How to order Dim Sum 點心 at a Cantonese Dim Sum restaurant 茶樓 ?

Last week we have talked about how to order food from a casual Cantonese restaurant, tea cafe 茶餐廳, this week let’s continue on to talk about how to order from a Dim Sum restaurant 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao). I quite like this topic because even back in college I wrote a paper on the comparative analysis of HK local dim sums and American adopted style dim sum. I can quickly point out some differences.

1. In Hong Kong and in China, we never serve fortune cookies at the end of the meal. For people who might not know what a fortune cookie is, it’s basically a crispy cracker cookie thing where you crack it open, there’s a little paper inside that tells you your fortune, or like a saying. That’s a North American thing, fortune cookies were invented by a Chinese immigrant in LA, USA.

2. In general. North american Dim Sums are bigger than the ones in Hong Kong, catered more to the body size of the people in the local region.

3. Some North American Dim sum places have the steamer in metal, whereas in Hong Kong, you will only see steamers made with bamboo.

Last week I mentioned that Dim Sums 點心 (Dummy PY: Deem Sum) are small bite sized Cantonese food and many Dim Sum restaurants, 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao) nowadays usually have a piece of paper for you to tick or check the boxes of whichever Dim Sum you would like to order.

Let me be a little nostalgic and talk a little bit about how it used to be in 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao). Back when I was a child, 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao) was often packed. There would be ladies pushing a cart full of dim sum, and they would yell the names of the dim sums, and people who were interested would go to the cart and grab whatever dim sum they liked. But nowadays, I guess because 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao) needs to put more tables in to serve more people, so there isn’t so much space for these dim sum carts to move around anymore. Nowadays many dim sums are premade, then steamed. Back then more dim sums were made right then and there. Now you might have to look up restaurants actually serve instantly made. Around 1997 the time when HK was handed over to China, in HK we call it 回歸 meaning “the return”, with a promise of 50 years unchanged 五十年不變 made by the president Deng Siao Ping 鄧小平 at the time, like I mentioned a large group of HK people went through mass migration. Now the word is, lots of really great HK Dim Sum Chefs are residing in Vancouver. I can’t confirm this because I haven’t been to Vancouver just yet. Let me know if you have been there whether or not Dim Sums are actually awesome over there. One of the best Dim sums I have had in HK was at the Intercontinental Hotel, the Chinese restaurant called Yan Toh Heen. It is a little pricey but they have a wide range of tea selection if you care about your tea like I do, excellent services as well. More down to earth and good Dim sum place is called Tim Ho Wan, but their sitting arrangement is not the best. If you don’t care much about getting really good dim sums but just wanted to try, you can pretty much walk into any 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao). I am a little more picky with the quality of my food because I get quite cranky if the food in my mouth is bad. But that’s just me being Dummy.

So let me just talk a little bit about the different kinds of dim sum first, then near the end of the post I will give you a scenario of what might happen and how you can get the dim sums in your mouths. The ones that people heard the most would be 蝦餃 (Dummy PY: Ha Gow) in English Shrimp Dumplings. 蝦 (Dummy PY: Ha) means shrimp, 餃 (Dummy PY: Gow) means dumplings. Ok Dummy, back in the Dragon Boat Festival 端午節 episode, you said that rice dumplings is 糉 (Dummy PY: Jong) not 餃 (Dummy PY: Gow). Basically 糉 (Dummy PY: Jong) can only mean rice dumplings, whereas 餃 (Dummy PY: Gow) is generally categorized as a piece of dough wrapping some ingredients in it.

蝦餃 (Dummy PY: Har Gow) - Photo by K8 on Unsplash

Other than 蝦餃 (Dummy PY: Ha Gow) in the Dim Sum Category we also have 灌湯餃 (Dummy PY: Goon Tong Gow), the Pork dumpling in soup, 灌 means pour, as in pouring water, that verb pour. 湯 means soup and 餃 means dumplings. Supposedly the most traditional way of making it is that the dumpling should have soup inside, so when you bite open the dumpling skin, the soup will pour itself out. But nowadays, the 灌湯餃, the dumpling itself is soaked in soup. The reason being that the skill to make the soup hold within the dumpling is quite hard. So if you order this 灌湯餃 dish, and the dumpling is soaked in soup, you will know that either the restaurant is making them do this, or that their skills of making 灌湯餃 is not up to par.

