Richmond is truly the heart of Chinese food scene here in the Lower Mainland. You’ll be hard pressed to find any other area that has as many restaurants that are all very busy, no matter what time of day. Dim sum service keeps many Chinese restaurants busy during the mornings and early afternoons.
What is it about dim sum that draws crowds into restaurants as early as 9am? It’s a chance for friends and family to catch up and enjoy a delicious meal together. It’s the act of sharing dishes of favourite items like dumplings, rice, noodles and many more dishes that were meant for sharing, while you talk about what’s new in life and in the news. The act of coming together for a meal is an important one in many cultures around the world and dim sum is a perfect example of this assembly.
Dim Sum started during the period of the Silk Road, where weary travellers would stop at teahouses along the road and have some tea with small plates. Originally most travellers would stop to “yum cha” (drink tea) until food was introduced.
Some of the main staples at dim sum include:
Har gow (Shrimp dumpling)
This starch dumpling is filled with chopped up shrimp and sometimes bamboo shoots or scallions. The sign of a good har gow is a slightly translucent skin that’s smooth that is not overcooked on the inside.
Siu mai (Pork dumpling)
The ingredients in a traditional siu mai will vary from region to region, but normally it consists of ground pork, shrimp, black mushroom encased in a yellow wrapper. Some dim sum restaurants might get fancy with their siu mai, topping it off with a bit of black truffle shavings or oil.
Char siu bao (steamed BBQ pork bun)
These mini versions of BBQ pork steam buns are filled with Cantonese style barbecue pork, or char siu. The bun is soft yet dense, while the filling is tender, sweet and savoury. Note that these buns come in both baked and steamed varieties!
Jian dui (Sesame red bean dumplings)
They have many names, but these fried sesame dumplings are a treat and are often eaten for. There are different fillings but the most popular is red bean.
Lo mai gai (Lotus leaf rice)
This excellent package consists of sticky rice, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, scallions and either beef, pork or chicken and often times, a salted egg yolk. It’s traditionally wrapped in lotus leaf but it’s not uncommon for restaurants to use banana leaves as well.
Ham siu gok (Minced pork croquette)
These deep fried dumplings are filled with pork and shrimp in a glutinous rice shell, making for a crunchy, chewy and savoury experience. The key to a good ham siu gok is getting a mix of a crispy exterior paired with a slightly chewy interior and savoury filling that isn’t overcooked.
Wu gok (Fried taro root dumplings)
With the outer part of the dumpling made with mashed up taro, the filling inside is typically ground pork. This deep fried dumpling is a crispy and savoury selection during dim sum. Some restaurants might make this dumpling with mashed taro and duck, making this a delectable dish to savour!
These custard tarts are an eggier version than normal custard tarts that are served piping hot during dim sum. There are many variations including Portuguese styled-egg tarts and coconut tarts.
Tea selections at dim sum
Since tea is a major component to dim sum and is the first decision you’ll make as you sit down for your meal, here are some popular types of tea:
Bo-Lei or Pu-erh tea
This is one of the most popular of dim sum teas; it’s also the darkest tea you can request. It can get quite bitter if you let it steep for a while, so it’s best to add hot water to your tea cup with the bo-lei.
One of the most popular choices, Jasmine tea is a mix of green, white and black tea that has a nice aroma and a pleasant taste.
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that has a multitude of different flavour profiles. Oolong’s literal translation is Black dragon tea.
Chrysanthemum tea is a floral tea that is known to have good healing qualities.
Iron Buddha tea (Tieguanyin)
Iron Buddha tea is a variety of oolong tea, possessing a complex taste profile with a floral aroma.
Many dim sum places are cash only and many also give a small discount if you eat before a certain time of day. Many restaurants take reservations for larger groups and also offer lunch items as well. You’ll find menus in both English and Chinese, and most restaurants will have photos to accompany the menu.
There are some great places along Richmond’s Dumpling Trail where you can enjoy dim sum and check out some of the recommendations made by local experts. Here are some of the places that offer dim sum along the Dumpling Trail:
- Empire Seafood Restaurant
200 – 5951 No. 3 Road, 604-249-0080
- The Jade Seafood Restaurant
120-8511 Alexandra Road, 604-249-0082
- Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant
4540 No. 3 Road Empire Centre, 604-273-8858
110-8351 Alexandra Road, 604-279-1513
For more information on the Dumpling Trail, be sure to visit: dumplingtrail.com