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Best of Dim Sum: Learn How to Make Siu Mai, Char Siu, Bao Buns, and More

Traditional Cantonese Dim Sum dishes are a food experience everyone must have! Find out more about the delicious steamed dumplings, char siu pork, and other snack-sized dishes from the South of China and learn to make them at home!
Best of Dim Sum: Learn How to Make Siu Mai, Char Siu, Bao Buns, and More
Best of Dim Sum: Learn How to Make Siu Mai, Char Siu, Bao Buns, and More
Anna at SideChef
Bitten by curiosity bug. Obsessed with words. Fuelled by coffee. Powered by Google. Love cheese, chocolate, and cherries. Don’t judge your taco by its price.
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Anna at SideChef
Bitten by curiosity bug. Obsessed with words. Fuelled by coffee. Powered by Google. Love cheese, chocolate, and cherries. Don’t judge your taco by its price.

Dim Sum has officially entered the English language in 2016 and is defined as "a Chinese dish of small steamed or fried savory dumplings containing various fillings, served as a snack or main course." Yet, this definition doesn't even start to explain the rich cultural tradition and exquisite taste of dozens of dim sum dishes, especially beloved in Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Let's learn more about the origins and cultural significance of some of the most famous authentic dim sum dishes like siu mai, char siu bao, har gow, daan taat, and others. And learn how to make those classic dim sum recipes at home.

What Is Dim Sum? What Does Dim Sum Mean...Literally?

Dim Sum tradition has begun thousands of years ago. It can be traced to ancient times when those who traveled along the Silk Road through China would stop at one of the many teahouses to get some rest and drink some tea (yum cha 饮茶 - "drink tea") and have a bite to eat.

Is Dim Sum and Yum Cha the Same Thing?

Teahouse owners started offering bite-sized snack foods to accompany the tea-drinking, which got the name dim sum 点心. Eating dim sum became synonymous with drinking tea, and those two words still go hand in hand and are used interchangeably.

Dim Sum is a magical combination of two meaningful characters - 点 and 心. Together they literally mean "touching heart,” referring to easing one's hunger. And being the essential part of Cantonese cuisine, they have sure touched the hearts of many worldwide!

But there's more to it. If used as an adjective dim 点 means "small,” "tiny,” or “delicate,” and perfectly describes the delicious shrimp and pork dumplings or crunchy spring rolls. It can also be used as a noun, and in that case, it means "dish,” adding another nuance to the "small dishes.” Sum 心 is a beautiful word that implies desire and pleasure.

The small dishes called dim sum are as packed with meaning as char siu is with flavor.

As exquisite and multi-layered as it may be, dim sum is nothing if not common. It is served in the best high-end Michelin star dim sum restaurants and in neighborhood hole-in-the-wall family-owned Chinese restaurants where anyone can go for an affordable selection of dim sum classics.

Chinese dim sum recipes have evolved and spread all over the world, taking in influences from different worldly cuisines and gaining more well-deserved popularity. It's time to learn how to make the best dim sum dishes at home and host yum cha with homemade steamed buns, pork spring rolls, char siu bao buns, and other authentic dim sum dishes.

Char Siu 叉烧 (aka Cha Siu or Chinese BBQ Pork)

Char Siu BBQ Pork is all about the marinade. The boneless pork tenderloin is marinated in a mix of Chinese spices, fresh ginger, garlic, rice wine, and honey. It makes the most delicious and tender sweet and savory dim sum dish.

Char Siu pork is traditionally served over rice or simply as a part of the dim sum menu. It has inspired many other dishes and makes a delicious combination in Char Siu Cabbage Noodle Soup, Char Siu Meatballs, or these Char Siu Fried Dumplings.

Char Siu Bao叉烧包 (aka Chinese BBQ Pork Bun)

This Char Siu-filled steamed bun deserves its own place on our list! It is an absolute must-order item at your favorite Chinese restaurant. And you are about to get an authentic Steamed BBQ Pork Bun recipe to make at home!

