Every time I thought dumplings and dim sums, I thought of the heart as they are kind of heart-shaped small bites. Interestingly I lately found the meaning of dim sum is "with a touch of heart". How romantic is that? Knowing this, I will definitely include tandoori chicken dim sums for the next Valentine's Day menu, to be rounded off with strawberry mousse dim sum with gold dust as desserts served with exotic rum flavoured chocolate sauce. I remember during college days we would always make a beeline for this Tibetan stall to have coffee and momos. The difference between momos and dim sums lies in the covering. The latter has a much thinner and translucent casing.
In Cantonese cuisine, dim sums refer to food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions, traditionally served in small steamer bamboo baskets.
The history of dim sum can be traced to ancient Chinese traditions when farmers and travellers on the Silk Route after a day's hard work would trek into a tea house to indulge in some snacks along with the refreshing beverage.
The Cantonese in southern China over the centuries transformed yum cha (tea tasting) from a relaxing respite to a unique dining experience. As stated in Wikipedia, in Hong Kong and in most cities and towns in Guandong province, many restaurants start serving dim sum as early as 5am. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises. For many in southern China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day.
Traditional restaurants serve dim sums till mid afternoon in their menu. However, nowadays in most modern urban restaurants, it is treated as a delicacy and served even at dinner.
Over the decades, culinary experts have experimented and invented many interesting variations of these hearty dim sums.
Dim sums can be steamed or fried and even sauteed over medium heat. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish.
Of the traditional fare, the best known are:
Gao: They are made of ingredients wrapped in translucent rice flour or wheat starch .Though common, steamed rice-flour skins are quite difficult to make and require culinary excellence and above all experience. On my trip to China, I specially enjoyed the ones with tofu and cabbage filling.
Har Gao: A translucent steamed dumpling with whole or chopped-up shrimp filling and thin wheat starch skin.
Chiu-Chao: A dumpling believed to have originated in Chaozhou. It contains peanuts, garlic, chives, pork, dried shrimp and Chinese mushrooms in a thick dumpling wrapper made from glutinous rice flour or tand flour. It is usually served with chili oil.
Guotie: Northern Chinese-style dumpling, which is steamed and then pan-fried, usually with tender meat and cabbage filling.
Shaomai: Small steamed dumplings with either pork, prawns or both inside a thin wheat flour wrapper. Usually topped with sauted mushroom.
Haam Seoi Gaau: Deep fried oval-shaped dumplings made with rice-flour and filled with pork and chopped vegetables. The dough covering is sweet and sticky, while the filling inside is slightly salty.
Dumpling soup: Soup with one or two big dumplings.
Bau: Baked or steamed, these fluffy buns made from wheat flour are filled with food items ranging from meat to vegetables to sweet bean pastes.
Char Siu Bau: The most popular bun with a Cantonese barbecued pork filling. It can be either steamed to be fluffy and white or baked with a light sugar glaze to produce a smooth golden-brown crust.
Shanghai Steamed Buns: These dumplings are filled with meat or seafood and are famous for their flavour and rich broth inside. They are typically sold with pork as a filling.
Mantou: Plain steamed bun like cha siu bau without filling.
Steamed Meatball: Finely ground beef is shaped into balls and then steamed with preserved orange peel and served on top of a thin bean-curd skin.
Lotus Leaf Rice: Glutinous rice is wrapped in a lotus leaf into a triangular or rectangular shape. It contains egg yolk, dried scallop, mushroom, water chestnut and meat. These ingredients are steamed with rice and although the leaf is not eaten, its flavour infuses during the steaming.
Taro: This is made with mashed taro, stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork, deep-fried in crispy batter.
So impressed was I when I visited my friend in HongKong with her hospitality and a special gesture when she hosted a dim sum brunch at her home.This signifies a special warm welcome in their culture, she later told me .
A traditional dim sum brunch includes various types of steamed buns, dumplings and a variety of rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), with beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart. At the end, we were served egg tarts as dessert along with fragrant jasmine tea to wash it down.
Egg tart recipe
● 1 cup confectioners' sugar
● 3 cups all-purpose flour
● 1 cup salted butter
● 1 egg, beaten
● ½ tsp vanilla extract
● 2/3 cup white sugar
● 1 ½ cups water
● 9 eggs, beaten
● ½ tsp of rose essence
● 1 cup evaporated milk
● Mix together sugar and flour.
● Mix in butter with a fork until it is in small crumbs.
● Stir in egg and vanilla until the mixture forms a dough. The texture should be slightly moist. Add more butter if it is too dry, or more flour, if too greasy.
● Shape dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, and press the balls into tart moulds so that it covers the bottom.
● Preheat the oven to 230°C.
● Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook until the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
● Strain the eggs through a sieve, and whisk into the sugar mixture. Stir in the evaporated milk and vanilla extract and rose essence.
● Strain the filling through a sieve, and fill the tart shells.
● Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown, and the filling is puffed up a little bit.