5@5 - Make the most of your dim sum experience
September 15th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Instead of your typical weekend plate of scrambled eggs, head out for some dim sum - a Cantonese tradition of communal small plates.

Feeling hesitant? Chinese culinary authority Ed Schoenfeld from the newly opened dim sum-inspired restaurant, Red Farm, is here to cart you toward success.

Five Ways to Up Your Dim Sum IQ: Ed Schoenfeld

1. Go early
"Most large Cantonese restaurants that feature dim sum have two teams of chefs: the ‘cooking’ chefs who work the woks, and whose day starts at 10 to 11 a.m., and the dim sum chefs, who arrive at sunrise and finish up by mid-afternoon. In cities like Hong Kong and Guangchou, where dim sum reigns, the locals think of dim sum as an early-in-the-day meal and many diners are enjoying ‘yum cha’ (literally ‘drink tea’) by 10 a.m.

In the United States, the busy period for dim sum usually starts at 11 a.m. and begins to slow by 1  p.m. By 2 p.m., the chefs are packing up and getting ready to leave. So suggestion number one is this: dine on the early side. It should be less hectic, easier to get a table and the food will be at its freshest.

And rule number one is this: if it’s close to 2 p.m., eat something other than dim sum; you don’t have to leave the restaurant, just order from the regular menu - say some barbecue or a noodle or rice dish."

2. Look for the fresh stuff
"One of the biggest dim sum dining challenges is determining which items are freshest. In particular, hot carts containing steamed items may keep your food warm and immediately available, but also continue to cook it. Dough and fillings can easily be past their prime after just a few minutes of dining room circulation. So here are a few tricks:

  • Look for kitchen runners (servers whose job it is to transport freshly made food from the kitchen to the dining room) carrying trays stacked high with steam baskets. Chances are they’ve been sent out to replenish diminishing supplies of whatever that particular cart is hawking. Feel free to take your check and walk over to the newly stocked cart to score a freshly cooked item.
  • A related strategy is to pay attention to how many orders of a particular item are available on passing carts. If there is only one of something, chances are excellent that it is the last of a batch and therefore less fresh than one would like. Conversely, if there are many orders of something, chances are that it’s fresh.
  • Look closely at the food. If it looks like the seams of a dumpling are detaching from one another or the item is broken in any way, it’s likely to be past its prime."

3. Choose your beverage
"When you sit down at your table, your server will plop down a pot of tea. There are a few things you should know about this. First of all, it’s not free. All dim sum restaurants charge for tea on a per-person basis. Basically, it’s a cover charge that everyone pays whether they drink tea or not. Certain customers who are known to the house may have their checks stamped with a red ink message that says, 'free tea,' a mark of a true VIP in that restaurant’s universe.

Second, most restaurants have different kinds of tea, and if you’re a known regular they may (should) ask you what kind of tea you would like. (My tea of choice  is made from dried white chrysanthemum flowers. I prefer it briefly steeped for just a minute with a small amount of sugar added to the pot.)

Another thing to know is that many dim sum restaurants make delicious coffee that you can request instead of tea. It costs more than the tea, is often served in a paper cup, and if you don’t drink it black, you should direct the server to put in milk and sugar - and say how much of each. Dim sum restaurants with creamers are rare."

4. Holidays and weekends have more variety
"There are traditional but unwritten rules about when the freshest and greatest variety of dim sum are available. It’s pretty straightforward.

The best variety is on weekends and holidays when there are frequently many more preparations available than at any other time - in some restaurants this may mean 100 percent more things. And between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. most dim sum restaurants produce the largest volume of food and the greatest variety of items.

Go early and you get the standards: shrimp dumplings, filled rice noodle crêpe, shu mai (steamed dumplings) and rice porridge. By 11 a.m. the number of offerings is likely to double. The more uncommon dim sum are made in smaller quantities and when they run out, the kitchen reverts back to the basics - and a smaller number of items."

5. Don’t be afraid to order from a menu
"Should you be lucky enough to be enjoying dim sum in a high-end Hong Kong hotel, don’t be upset when you can’t find a rolling cart. In the best venues, where the chefs take great pride in their craft, all the dim sum is ordered off a menu, not chosen from a cart. Some of the fun and immediacy of a rolling cart is sacrificed, but the trade-off is that your food is cooked to order and should arrive in perfectly a point condition."

