The Names of the Dim Sum

Categories: Das Ubergeek
"You know, the... the... the thing! With the pork. And the floppy rice noodles. You know, that you put the sauce on."

Dim sum, or yum cha as it's sometimes called, is meant to be a relaxing occasion. You're supposed to drink a lot of tea, eat some salty or sweet snacks, and chew the fat (so to speak) with friends.

Everybody's got their favorite dim sum, though, and if you're at a place with cart service and you end up sitting closest to the aisle, you are going to be asked to procure these favorites, which can be tough if you don't know what they look like and can't ask for them. Not exactly relaxing.

So here's the guide to the most common foods at dim sum.

wenzday01 @ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before we get started, let's appease the language sticklers. These pronunciations and rhymes are approximations. Cantonese is a hard language to learn even for Mandarin-speakers, with nine tones that get mangled into six; having untutored gwailo try it can be an exercise in comedy. The laughter will happen, but at the end of it you'll have delicious food on your table. Laugh away, tell me how bad the approximations are and how it's useless without tones, but bear in mind that the bad approximations will still get delicious food on your table and will probably earn you a smile or an appreciative laugh from the cart ladies.

If you get desperate, the Chinese characters are listed and you can print them out.

Au yuk kao
Rhymes with "now look cow"

Steamed beef meatballs, the ugly (but delicious) duckling of the yum cha table.

Char siu bao
Rhymes with "bar few now"

The single most popular dim sum item, these are the white fluffy buns filled with sticky, sweet barbecued pork. If you're looking for the kind that have been baked with sugar glaze on top, order guk char siu bao (焗叉燒包, rhymes with "look bar few now").

Cheung fun
Rhymes with "Jung bun"

Meat wrapped in thick, large rice noodles and topped with a soy-based sauce. These are the dim sum that will test your mastery of the chopstickial arts. The three common variations are beef (牛肉腸粉 / au yuk cheung fun), shrimp (蝦腸粉 / har cheung fun) and barbecued pork (叉燒腸粉 / cha shu cheung fun).

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