A Cantonese specialty, dim sum (variously translated as "dot hearts," "heart warmers" and "heart's delight") is the collective name for a variety of small, delicious snacks. It includes steamed or fried dumplings with meat or seafood fillings, steamed buns, shrimp balls and always a few desserts.
It is the Chinese custom to enjoy these tiny morsels with a pot or two of Chinese tea. Dim sum, or yum cha, as it is sometimes known, has become a tradition on Sunday mornings in most cities with a sizeable Chinese population. The little delicacies are displayed on trays and trolleys which pass by your table, tempting you to try them. Some trolleys are stacked with steaming buns in bamboo steamers, others with hot fried spring rolls and other "wrapped" dishes. The trolleys are brought around constantly so you need take only one or two dishes at a time and enjoy them when they're freshly cooked.
At home, dim sum is a different story: you can’t possibly make the huge selection available to you in a restaurant. Instead choose two or three different dishes—most recipes can be prepared ahead of time, leaving the steaming or frying to be done at the last minute. All you need in the way of equipment is a wok and a bamboo steamer or two. Dim sum dishes can't be left sitting around: hot dishes should be served as hot as possible, and many are accompanied by soy sauce, chili sauce or one of the special dipping sauces on pages 16 to 17.
One or two dim sum dishes make an elegant and surprising appetizer to serve with drinks before dinner, and it is exceptional cocktail food (for a cocktail party of any size, you'll need a helper in the kitchen to keep the food coming). If you are serving a dim sum brunch, allow 8 to 10 bite-sized pieces per person and serve the food on small plates or in the steamers in which they are cooked. Set each place with a small bowl and chopsticks. Serve with Chinese tea.
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