What Is Dim Sum?

If you’re wondering, what is dim sum?

Well, it is a style of Cantonese cuisine that has become popular in many parts of the world. It consists of small, individual portions of food that are served in steamer baskets or plates and on carts. It’s often served as breakfast or brunch, but it can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

The word “dim sum” means “to touch the heart,” and it refers to the way that the individual dishes are meant to be shared and enjoyed.

The most common dim sum dishes include Har Gow (Shrimp Dumplings), Shu Mai (Pork and Shrimp Dumplings), Char Siu Bao (Steamed Buns), and Cheong Fun (Rice Noodle Rolls).

Key Takeaways

  • Dim sum is a Cantonese culinary tradition featuring bite-sized dishes typically served in steamer baskets or on small plates.
  • Originating from the ancient Silk Road, dim sum has evolved into a diverse dining experience showcasing the skill and artistry of Chinese chefs.
  • The dim sum experience involves communal dining, with dishes shared among family or friends and complementary tea to enhance flavors and cleanse the palate.

In some restaurants, you might find other types of dim sum dishes on the menu, such as Lo Mai Gai (steamed chicken and glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves), egg tarts, beef balls, and chicken feet.

How To Order Dim Sum Without Embarrassing Yourself

When you go to a Chinese restaurant that serves dim sum, you’ll notice that the servers are pushing carts loaded with small steamer baskets or small plates of food.

The servers normally walk around the restaurant and stop at each table, show the diners what they have in their carts and ask them if they want anything.

If you find a dish that you want, simply point to it and tell the server how many pieces you want. The server will then put the dish (dishes) you want on the table, mark the number of pieces on the bill and move on to other tables. 

You can also order dim sum from the menu, but it’s more fun to order from the cart since you can see what’s available.

However, it can be tempting to order a lot of different dim sum dishes. To stop yourself from over-ordering, try to stick to two or three dishes per person at a time and only order more if everyone is still hungry after those have been consumed.

The reason you don’t want to order too much at one time is that dim sum dishes vary in price. You may find that one dish is cheap, while another is more expensive. So, if you order too many dishes to start with and don’t like some of them, you’ll have wasted money. Also, since dim sum is often served in small portions, this makes it extremely easy to over-order.

The Basics of How To Eat Dim Sum

Being a Chinese dish, dim sum is eaten with chopsticks. However, if you don’t know how to use chopsticks, you can ask for a fork.

There are two ways you can eat dim sum. You can either take the dim sum off the plate and eat it whole, or you can break it up into small pieces.

Dim sum is usually served with a small dish of soy sauce and a bowl of hot tea. You can dip the dim sum into the sauce or add it to your rice or noodles.

If you’re eating dim sum for the first time, it’s best to take small bites and chew slowly. This will help you get used to the texture of dim sum.

Dim Sum Etiquette

While dim sum is traditionally eaten during lunch and brunch, there are places that serve it all day long. It’s important to remember that dim sum is not finger food. You should never stick your fingers into the dishes. This can be offensive because it’s similar to how some cultures eat with their hands.

When eating dim sum with chopsticks, it’s important to remember that you should never leave your chopsticks standing upright in the dish; this is a sign of death in many Asian cultures. Instead, you should lay them on the table or rest them across the rim of the bowl.

You should also remember that dim sum is meant to be shared. If you’re eating with a group of people, get every person to order a different dish so that everyone can try as many different options as possible.

If you’re not sure what something is, it’s best to ask before ordering it. The servers are happy to explain the ingredients and offer suggestions if they think something might be too spicy or sweet for your taste buds.

How To Make Dim Sum at Home

If you’re interested in making your own dim sum at home, it’s actually not that difficult. But because dim sum generally comprises many different types of dishes, it’s best that you start with the simplest to make.

The most basic dim sum dish is steamed dumplings. To get started, you need to have meat for the filling. This can be chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. You can choose what you want in your dumplings.

For example, pork and shrimp are a popular combination, as are chicken and celery. But you can really use any type of meat or seafood that you like.

To enhance the flavor of your filling, you can add ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and your choice of spices and seasonings.

Next, you need to make the dough for the wrapper. If it’s the first time you’re making steamed dumplings, it might be best to use store-bought wrappers to make things easier. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own wrappers.

To do this, you need to make a dough mixture, which you can do with flour, water, salt, and oil. You then need to roll out the dough into thin sheets and cut them into circles using a cookie cutter or by hand. This is the most difficult part, but with practice, you’ll find that it gets easier.

Once you have your wrappers, you can fill them with your filling and wrap them up into little packages using your fingers or a chopstick. You then just need to steam the dumplings in a steamer pot until they are cooked through and the wrapper is nice and fluffy.

Traditionally, dumplings are served in a hot broth, but you can also eat them with soy sauce or vinegar if you prefer.

Dim Sum Nutritional Facts

Dim sum is a great way to get lots of nutrients in one sitting, especially if you eat it with lots of vegetables and lean protein. Dumplings, for example, are low in trans fat and calories and high in protein. They’re also a good source of fiber and iron.

