Dim Sum for the New Year

Clockwise from top: Sweet potato puff, durian puff, siu mai, har gau, and (center) sweet green tea dumpling -- all from Dynasty Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino.

Dim sum may mean “touch the heart” in Chinese.

But we all know these precious morsels tantalize the tummy, too.

Read the definitive guide to dim sum restaurants in the Bay Area in today’s San Francisco Chronicle Food section, which yours truly contributed to.

While helping to research this story, I picked up some helpful tips along the way:

1) To really judge the quality of your dim sum, refrain from using soy sauce, chile paste, hot mustard and the like. At least with your first bite. Just as we are so often guilty of drowning pristine sushi in soy sauce and wasabi, we unthinkingly do the same with dim sum. When it’s au naturale, though, you can really judge whether a filling has real flavor, and whether a wrapper is well made.

2) Bigger is not always better. As my friend Andrea Nguyen says, there’s a reason they’re made small. Nguyen, whose newest cookbook “Asian Dumplings” comes out in September, notes they should be bite-size. Once they start to get too large, the quality of the wrappers suffer.

3) Speaking of sticky, gooey wrappers, that’s usually a sign that the dough had too much water or starch in it, according to Nguyen. A wrapper should be thin, but not so thin that it disintegrates when you try to pick up a dumpling with chopsticks. They should be an integral part of the dumpling, but shouldn’t dissolve into nothingness.

4) Look beyond the carts. Sometimes the most intriguing dim sum isn’t put on the carts. That’s because they are best when made-to-order. That’s especially true with fried items. So don’t be afraid to flag a server down to order something you don’t already see circulating on trays or carts through the dining room.

5) Befriend with your server or host, especially if someone at your table can speak Chinese or Vietnamese (particularly true in the South Bay, where many servers are Vietnamese-Americans). They’ll often point you to items you might not know about.

6) Be adventurous. Because the plates are small, even if you find you don’t love something, you won’t be wasting much. So go ahead and get a plate of chicken feet, jellyfish salad, or durian puffs. You’ll be surprised at just how good they are.

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  • Haha, what a coincidence that I came across your blog and there’s a post about dim sum when I’ve just written an ode to dim sum as well… =D I love your picture and hmm, I never knew that dim sum means “touch the heart”… I’ve always just assumed that the “dim” means little… how interesting!

  • Ah, unfortunately it seems that the descriptions and pictures have been very much mixed up. Here are the actual descriptions for the pictures in the order that they appear on the site:

    Pork Dumpling – Siu Mai
    Shrimp Dumpling – Har Gow
    Pot Stickers
    Rice Noodle Rolls
    Phoenix Claws – Chicken Feet
    Egg Tart
    BBQ Pork Bun
    XLB – Soup Dumpling
    Taro Puff
    Turnip Cake
    Egg Roll
    Pea Shoot Dumpling
    Sesame Ball
    Lotus Leaf Sticky Rice
    Pan Fried Dumpling
    Gai Lan

    Also, and this isn’t so much a critique as my opinion, but I generally don’t include XLB as part of dim sum since it’s from a different region altogether and it also tends not to be very good at dim sum houses (Yank Sing is the odd exception). Better to seek XLB at places that happen to specialize in it (HC Dumpling House, Kingdom of Dumpling, etc).

    In any case, I’m sure it was “hard work” having to try dim sum all over the bay! Happy New Year!

  • Ah, that’s unfortunately a problem on the Chronicle’s link, sorry to say. AJ, thank you for identifying them correctly for those who might scratch their heads when they click on the Chron link.

    And yes, it was very fun work eating so much dim sum. Would you believe my friend Andrea and I actually ate at two places in one day, too? Yes, we are acknowledged oinkers.

  • Food Gal, what is that slightly green round thing in the middle of your picture? I don’t recognize it. I love going to dim sum, but I have to say I’m not a fan of the dumplings that are made in those translucent skins, like har gau. Those skins is almost like eating raw rice or something. But I love all the rest!

  • It’s been ages since I’ve had dim sum though my husband just went on Tuesday. I’ve written down the two in my area (Cupertino and Sunnyvale) and will see if I can get there to try them out.

  • Sunday dim sum brunch is really a great way to start the end of the weekend. There are a few good spots in LA’s Chinatown, but it helps to go with someone who really knows how to order. It’s true that having an ambassador of the language will get you far…and better food!

  • A bunch of us San Diego Food Bloggers got together recently and went for Dim Sum. It was my first time… I was so amazed at the variety, and left the restaurant pleasantly full and satisfied! Can’t wait to go back.

  • RecipeGal, you will find that dim sum is addicting. You will find yourself craving it. I know I sure do.

    Single Guy Chef, the green ball in the center of the photo is a sweet green tea dumpling from Dynasty in Cupertino. Just put your cursor over the photo, and you’ll see the ID for all the items. The green tea dumpling was out of this world. It’s filled with black sesame paste. And the dumpling is fried to order, so it’s crispy and hot when you get it. Oooh, I wish I had some more of those right now.

    Gung Hay Fat Choy to everyone! 😉

  • I love dim sum!

    Heard that the best place to eat dim sum in the USA is in San Francisco?

    Happy Chinese New Year!

  • San Francisco definitely has bragging rights for great dim sum. Selba, you must visit the area some day to check it out for yourself. It’s good eating all around.

  • Ooh, good, now I know (finally!) where to go for my dim sum! Congrats on the compilation…

  • Great tips for ordering dim sum! =) Thanks Carolyn!

    Happy Chinese New Year!

  • Yank Sing really sets the bar for me and Dim Sum. I have some concerns now in most places about the shrimp. I’m sure they’re using imported shrimp from Thailand, China etc. The toxins and such don’t disspate from the shrimp as they do from the pork, apparently. I have to say I now stay away from har gow because of that. Of course many of the dumplings mix pork and shrimp. When I do eat it now I just try to forget this and pray that my kidney doesn’t fail from the melamine and such.

    Anyone out there on the PC left coast doing dim sum with safely harvested domestic shrimp?

    At least we still have siu nap and char siu.

    Sun ling Fai lok!

  • That’s a really good point, Jacqueline. Alas, I don’t know of any dim sum restaurants that have vowed to use only wild shrimp. I fear the cost would be prohibitive. But hopefully, some day in the future, this will be a viable choice for diners.

    And I’m with you on Yank Sing. Incredible dim sum. The restaurant also holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my husband and I had our wedding banquet. I still think about that meal, even now.

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