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Dim Sum for the New Year

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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