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     Dim Sum
       excerpetd from
    Martin Yan's Feast: The Best of Yan Can Cook

    Dim Sum

    Savoring the Sum of the Parts

    Since the tenth century, southern China has been famous for its teahouses, where family, friends, and business people get together to catch up on the latest news over a pot of tea. And out of this tradition evolved one of China's tastiest contributions to the world: dim sum—Cantonese-style dumplings, pastries, noodles, stuffed breads, and other delectable tidbits, all designed to be eaten with tea as a light breakfast or lunch.

    The teahouse roots of dim sum are reflected in the phrase yum cha (literally "to drink tea"), the common way to refer to eating a dim sum lunch. I always tell people: "The cha part means tea. The yum part refers to the food!"

    Dim sum is variously translated as "touch the heart" or "point to your heart's delight." Once you've tried it, you'll know why. You've heard of "point and click"? Well, this is "point and eat."

    If you live near a Chinatown, you can probably find quite a few Cantonese restaurants serving dim sum. Plan to show up between the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. Many dim sum houses don't take reservations, and it's best to arrive on the early side to get the best selection and the freshest items.

    If the place is any good, there will be a crowd jammed into the front entryway, especially on weekends, when lots of extended families and large groups of friends get together for yum cha. Tip number one: Dim sum is a communal affair—the more people in your party, the more variety you can enjoy.

    Most dim sum houses offer several types of tea to choose from. As you take your first sip and breathe in the intoxicating aromas of the food, your appetite suddenly becomes voracious and uncontrollable!

    Good thing there's no menu to order from, and no waiting necessary. The food comes streaming out of the kitchen in a steady parade of carts loaded with little plates and stacks of small bamboo steamer baskets filled with dumplings and other delicacies—usually three or four pieces to an order. When they say everything is à la carte, they really mean it!

    Tip number two: Pace yourself. The individual dishes are small and light, but the "sum" is greater than the parts, and you'll be full sooner than you think. My advice is to take it slow, or instead of "touch the heart," you may experience "touch of heartburn"!

    Before long, you'll have a collection of empty little plates and steamers stacked up at the center of the table. At the end of the meal, your bill is calculated by counting the number of plates in the stack (or in some places, the number of stamps on your guest check).

    Tip number three: I don't recommend doing what my friends and I once did when we were young and starving. We hid half the plates under the table, somehow imagining that we were the first people ever to have thought of such a clever scheme. But at the end of the meal, the waiter, suspecting foul play, lifted the tablecloth. To our horror, someone else had already left a huge stack of plates, and our bill instantly doubled!

    It's been said that there are more than a thousand types of dim sum. But most dim sum chefs draw from a repertoire of 75 to 100 specialties. Generally, dim sum comes two ways—steamed or fried—with a few baked, braised, and stir-fried items thrown in. Allow me to sum up a few of my favorites.


    Har gau. Shrimp dumplings.

    Siu mai. Cylindrical dumpling, open on top, filled with pork and shrimp.

    Fun guor. Crescent of translucent wheat starch dough stuffed with pork, shrimp, and chopped nuts.

    Char siu bao. Honey-glazed barbecued pork steamed inside a dome-shaped bun of soft, sweet bread dough.

    Churn fun. Steamed soft rice noodle skins rolled around shrimp, minced beef, or barbecued pork.

    Noh mai gai. Glutinous rice, marinated chicken, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and other savory ingredients steamed in a lotus leaf.


    Chun guen. Crispy deep-fried spring rolls filled with meat, shrimp, and bamboo shoots. (Some Chinese restaurants in North America serve giant egg rolls with a similar filling.)

    Har dor see. Golden crisp shrimp toast.

    Woo gok. Taro root dumplings filled with shrimp, meat, and mushrooms.


    See jup ngau hor. Also known as chow fun: stir-fried fresh rice noodles with slices of tender beef or chicken and green and red bell peppers in a fragrant black bean and garlic sauce.

    Jin dui jai. Chewy glutinous rice dough wrapped around a sweet bean or lotus seed paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep-fried golden brown.

    Don tot. One of the most popular dim sum desserts: individual egg custard tarts with a Western-style pastry crust.

    If you can't find a dim sum restaurant, don't despair. Even though it would be tricky to create a full dim sum lunch in your own kitchen, it's still a lot of fun to make one or two items. You can get the whole family involved in rolling and stuffing. And don't stop at lunch: Dim sum items make terrific appetizers and party food, too. If you're lucky, you may even find a few frozen dim sum items in Asian supermarkets near you. I always keep three big bags of frozen potstickers in my freezer in case I get "stuck" with unexpected guests.

    Martin Yan's Feast: The Best of Yan Can Cook

    Martin Yan has made a career out of teaching Americans how to create delicious Asian cuisine -- perhaps the most popular American culinary indulgence -- right in their ownkitchens. Martin Yan's Feast gathers 350 of the most irresistible recipes from his immensely popular television series, illustrating them here with 75 gorgeous color plates, clear instructions, and Yan's charm and wit.

    A celebration of Yan's success in helping millions of viewers and readers achieve culinary successes in their own homes, this beautiful hardcover collection makes an excellent gift for cooks of all levels. With his trademark humor and warmth, and his emphasis on simplicity and balance, Yan manages to make accessible what may at first seem daunting, including such tempting dishes as Roast Duck with Papaya-Ginger Glaze, Mu Shu Vegetables, Drunken Crab with Ginger-Wine Sauce, and Hot & Sour Soup. The book also includes handy reference sections on Chinese ingredients and techniques.


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