Dumplings & baos

Dumplings & baos

By
Jeremy Pang
Contains
11 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978-1-84949-992-7
Photographer
Kris Kirkham

Dim sum houses

The literal translation of dim sum, ‘a little touch of heart’, stems from this simple, heart-warming story, said to be the origin of the cuisine.

There was once an old lady who owned a tea house along the Silk Road. Tea houses in the old days only served tea, but one day a weary, hungry traveller came to her. It was clear that he had not eaten for days, so the old lady said to him kindly, ‘Sit down and have a sip of tea, I’ll be right back.’

She popped into the kitchen and found some flour, mixed it with water and oil, gave it a good knead and rolled out thin pastries. She stuffed the little parcels of dough with meat, prawns (shrimp) and finely chopped spring onions (scallions). Worried that her poor guest was wasting away in her front room, she started to steam the dumplings as soon as they had been made, in small batches of 3 or 4, so that he could tuck into them as soon as they came off the steamer, only stopping once all of the dough had been used up. Those basketfuls of dumplings, along with his tea, fuelled the traveller safely home; a little touch of her heart, to him.

Over the years, neighbouring tea houses followed suit, in order to attract customers, each becoming more competitive with its offerings. Though the portions never changed – each plate of dim sum served in threes or fours is there to provide a variety of food to complement the tea – the dumplings became more elaborate in their folds and pleats. Over time the tea houses evolved into what we now know as dim sum houses.

If you have ever wondered why some dumplings have such beautifully intricate pleats, the answer is that dim sum is, in essence, a product of the competitive nature of the Chinese culture. The beauty of presentation when it comes to Chinese food isn’t about swipes of vibrantly coloured sauces on giant white plates, or even fancy jellies, foams or micro cresses placed just so. Though lovely and deserving of celebration in their own right, they aren’t really relevant when it comes to Chinese cuisine. The beauty in our food, especially in dim sum, rather than the bold theatrics of many Western presentations, instead stems from the incredibly detailed, finely crafted, subtle skills you might not even notice, required to make those hundreds of tiny pleats and folds. The details of dim sum have thus become essential, from the folds to the flavour-balancing, working subtly together to make each morsel rich with a filling so beautifully unique and bursting with vibrancy that each bite becomes impactful and unforgettable, rather than what could easily just be a plain and simple bite of food.

Today, dim sum houses can be found all over Hong Kong, from huge harbour-side restaurants all the way down to streetside dai pai dongs that serve simple siu mai or rice-based dim sum. If you want to experience a true example of how much Hong Kongers love the stuff, just wake up at dawn on any given day and head out to see for yourself. Some of the larger dim sum houses will be packed full of customers, all having dim sum for their breakfast! At that time of day dim sum are at their best, the dough and fillings having been freshly made just minutes before they are served. (Although it may also have something to do with the 50 per cent discount they offer before a more reasonable waking hour.)

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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