Dim Sum is a Cantonese specialty traditionally enjoyed for brunch and served on rolling trollies that make their way around what is often a massive banquet hall. If you’re new to the dim sum game, navigating the menu and understanding the difference between things like a Shrimp Siu Mai and Shrimp Har Gao can be difficult. To help ensure you are full, happy and don’t end up with a table of chicken feet (literally), here’s a guide to your must-order dishes at any dim sum spot. You can thank us later.
Shrimp rice rolls
These rolls aren’t like sushi rolls, they’re made from chopped shrimp wrapped in a thin, wide rice noodle. It’s best served seasoned with soy sauce, because then you get sweet shrimp with salty soy and it’s a perfect combination. This dish is a personal favorite done exceptionally well at Nom Wah Tea Parlor where they also fill them with pork or serve them plain.
Soup dumplings are a special kind of steamed dumpling; they originated in Shanghai and unlike traditional dumplings, they’re filled with rich broth plus a little bit of meat. To eat them like a pro, take a little bite of the skin from the tip, pour in some dumpling sauce, slurp the broth, then eat the rest of the dumpling. Indulge in traditional soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai or get a bit funky with the XLXLB at Drunken Dumpling (see 5 Soup Dumplings You Must Try for more).
Shu mai (siu mai) are a special kind of dumpling because they’re served with an open top. Usually, shu mai is made with pork or shrimp filling and those are great, but one of our favorite shu mai is from Hao Noodle and Tea where they’re made with bacon and sticky rice, and wrapped in a super thin wrapper.
Imagine mini pies with super flakey crusts, filled with delicious custard served fresh out of the oven. Egg custards are so good it’s no wonder they’re a mainstay in Portugal, Brazil, Britain, and Cantonese dim sum. They’re the perfect dessert to end a dim sum feast with, especially at a place like Joy Luck Palace where they’re baked to perfection.
Pork buns, aka char siu, aka steamed buns come steamed, baked, or in a flaky pastry, and they’re filled with sweet-and-savory barbecue pork that’s often dangerously addictive. The size of a pork bun varies, but you’re definitely going to want at least one for yourself. Tim Ho Wan does these buns right, so brave the line and get yourself some.
Turnip cakes are a hidden treasure at the dim sum parlour. The dish is actually made from shredded radish, rice flour, and some savory ingredient all packed into a patty, is steamed, then finished in a frying pan so it gets a nice crispy outside, kind of like a hashbrown. Try them at Buddha Bodai, it’s a vegetarian dim sum place so you know they’ll nail their veggies.
We love all kind of dumplings, but shrimp har gao is hands down one of our favorite menu items at any dim sum spot. You’ll be able to recognize these shrimp dumps by their signature pleated crescent moon shape and their transparent, smooth dumpling skin.