Bao Bun (aka Basic Bao Bun for Cha Bao 叉包 Sandwiches)

Gua Bao or Cha Bao Sandwiches are very popular Chinese dim sum dishes. They literally mean "fork bun,” as the filling is usually pierced with a toothpick to hold it in place.

The traditional filling is a slice of char siu glazed pork with a choice of extra vegetables. But you can experiment and make your own combinations with this quick and easy basic bao bun recipe.

Tang Zhong Bao (aka Hong Kong Sausage Bun)

If you have ever been to Hong Kong, you must know the delicious Asian bakery staple that is Tang Zhong sausage rolls. This Hong Kong-style hot dog will become your new favorite savory bread treat. The recipe below is tried and tested and makes the most authentic sausage bun without traveling to Hong Kong.

Siu Mai 烧卖(aka Shu Mai or Shao Mai)

One of the most popular and known dim sum dishes - siu mai (or shu mai) does not have a very clear name. Unlike self-explanatory har gow (literally meaning 'shrimp dumpling') or char siu bao (roast pork bun), siu mai translates to a confusing 'burn sell'... Where does the name come from?

It turns out that the delicious steamed dumpling got its name in Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. When the Silk Road travelers stopped for a snack, they could get 'shao mai' 捎卖 alongside the Mongolian milk tea. Different characters with similar pronunciations meant "side sale.”

When the dish started to become more and more popular and have traveled down South, the original 捎卖 shao mai takeaway dish turned into siu mai 烧卖 (burn sell) - almost the same sound but different meaning.

The story behind the new name is that the dumplings were so good, they were never left unsold, turning them into a "hot sale.” The delicious pork and shrimp dumplings would always sell like hotcakes.

Make the legendary dim sum siu mai recipe at home, and you will believe the story above to be true.

Lo Mai Fan 糯米饭 (aka Chinese Sticky Rice)

Lo Mai Fun is another popular Chinese dish made from glutinous rice and various extra ingredients, like chicken, pork, shiitake mushrooms, and other mixed vegetables.

Hong Kong Typhoon-Shelter Shrimp 避风塘炒虾

The name Typhoon Shelter Prawns or Shrimp is believed to come from the famous Causeway Bay typhoon shelter in Hong Kong. Stir-fried in aromatic oil, garlic, green onions, this dish was often served there. Now typhoon shelter prawns and typhoon shelter crab have become popular dishes in Chinese cuisine worldwide.

Pai Gwut 排骨 (aka Black Bean Spare Ribs)

A traditional appetizer from the Southern province of Guangdong in China - the ribs are steamed with aromatic oil and black bean sauce. Once the ribs are done, they are usually served in traditional bamboo steamers garnished with green onions.

Siu Luhng Bao 小笼包 (aka Steamed Soup Dumplings)

Soup Dumplings, also called Xiao Long Bao, is the most delicate and savory dim sum dish. They originated in the late 19th century Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang. Making these soup dumplings at home can be time-consuming, but the result is worth your time and effort.

Cheun Goon 春卷(aka Spring rolls or Egg Rolls)

A timeless favorite crispy spring rolls filled with plenty of different delicious ingredients. Try making the classic crispy pork egg rolls or a more delicate shrimp and pork mix. And if you want to take it to the next level, then make your egg rolls from scratch. Homemade Spring Roll Wrappers are super easy to make, and you will never buy them again after you try them.

Cheung Fun 肠粉 (aka Rice Noodle Rolls)

Cantonese steamed rice noodles are incredibly popular for breakfast and can be made with plenty of different ingredients. This recipe with hoisin sauce is a good one to start with.

Daan Taat 蛋挞 (aka Hong Kong Style Egg Tart)

The egg custard tart came to Hong Kong from Britain and Portugal and has since spread all throughout China. Master this easy Chinese custard dessert recipe and have a yum cha any time you want.

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