After a hectic work week, most of us would love nothing more than to start the weekend by sleeping in. However, being a true blue Malaysian, all one needs to do is throw (good) food into the mix, and just like magic – we’re up! Out of all the breakfast choices we can enjoy, dim sum is one of the most enduringly popular.
The fact that dim sum places are packed to the brim, especially between the hours of 6 and 10am, speak volumes about the magnetism of this cuisine. If you’re new to dim sum (or simply want to impress your foodie friends with trivia), you’ve come to the right place for a written tour! Let’s start by winding back the clock, all the way to the start…
How It All Began
First things first, what does dim sum mean? Translated directly from Cantonese, it means ‘to touch the heart’. Dim sum grew from the Chinese tradition of yum cha, which means ‘to drink tea’, and is said to have blossomed from teahouses along the Silk Road. These teahouses accommodated the numerous travellers who were journeying along the Silk Road and needed a place to rest.
Back in the 3rd century, a well- known physician perpetrated the myth that combining tea with food would lead to weight gain. However, as centuries passed, so did the myth. Once people started coming around to the (truthful) idea that tea could aid digestion and cleanse one’s palate, those teahouses added snacks to be consumed alongside the tea. With that, dim sum was born.
Types of Dim Sum And How They’re Made
When it comes to variety, dim sum is at the top of its game. Dishes can be sorted into four primary categories, namely dumplings, rolls, buns and desserts, which are prepared by steaming, deep-frying or baking. They’re usually sweet and/or savoury, with meat, prawn and custard featuring heavily in many of them.
Under the dumpling category, one can’t go wrong with har gao (prawns encased in a wrapping made of starch and tapioca flour), siew mai (a cup shaped dumpling containing ground meat and shrimps), xiao long bao (a bigger type of dumpling that contain ground meat and an intensely flavoured hot broth that drips out when eaten), and wuh gok (a deep-fried variation stuffed with shrimp, meat and mashed taro).
Onto rolls! A good place to start is spring rolls, which are deep-fried rolls comprising various sliced vegetables (usually cabbage, mushrooms and wood ear fungus) and sometimes meat. Following that, we have rice noodle roll, or as it’s more commonly known – chee cheong fun! The dim sum iteration of chee cheong fun does not have any fried add-ons, but is served purely as rolls containing shrimp or meat, that have sweet soy sauce poured over them.
It wouldn’t be a complete dim sum experience without buns, and once you’ve had one, your personal bar for buns will forever be raised. If you can take pork, try char siew bao, which is a bun filled with chunks of barbecued pork. The bun itself can either be a steamed white puff, or a baked golden exterior. If meat’s not an option, you can opt for either tau sar bao (red bean) or nai wong bao (custard), which make a refreshing alternative to sweet treats.
Speaking of sweet, dim sum offers pretty compelling choices for desserts as well. Once you try an egg tart or a sesame ball, you’ll see why. An egg tart contains a bed of bright yellow egg custard filling surrounded by a biscuit-like crust. While sesame balls have red bean paste encased within a deep-fried chewy dough coated in sesame seeds.
Where to Eat
Now, for the most important question: where can you – someone who’s probably starving now from reading all that – find the best dim sum in Klang Valley, and by extension, Malaysia?
RESTORAN JIN XUAN HONG KONG
7am to 12am
A32, 34, 36, Jalan 1/116B, Kuchai Entrepreneurs’ Park, 58200 Kuala Lumpur
Mon to Fri 11am to 3pm; Sat 9am to 10:30pm; Sunday 9am to 8:30pm
PNB Darby Park, Jln Binjai, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
RESTORAN ZIM SUM
6:30am to 2pm
No. 62, Jalan Macalister, 10450 George Town, Penang
Words by Rachel Fong