The story of the dim sum follows into the footsteps of the ancient merchants of the Silk Road, a route built by centuries of tradition, a symbol of cultural fusion and transgression of a once great attempt at the unity between East and West.
Due to a demand for resting places to accommodate fatigued travelers, teahouses were built on the roadside to house traders embarking on the journey of a lifetime. Initially, these guesthouses were offering yum cha (Cantonese for ‘drink tea’), however, snacks were also introduced later. Although it was originally believed that drinking tea while eating would result in weight gain, over the years, as the properties of tea leaves were investigated further, the link between digestion and tea drinking was discovered. The practice was now not only encouraged, but recommended.
Teahouses are often cited as the birthplace of the dim sum, a dish that is just as rich in flavour as in history, and just as diverse as the many cultures it served over thousands of years.
The serving of dim sum is rooted in Confucius philosophy, emphasizing balance and community. Mainly, the mix of ingredients; the hot and cold dishes served interchangeably; the sweet and savory options consumed together; the sauces that are meant to complement the food; the ceremony of tea consumption offered together with the meal; and most importantly, the spirit of togetherness rooted in the practice of sharing your food with others, friends and strangers.
I decided to stop for a dim sum tasting adventure at DimDimSum, located conveniently in the Wan Chai neighborhood (however serving various areas across Hong Kong), as it boasts quite a few awards, including being named the best dim sum of 2011 by Time Out Magazine. It’s definitely worth a stop.
Some popular dishes include:
seafood stuffed eggplant & teriyaki sauce [燒汁釀茄子]
sweet piggy custard buns [奶黃包]
shrimp & pork dumplings with crab roe [燒賣]
rice flour rolls with BBQ pork [腸粉]
deep fried dumplings with wasabi filling [芥末咸水角]
The rich ancient tradition of consuming dim sum touched the hearts of many throughout time, from farmers to merchants and even royalty. Today, these tiny dumplings, with eclectic flavors waiting to be discovered, are enjoyed by millions around the world. I hope the next time you find yourself crossing through Hong Kong, you’ll embark on a little dim sum adventure, and just like with ancient merchants, I hope you’ll carry the dim sum story forward from East to West and beyond.
© Adamson & Segan | Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia, 2008