We can move onto another very popular one, 燒賣 (Dummy PY: Shoe My), have you guys heard of this one? I believe the known English name is just Shumai, but I have also seen other people calling it opened-face steam pork and shrimp dumplings. Basically there are 3 kinds of 燒賣 (Dummy PY: Shoe My) Shumai, one is the pork ones, the other is the fish ones, and the last is the beef ones. So i guess you might have to see which one fits your diet the best, because not all 燒賣 (Dummy PY: Shoe My) are made with pork. Essentially, it’s made with either a pork paste, fish paste or a beef pate, wrapped with this yellow dough thing. You can also find the fish 燒賣 (Dummy PY: Shoe My) on the street people selling it as street food.

Let me also introduce you to this one, some people might be off put by it. The chicken feet 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow). I remember several years back bringing some friends from the UK to try chicken feet 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow), they were like “oh no. the feet touched the ground and it’s dirty.” Rest assured they clean the chicken feet 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow) quite thoroughly before cooking. I tried making this chicken feet 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow) dish at home, actually the process is quite tedious. You need to first fry them, let them sit, then soak it in water several times, then marinate it then steam it. So I guess, it might be less effort if you go to a Dim Sum restaurant 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao) and get this dish for around $15-$20 HKD, which is about $2-3 dollars US. The pork ribs 排骨 (Dummy PY: Pie Gwut) is another one that people usually order. This one is usually ordered as it, steamed. You can also choose to order the pork ribs 排骨 (Dummy PY: Pie Gwut) and the chicken feet 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow) together with rice. That dish is called 鳳爪排骨飯 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow Pie Gwut Farn) the chicken feet and pork ribs rice, which is also steamed.

Another one I think people will like is 腸粉 (Dummy PY: Cheong Fun) in English it’s steamed rice rolls. 腸 means sausage, because the rice roll is shaped like sausages, 粉 last episode I explained means noodles, but it can also mean flour, the ones used for cooking. So I guess in full it really means sausages made with flour. 腸粉 There are several kinds, the one that I like the most is the ones with shrimps, where we call it 蝦腸 (Dummy PY: Ha Cheong), 蝦 (Dummy PY: Ha)do you remember from last episode, means shrimps. Then we also have the beef ones, called 牛肉腸粉 (Dummy PY: Ngau Yuk Cheong Fun),牛肉 means beef meat. Another one is 叉燒腸(Dummy PY: Char Shoe Cheong). 叉燒 is our style of BBQ pork. They usually give you some soy sauce to go with the rice rolls, you can pour the soy sauce in or dip the 腸粉 in the soy sauce, however you want to eat it. With this 腸粉 (Dummy PY: Cheong Fun) dish, you can really tell if the chef is good or not. In the cantonese culture, we usually prefer 皮薄餡靚 (Dummy PY: Pay Bock Harm Lang) literally means the skin is thin and the fillings are beautiful. So meaning, the thinner the skin is, or in this case the thinner the rice sausage is, and the more and better the fillings, let it be shrimps or beef or whatever. The thinner the skin is, the better skills the chef has.

We also have some steam buns. Just now I mentioned 叉燒 (Dummy PY: Char Show), so I will start with this. We have 叉燒包 (Dummy PY: Char Shoe Bao), meaning BBQ pork bun. There are 2 kinds. One is the traditional kind, where we simply call it 叉燒包 (Dummy PY: Char Shoe Bao) where the bun is white and steamed. Then we have another type called 叉燒餐包 (Dummy PY: Char Shoe Chan Bao) which the bun is the more western type, usually after baking it looks yellow brownish, like a bread. Both are good, it depends on how you like your bun.

Another good bun you might want to try is called 流沙包 (Dummy PY: Lau Sa Bao), literally means quick sand bun. In English there are several names, like Chinese steamed custard bun or Salty egg yolk steam bun. Basically if it’s really well done, when you rip open or bite open the 流沙包 (Dummy PY: Lau Sa Bao) the quick sand bun, the fillings will start pouring out. The fillings as you can guess it’s custard, or salty egg. This bun is usually sweet, sometimes a little salty.

Let’s move on to some fried Dim sums, one of my favourites, also eaten at Chinese New Year, called 蘿蔔糕 (Dummy PY: Low Back Go), meaning turnip cake. You can try memorizing this term 蘿蔔糕 (Dummy PY: Low Back Go) turnip cake, 蘿蔔 means Turnip and 糕 means cake. Here I can suggest a way to memorize this dish, the English words, Low Back Go, low as in high or low, back as in your backpack, Go as in Let’s go, to form some sort of imagery in your head to memorize it. 蘿蔔糕 (Dummy PY: Low Back Go)Turnip cake is made with flour, turnip, some dried shrimps, sometimes some mushrooms, depending on what ingredients they put in there.