Generally speaking, a lot of dim sum dishes are high in calories, fat, and sodium. But it all depends on the ingredients in your dim sum meal. If you choose dim sum dishes that are made with fresh, low-calorie ingredients, like vegetables and lean protein, then you’ll be able to enjoy a healthy meal.

It’s not difficult to find a dim sum restaurant that offers healthy options. Many dim sum restaurants have vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

Dim Sum Serving Tips

If you love eating dim sum but want to make sure it’s healthy for you, follow these tips:

  • Ask for brown rice instead of white rice when ordering dim sum dishes. Brown rice contains more fiber than white rice, which means it will fill you up faster and keep blood sugar levels stable.
  • Ask for steamed or fried dumplings instead of pan-fried dumplings. Steamed or fried dumplings will have fewer calories than pan-fried dumplings because they won’t have any oil added to them.
  • Ask for a small portion when ordering dim sum dishes. The portion sizes at dim sum restaurants usually range from small to large, so you can ask for a small portion to reduce the number of calories you consume.
  • Look at the ingredients list on any dim sum dish before ordering it. Dim sum dishes often contain meat, which isn’t as healthy as other options like vegetables or tofu.
  • Don’t use excessive amounts of soy sauce when eating dim sum dishes. Soy sauce is high in sodium, so try to limit how much you use when eating dim sum at home.

Final Remarks

Dim sum is a fun and great way to enjoy a meal with friends, family, and even work colleagues. It’s a dish that brings people together in the same way that pizza does for Americans. Dim sum is also a great way to introduce yourself to new dishes and flavors of cuisine, which can help broaden your horizons.

So if you haven’t tried dim sum before, or if you’re looking to take your dim sum experience to the next level, we hope that this article has helped you in some way.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most popular dim sum dishes?

There are numerous dim sum dishes to explore, but some of the most popular include:

  • Har gow (shrimp dumplings)
  • Siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings)
  • Char siu bao (barbecue pork buns)
  • Cheung fun (rice noodle rolls)
  • Fung zao (chicken feet in black bean sauce)
  • Lo bak go (turnip cake)

How is dim sum traditionally served?

Dim sum is traditionally served in small bamboo steamers or on small plates. It is typically accompanied by tea, making the experience a leisurely affair known as “yum cha” (drinking tea).

In many Cantonese restaurants, the dim sum dishes are served in carts pushed by servers who offer their wares to customers as they pass by their tables. This allows diners to choose their desired dishes quickly and enjoy them while they are still hot.

What is the difference between dim sum and dumplings?

Dim sum is a culinary tradition originating from China that features various small dishes, many of which are types of dumplings. There is a wide variety of dim sum dishes, and not all of them are dumplings.

Dumplings, on the other hand, are a type of food made from dough that is filled with different ingredients, such as meat, seafood, or vegetables. They can be prepared in various ways, such as boiling, steaming, or even frying.

What ingredients are commonly used in dim sum?

Dim sum dishes often include familiar ingredients such as shrimp, pork, and chicken, but the variety doesn’t end there. Other ingredients can range from fluffy bao made with wheat flour, to translucent har gow filled with fresh shrimp.

Some more adventurous ingredients found in dim sum are:

  • Beef tripe
  • Chicken feet
  • Steamed fish maw
  • Lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice

Various sauces, such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, and black bean sauce, are also used to add extra depth of flavor to the dishes.

How do you make dim sum dough?

Dim sum dough varies depending on the specific dish being prepared. For example, the dough used in making har gow consists of primarily wheat starch and tapioca starch, while siu mai utilizes a thin wheat flour wrapper.

Another common dim sum dough, used in making bao, is made by combining all-purpose flour, sugar, yeast, and water. The dough is then kneaded until it becomes smooth, elastic, and eventually rolled out to create wrappers for various fillings.

What is the proper way to eat dim sum?

When it comes to eating dim sum, the most common utensils are chopsticks and a small, deep ceramic spoon called a Chinese soup spoon. Some etiquette tips for eating dim sum include:

  1. Use communal chopsticks or serving utensils to pick up food from shared dishes.
  2. Do not double-dip in shared sauces; use a spoon to pour sauce onto your plate.
  3. Try not to take too much food at once; it’s best to try small portions and reorder more if desired.
  4. Enjoy the variety of dishes and allow time for conversation; dim sum is meant to be a social experience.

Happy dining!

What is Dim Sum? + Recipe

Sure, here's a simple recipe for making dim sum:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 38 minutes
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 4
Calories 266 kcal


  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup chopped shrimp
  • 1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Wonton wrappers


  • In a large bowl, combine ground pork, chopped shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, cornstarch, salt, and black pepper. Mix well.
  • Lay a wonton wrapper on a flat surface. Place a spoonful of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper.
  • Wet the edges of the wrapper with water and fold it in half, pressing the edges together to seal.
  • Repeat with the remaining wrappers and pork mixture.
  • Heat a large pot of water until boiling. Place the dumplings in the pot and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until they float to the surface and the pork is cooked through.
  • Serve the dim sum with soy sauce or your favorite dipping sauce.


Calories: 266kcal
Keyword what is dim sum
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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