What’s it all about?
Dim sum is a style of food from Cantonese China and Hong Kong. It originated in teahouses along the Silk Road, offering tea and a snack to weary travelers – giving birth to the tradition of yum cha.
Yum cha today is most often used for the act of getting a group together on the weekend for dim sum brunch and tea. Some steamed, some baked, some fried. Dim sum experience is at its height with eight of your friends and swarming the old woman who pushes a cart filled with steaming baskets of dumplings, chicken feet and who knows what.
How to do it?
- Dim sum must be consumed with hot tea. But, first, clean your cup. Pour some hot tea or water into the big bowl provided, dip your cup into it sideways, and spin.
- Order from the carts roaming around the room. As they come by, just point to see what’s under each lid. There should be a paper at your table, that you probably won’t be able to read. The woman pushing the cart will stamp the correct spot for you to keep tab of what you got.
What to get?
- Xiao/siew long bao
- Pork soup dumpling particularly associated with Shanghai. Both the creation and the eating of this dish is an art form. The wall of the bao needs to be just right – not too thick and not too thin. Make sure you eat this with a spoon under the bun so the liquid inside doesn’t escape once you take a bite.
- Chicken feet
- Deep-fried and stewed in a sweet sauce. They’re boney and sinewy, but can be quite yummy.
- Char siu bao
- Fluffy buns filled with sweet BBQ pork. One of my favorite dishes of all time, not because it’s particularly complicated or sophisticated, but because it’s so comfortingly delicious and soft.
- Shui mai
- An open-topped dumpling, often filled with shrimp and/or pork and topped with roe (unfertilized fish eggs, for the uninitiated).
- Cheung fun
- Rice noodle rolls, filled with shrimp or beef and drizzled with soy sauce.
- Red bean sesame balls
- I could also eat these all day. Lightly fried on the outside and gooey on the inside. These balls are stuffed with sweet red bean paste, but other flavors are often also on the menu.
Where to get it?
While one of the most captivating and paradoxical cities in the world, combining the largest number of skyscrapers in the world, neon character signs straight out of Blade Runner, and mountains next to beaches and the sea, it’s also one of the best food cities in the world. Roast goose. Char siu pork belly. Wonton noodles. Egg tarts. Silk stocking milk tea. But, the jewel of Hong Kong is its dim sum houses. Here are a couple spots I tried, though there are so much more.
Lin Heung Tea House
- Best enjoyed at 6 AM surrounded by old Cantonese men reading the paper. If I started every morning here (and then with some yoga), I can’t imagine anything better.
Tim Ho Wan
- A well-known (i.e. crowded) chain in Hong Kong and around the world that calls itself the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. I was honestly turned off by this place, as I didn’t appreciate their modern interpretations, particularly the sugar-encrusted char siu bun. Why do we have to mess with a good thing?
- They are opening a location in Houston, in Katy.
Where to get it in Houston?
- On the other hand, I appreciate Yauatcha for the modern take and fusion of flavors going on here. The menu is described as “both authentically Chinese and unapologetically modern.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’m learning to appreciate restaurants changing, mixing and modernizing cuisines, because no food should live in a vacuum, unchanged. It’s a representation of the mixing of different cultures in Houston, as well as the rise of higher-end restaurants coming to the city.
- Bonus: This is the only Michelin restaurant in Houston (It’s London Soho location has a Michelin star). But, this also means it’s pricier than all other dim sum.
- They serve both dim sum and entrees. Dim sum is made to order. While yummy, the venison puff is too puffy/fried/flaky. The wagyu beef puff is just right.
- They also have yummy cocktails and fancy desserts.
- Special recs: wagyu beef puff, soup dumplings.
- This is my go-to spot in Houston. I am always impressed by how cheap I can get out of here. I’m constantly grabbing dishes from carts, but I somehow never pay more than $15.
- Recently remodeled, they’re bigger and better than ever. But you will still have to wait at least 30 mins on the weekend.
- Best on the weekend, when you can both order off the menu and from the carts parading around the room. They even have a cart serving single-serve Peking Duck, which is seriously one of the best ideas I have seen in awhile.
- While you can order soup dumplings off the menu, you can find better at Wanna Bao in Midtown.
- Special recs: Peking Duck from the cart, chicken feet, shrimp cheung fun.
- Made-to-order, even on the weekends. Tables are large, so gather a crew of 6-9, order the whole menu and keep turning that lazy susan. Popular and always crowded, so arrive early.
- If you want great seafood, this is the spot.
- Special recs: Black pepper lobster.
- Wildly popular and one of the best spots for dim sum in Houston.
- Valet your car because there is never parking.
Golden Dim Sum
- Good if you want a hole-in-the-wall vibe. While I used to love this place before visiting Hong Kong, I now prefer the quality of the previously listed locations.