as filling.

Eat them while their hot - the number one rule when ordering steamed dim sum; aside from flavor and texture, temperature plays a big role in your yum cha experience. Fried dishes like taro puff, Haam Seui Gok/Ham Sui Kok (鹹水角), and radish cake can be eaten at room temperature.

Beef ball.

Feet - refers to chicken feet (鳳爪), a dish that is prepared by first deep frying the feet, then steaming, and finally stewing/simmering them in sauce and spices.

Guangzhou/Guangdong - Guangzhou (广州市 or Canton) is the capital city of Guangdong (廣東) province and is the birthplace of dimsum. Aside from this Southern China region, Hong Kong and other countries like Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia serve yum cha and dimsum

Hoisin - a very versatile thick sauce that can be considered as Chinese barbecue sauce. Perfect companion of meats like asado/char siu, roasted pork, and even Peking duck.

Lo Mai Kai (糯米雞) and Machang (肉粽) - Lo Mai Kai and its cousin Machang are essentially complete foods. Seasoned glutinous rice with meat toppings: chicken for the former and pork, chicken, sausage, mushroom, and egg yolk for the latter are wrapped in leaves before being steamed. A few drops of chili oil or ketchup goes well with both.

Lo mai kai.

Puff - as in Taro Puff. The taro layer is made by mashing the taro root before being stuffed with meat and sauce. Deep fried before being served at room temperature, it is ideal to eat them instantly as they do not reheat well.

Taro puff.

Radish cake (蘿蔔糕) - also called Turnip cake is made shredded radish, plain flour, and optionally other ingredients like dried shrimp, shiitake, sausage, or ham. Cut into rectangles, pan-frying is the most frequent preparation of radish cake.

Radish cake.

Steamed - there are a number of words that starts with the letter “S” that we can associate with dimsum: siopao, siomai (燒賣), spare ribs (排骨), sharks fin, and even shrimp dumpling or Hakao (蝦餃). All of them are heated and cooked by the power of steam inside bamboo baskets.

Sharks fin.

Tea - it wouldn’t be yum Cha without some form of tea involved. Most local Chinese restaurants serve brisk or Oolong (烏龍茶) tea while more upscale establishments pair dimsum with the lighter Jasmine (茉莉花茶) tea.

Vegetables - not all dimsum need to be filled with 100% meat. Kutchay or kuchay (韭菜) dumplings use Chinese chives as one of the main ingredients together with pork.

Wonton - is closely related to dumplings as both basically use the same ingredients (flour wrapper, pork and shrimp filling) but is usually boiled and served with soup and noodles or as a fried side dish.

Zhou - more popularly known as congee or rice porridge (粥), while classified a type of dimsum, is not really eaten in the Philippines as a partner of tea during yum cha. Considered to a be good breakfast or brunch option, congee or lugaw can be made with plain, chicken (arroz caldo), goto (beef tripe), and other varieties.

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