Previously - Sundays are for Dim Sum

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Asian • Chinese • Think


soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. A real Chinese person

    I'm going to tell you some well known secrets about Chinese restaurant where either you know it or you don't because the restaurant do not advertise them.
    From 5am to 8 am is the early-bird special, all dim sums are 50% off. (not on weekends)
    From 8 am to 2pm is the prime dim sum hours, everything is priced at 100% weekends and holidays add another 20%
    From 11am to 3pm on weekdays is the lunch special hour, where you can buy from the lunch special menu(ask for it)
    From 2 pm to 5 pm is the 75% off all dim sum hour (again, not on weekends)
    From 5pm to 10 pm is the regular dinner hour (the most expensive time)
    If the restaurant opens late then from 10 pm to 2 am is the happy hour (there are specialty items depending on the day)

    So, I say you should go on weekdays, late ~ after 2 pm when all dim sum are 75% off. And yes, that means you have to take a late lunch break, but 75% off means all dim sum cost around $1 to $1.50 each. That also means you would only spend around 8 bucks because 6 dim sum + $1 tip. (6 dim sums are almost 2 pound)

    September 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  2. duckmanbill

    He should also list where you can find the best dim sum places. Hong Kong, as he alluded to. Vancouver is up there. Then the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles. San Francisco China town, not so much... Not tried NY – how does that rate?

    September 16, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  3. tillzen

    America loves the Chinese! The only people who know less about their government than we do.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  4. Pipy

    Holy crap people, don't feed the troll.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  5. DianD

    Obviously there are some things in America that you can't live without... CNN, and the ability to banter and rant any stupid comment you want about the U.S.... can't do that in China, can ya? I hope you're not the one who boasted about going to MIT... obviously Chinese students attend U.S. schools and not Chinese ones for a reason huh?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  6. HerroDere

    Diu la xing.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  7. wtf

    Wow, i guess i'm on a wrong page, i see a lot of hatred and animosity here.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  8. gakkun

    People, people! Don't feed the troll. He's an idiot pretending to be someone he's not. He's not even chinese- just some emo-tween getting off on making other people mad and flustered. If you want to get back at him, heckle him back.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  9. Barada

    Thanks for this article. It is good "insider" information and makes me want to explore the dim sun experience. Disgusting USA, you sound like the Lao guy on "King of the Hill".

    September 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  10. A real chinese person

    Please do not listen this troll who is pretending to be Chinese.

    "since you have killed more than mio. of iraqis, you can make new dim sum called iraqi dim"

    First of all, who is mio? You mean Mao Zegong? Second, you say Mao killed a lot of people? You never been to China have you? That statement alone is forbidden and would get you into a re-education center.

    "iraqi dim" ? seriously? You can't even speak Chinese. You can't take characters or phrases apart because that would change the meaning. "Iraqi dim" means a location in Iraq. And NO! "Iraqi sum" means the heart of Iraqi.

    You want some real Chinese insult? Learn some Chinese first! You man-dog hybrid.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  11. sdf

    Quit disguising as Chinese.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  12. sdf

    You're not Chinese. Just pretending to be one.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • cn

      amen!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  13. Hungry in DFW

    Does anyone know of a good Dim Sum place in the DFW area?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • JD

      There are several in Arlington. I like Kowloon restaurant; it's off pioneer parkway.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • jony3322

      Come to Oklahoma City and enjoy dimsum at Grand House restaurant located around the area of NW 24th Street and Classen Blvd.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • joel

      303 west of 360. in little china town. I don't remember the name but it's just past the oriental supermarket to the left just past the soccer field.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • blush

      don't mean to burst your bubble but there isn't really any good dim sum restaurants in the DFW area. The best one that I don't mind going to is Kirin Court. It's a little pricey but i'll pay for it cause the other places i've tried are inedible.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  14. zoundsman

    Mmmm ...I love Chinese food, especially in the right atmosphere.
    Lights too bright? Dim Sum.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  15. Jo

    This is a food conversation, NIMROD! Food. F...O...O...D. Learn it, then maybe grow up some, and keep you're nonsensical blather to at least relevant pages, hmm?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  16. brad

    the best dim sum restaurant is in huntsville, al.....ding how, i love the beancurd sheet roll

