Dim sum is a Cantonese custom that you can enjoy at various locations throughout Kuala Lumpur. Dim Sum, literally translated as “to touch your heart,” originated in the teahouses of China but this charming way of dining has made inroads into most parts of Asia and has become part of the culture in Malaysia and beyond. Although it was originally considered inappropriate to enjoy a cup of tea with food, the tradition slowly evolved over centuries as the benefits of drinking tea to aid digestion and cleanse the palate was discovered. Soon, a variety of steamed snacks were added to “yum cha” (tea drinking) and dim sum resulted. Now dim sum can include more than 100 dishes.
Dim sum is usually served early in the morning until 14:00 but as the popularity of it grows, so does the serving time. Many restaurants present the assortment of dishes on a portable trolley tableside, while others present a menu of photographs. Similar to Spanish tapas, dim sum is served in small bite-sized portions in steamer baskets or plates. There is an organised way to eating, with steamed dishes supposed to come first, followed by more exotic choices and ending with deep-fried food.
Among the standard and delicious fare you’ve got to try are har gow (steamed dumplings made in translucent rice flour filled with chopped shrimp), siu mai (dumplings with either a pork, shrimp or chicken filling topped off with crab roe) and of course, bau. Bau are fluffy buns steamed and made from wheat flour with a meat, vegetable or sweet bean paste filling. Steamed fish balls are another good choice but what you can’t forget is the importance of drinking tea with your meal. No Coke or beer at this table — go for chrysanthemum, green or pu-erh (tea fermented for years with an earthy flavor) tea to make the experience as Canton as possible.
To really dine like a Canton, always fill the tea cups of others before doing your own, and if you run out, leave the tea pot lid open but balanced on the edge to indicate needing more hot water. Even if someone’s tea cup looks nearly full, it’s courtesy to fill it just a little more. Pick up items from the steamed basket gently without touching the other pieces. Cantons also don’t fill up their plate as is acceptable in many other Asian cultures, but tend to savour each piece before picking up another.
Enjoying dim sum is all about the atmosphere, so go in groups or with family and enjoy the ruckus. It’s as much a social event as it is a meal, which is why most people partake in it during the weekends and when they’ve got time to kill.
If you’d like to give it a go, Din Tai Fung is famous for its authentic dim sum, served all day in the Pavilion Mall in KL, Lot 6.01.05, Level 6. For those needing a halal or pork-free option, Bukit Kiara’s Oriental Pearl Restaurant on Jalan Bukit Kiara serves a wide variety until mid-afternoon.
By Sarah Hishan
Last updated on 26th February, 2015.