The Dim Sum Guide

After my last Eat article on dim sum, the magazine asked me to come back with a second piece, a how-to guide for eating dim sum.  As usual, this is not comprehensive; we are not living in Hong Kong, so there is no need to follow every tradition and particular down to the letter.  There is no need to show off by drumming our fingers the right way on the table when the tea is poured.  The main thing is to go, enjoy ourselves, and have a great meal with friends.

As I said previously, going with friends is essential.  The small items served are best shared among many people so that a number of different dishes can be sampled.  Also, the sense of a social occasion pervades the atmosphere in a dim sum dining room.  There should be loud conversational noise and the clattering of dishes.  There should be a small sense of ordered chaos at work.  It has generally been my tradition to go out for a dim sum brunch on New Year’s Day, using the density of the food to mop up whatever champagne is lingering from the night before.  Dim sum is an early day affair.  If you want to have it, you need to go for breakfast or brunch.  Weekends are ideal, because the busier it is, the better.

don mee - pork steam dumplings

When you arrive at the restaurant, you will be seated at a table, either with your party or at a large table with a number of strangers—like I said, this is a communal affair.  The server will show you to your seat and then give you a card with a lot of boxes and prices on it.  All the items that come around are ordered according to a mysterious pricing system.  When you order something, one of the ladies pushing the carts will mark out how much the item is on the card.

It should be noted that every dim sum restaurant I have ever visited had women pushing the carts.  Even at places where the staff was, at other times, uniformly male, it seems that women were shipped in especially for the early dim sum rush.  I don’t know the reason for this, but maybe some aspiring cultural anthropologist can take some notes on it and get back to me.

After you get your card, you will get a pot of tea.  Drink the tea.  Do not order a coke.  Dim sum is rich and heavy food.  Everything that is served is balanced out by taking frequent sips of tea.  When your teapot is empty, just flip the lid upside down and the servers will automatically bring you a new one.  The teapot, as innocent as it seems, is actually at the centre of the meal.

I mentioned before that the best introduction to dim sum is to go to a place with the carts circumnavigating the room.  On each cart will be a variety of items in steam baskets, on plates, or in covered serving dishes.  The servers will tell you what each thing is when they arrive at your table.  My advice is to try everything and see what you like.  I have developed my own favourites over the years, but at the same time I have discovered things I don’t get or enjoy: stewed chicken feet, for example.  Yet, some people love stewed chicken feet.

For this particular article, I stopped into Don Mee’s.  They have cart service running on the weekends.  Other places with carts are listed in the last article.

don mee- cart

Just for the record, I’m listing a few favourites here:

Har Gow:

There are shell shaped shrimp dumplings that usually come in sets of four in a steam basket and are dipped in a red hot sauce when eaten.  Make sure you ask for the hot sauce or they might forget to give it to you.


It took me a while to get my head around siumai, but now I love it.  It is a minced pork dumpling wrapped in a thin sheet of dough.  Again they come in sets of four in a steam basket.

Har Cheong Fun:

This is steamed shrimp wrapped up loosely in a rice noodle sheet and then served on a plate doused in soy sauce.  It is by far the most difficult thing ever to pick up with chopsticks.  The payoff is big if you can manage to get it to your mouth, though.

Steam Buns:

These are the relatives of the buns I mentioned here.  They have a cake like consistency and are usually filled with barbecued pork.  They are a delicious meal unto themselves.

Deep Fried Squid:

To me this is the holy grail of dim sum.  Often the squid will come around piled onto a large plate and will be doled out to you with tongs.  Sometimes the individual servings are already organized on plates.  They appear like an overcooked sea monster, its tentacles thrashing up petrified into the air.  Eat it with a side dish of hot sauce and enjoy.

Sticky Rice:

This is glutinous rice, stuffed with meat and mushrooms, and then wrapped up in leaves and steamed.  The rice itself is sweet and, when the juices from the meat soak through, the dish becomes an addictive drug.  It is good to get the sticky rice, though, because it will add a texture balance to all the dumplings.


As I said, though, it’s best that you go and make your own discoveries.


Don Mee’s Seafood Restaurant


538 Fisgard Street

Victoria, B.C. V8W 1R4

t. 250.383.1032


Regency Palace Seafood Restaurant

328 Centre St S

Calgary, AB  T2G 4X6

(403) 777-2288

Written By:

Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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