For readers who aren’t familiar with it, Dim Sum is a Chinese style of food that originated in the Canton region of southern China and has established itself as a popular brunch-time meal among Westerners, particularly in urban areas.
Dim Sum fare consists of Chinese pastries, dumplings, buns, savory meats and desserts, which normally are ordered from servers who wheel the dishes around the dining area on small trolleys, while shouting Cantonese and generally ignoring your requests. Only kidding! (Sort of.)
Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to determine how a dish was prepared or what it is just by looking at it on the serving cart.
Moreover,what is steamed at one restaurant may be pan-fried (approximately 10 calories or more per serving than steamed) or even deep-fried (least healthy option) at another. Dumplings, rice noodle rolls and chicken feet are good examples of items that may be steamed or fried.
However, one way of dealing with this problem is having the knowledge that the lighter dishes, like the steamed items, are usually rolled out first. Heavier options, like the exotic deep-fried chicken feet, are presented later followed by desserts.
Steamed options tend to be lower in calories and fat so my advice is to fill up early on the lighter dishes and go easy on the richer ones. Regrettably, the service at some restaurants may be more chaotic and you’ll need to have some basic understanding of what to look for.
As a rule, “gok” usually means a deep-fried dumpling or turnover, while “gow” often refers to a lightly steamed dumpling.
Not all steamed items are created equal. For example, steamed dumplings are smaller than steamed buns and have fewer calories.
Each dish contains approximately three to four servings. Dine with at least three other people to avoid the temptation of overeating the same thing.
If you have one, invite a friend who is familiar with Dim Sum and can communicate with the servers to find out how the dish was prepared and what’s in it. This information is useful for the health-conscious diner and those with food allergies or intolerances.
Typically servers speak Cantonese, the southern dialect of Chinese that is used in Hong Kong. Though Mandarin is the official dialect of China, I’ve heard stories of Mandarin-speaking diners sometimes resorting to English with servers because of comprehension problems!
As for whether to choose meat options or stick to vegetarian, I’d say focus on controlling portion sizes and limiting the deep-fried foods. The amount of actual meat or veggies in many of these savory pastries is minimal.
And let’s be real. Who wants to eat a plate of steamed green vegetables at Dim Sum? Dim Sum is a time to relax, enjoy the company of your friends and be adventurous with your food selection. Save your steamed greens for when you’re ordering Chinese takeout and really enjoy your Dim Sum experience (unless, of course, you just happen to love steamed greens).
Enjoy good health!