    September 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • duckmanbill

      I highly doubt one will find the best dim sum in Alabama

      September 16, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  17. Josh

    Wat

    September 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  18. Disgusting USA

    hahahahahahahahahahahaha,
    do you have a chance to go to MIT and Yale?
    if you have the chance to go to MIT and Yale, do you have the money to support your study there?
    you stupid normal US people.
    they are played by big boss and politians every day.
    and they say that is freedom.

    and now they have the same debts as their GDP.
    now they have 500000000 poor normal US people.
    dim sum?
    they do not know dim sum is the wrong name.
    but how do these stupid normal US people dream of eating dim sum.
    hahahahahahahahahaha

    September 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Heynow

      Im a student at an ivy. Its sad that most americans are so stupid. When I travel abroad i have to say im from new york and i have to be very careful to watch what i eat and work out to not look american. Not all americans are like this of course. Republicans are.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  19. SC

    I feel so sorry for you and please take some English classes before you start typing... your grammar is making a fool of yourself... it's quite entertaining... trash.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • SC

      This message is directing and dedicating for China.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  20. china

    Everybody knows,
    dim sum in contonese is Dianxin in mandarin.
    and everybody knows the official language of china is mandarin, not contonese.
    except debts and wars and iraq,
    can you US people learn more?

    September 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • SC

      SC
      Dim sum is a Cantonese term for snack. However, dim sum more typically refers to a style of Chinese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food, traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is sometimes served in some restaurants, where fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes would be pushed around on steam carts by servers who go around the restaurant offering the dishes to customers and marking orders on a card on each customer's table. Going for dim sum is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha), as tea is typically served with dim sum.

      Apparently, it has nothing to do with your ignorant live-monkey-brain-eating-inhumane-uneducated-Mandarin-speaking-Chinese, and what are you doing on US CNN page btw, you illegal immigrants from China that's so desperate to stay illegally in the United States?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  21. kasey

    As a member of a Chinese American family, I agree with almost everything listed here. The only exception is that every restaurant charges for tea. That is not true. Many do, but not all. I have only been to 2 restaurants in the last 15 years that charge for tea, and at those restaurants I order water. I figure if I'm going to drop $50 for some dim sum, they can give me 3 cents worth of tea. If not, I'm not paying $1.25. I don't really enjoy it that much anyway.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  22. china

    what dim sum?
    such stupid name!
    it is Dianxin in official mandarin. dim sum is the name in contongese not in mandarin.
    stupid US people.
    except debts and wars they can nothing.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • bleh

      "Instead of your typical weekend plate of scrambled eggs, head out for some dim sum – a Cantonese tradition of communal small plates."

      Not sure where you got the Mandarin reference from....

      September 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • StupidChinese

      China: What did you just typed? This clearly demonstrates that you have never been to the United States... We only know it as "Dim Sum", don't care if it's Mandarin, Cantonese, or your-stupid-language. At least dim sum here doesn't consist of cat/dog meat, moonbear bile's extract, tiger bone wine, and many many more inhuman and illegal food you guys are eating in China... I bet you couldn't even get a Visa to the US, so you can shut your mouth and rot in hell in China as the rest of the cruel citizens.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
      • JT

        @ China: At least we know...FREEDOM.

        September 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
      • sdf

        I see from your grammar you're an Indian

        September 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • SC

      Dim sum is a Cantonese term for snack. However, dim sum more typically refers to a style of Chinese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food, traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is sometimes served in some restaurants, where fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes would be pushed around on steam carts by servers who go around the restaurant offering the dishes to customers and marking orders on a card on each customer's table. Going for dim sum is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha), as tea is typically served with dim sum.

      Apparently, it has nothing to do with your ignorant live-monkey-brain-eating-inhumane-uneducated-Mandarin-speaking-Chinese, and what are you doing on US CNN page btw, you illegal immigrants from China that's so desperate to stay illegally in the United States?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • amphiox

      dim sum is the name in ENGLISH, my friend.

      You want the chinese name, you write out the characters, preferably with a brush.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  23. Popeye

    Blah blah blah blah gag – this restaurant owner wants customers to adapt to his work schedule instead of the other way around. doughnut bakers go home by eight, but guaranteed they left everything in perfect order. Dim sum (dum dum for those who rave about it) is the same way. It's a freak'n appetizer and I don't like to make a meal of appetizers. Server me dinner on a spoon and I'll throw it right back. WTF!

    September 15, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
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