Another one of my favourites, is 炸魷魚(Dummy PY: Jaa Yao Yu), Fried squid tentacles. 炸 means deep fried, 魷魚 means squid. So this dish, they don’t usually fry the head or the body part of the squid, mostly just tentacles. It’s really good! But really watch out for high cholesterol levels in this dish. Best if you can share with multiple people, so you don’t over eat. You can also find this on the street like in Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong. I remember growing up it was only $10 a bag of 炸魷魚(Dummy PY: Jaa Yao Yu), Fried squid tentacles, but now it’s $20. If you are lucky you might be able to find cheaper ones like $18 HK.

Another fried dim sum dish is called 鹹水角 (Dummy PY: Harm Shui Gok) Fried pork dumplings, 鹹 means salty, 水 means water and 角 means corner or an angle. The fillings are made with pork, leaks, yam beans, dried shrimps and mushrooms. Funny thing is, the wrapping dough is actually sweet, and the filling is salty. Often times the 鹹水角 (Dummy PY: Harm Shui Gok) Fried pork dumplings we see are rounded not pointy with corners, so the name doesn’t really seem to fit the dish.

For more traditional Chinese people, when we order, we usually would go with 8 dishes, because 8 八 in Chinese rhymes with the word 發 meaning rich. We avoid ordering 4 and 7 dishes because 7 is an unlucky number for Chinese people.

The following will be a scenario of my student going to a Dim Sum restaurant 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao). He was given a piece of paper to get his Dim sums but he cannot read Chinese. So he is reaching out to a lady beside him to help him. I will play the scenario once, then slowly explain after.

S: 唔好意思,可唔可以幫我?

S: Excuse me, can you help me?

L: 做咩事?

L: What’s the matter?

S: 我唔識睇中文,你可唔可以幫我tick?

S: I cannot read Chinese, can you help me tick the boxes?

L: 你想食乜野?

L: What do you want to eat?

S: Urm. 鳳爪, 排骨

S: Urm, Chicken feet, and pork ribs.

L: 仲有呢?

L: And?

S: 叉燒腸, 炸魷魚

S: Char siu rice rolls, fried squid tentacles.

L: 你得4 樣野,仲要唔要多啲?蝦餃, 燒賣呢?

L: You only have four items, do you want more? Shrimp dumplings? Siu Mai?

S: 我想食蘿蔔糕同叉燒包。

S: I want to eat Turnip cake and Char siu buns.

L: 好,叉燒包定叉燒餐包?

L: Ok, Char Siu traditional buns or Char Siu western buns?


S: Char Siu western buns!

L: 係咁多?

L: Is that all?

S: 係,唔該哂你。

S: Yes, thank you so much.


L: You are welcome.


Dim Sum restaurant - 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao)

Dim Sums - 點心 (Dummy PY: Deem Sum)

Shrimp Dumplings - 蝦餃 (Dummy PY: Ha Gow)

the Pork dumpling in soup - 灌湯餃 (Dummy PY: Goon Tong Gow)

Siu Mai - 燒賣 (Dummy PY: Shoe My)

Chicken feet - 鳳爪 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow)

Pork ribs - 排骨 (Dummy PY: Pie Gwut)

Steamed chicken feet and pork ribs rice - 鳳爪排骨飯 (Dummy PY: Fung Jow Pie Gwut Farn)

Steamed rice rolls - 腸粉 (Dummy PY: Cheong Fun)

Shrimp Rice rolls - 蝦腸 (Dummy PY: Ha Cheong)

Beef Rice Rolls - 牛肉腸粉 (Dummy PY: Ngau Yuk Cheong Fun)

Char Siu Rice Rolls - 叉燒腸(Dummy PY: Char Shoe Cheong)

Chinese steamed custard bun - 流沙包 (Dummy PY: Lau Sa Bao)

BBQ pork traditional bun - 叉燒包 (Dummy PY: Char Shoe Bao)

BBQ pork western bun - 叉燒餐包 (Dummy PY: Char Shoe Chan Bao)

Turnip cake - 蘿蔔糕 (Dummy PY: Low Back Go)

Fried squid tentacles - 炸魷魚(Dummy PY: Jaa Yao Yu)

Fried pork dumplings - 鹹水角 (Dummy PY: Harm Shui Gok)

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