If you want traditional Chinese comfort food, a dim sum spread is an easy fill to satisfy that craving. While there is no strict art to enjoying it, there is also a certain etiquette that you should be aware of. If this is your first time at enjoying dim sum, the entire fare can be quite daunting, especially for foreigners who are not quite familiar with the Chinese culture.
So let me fill you in on some pointers on the proper etiquette in dim sum dining.
How Do You Dim Sum Dining The Right Way?
1. Ordering Tea
As you reach your table, the first thing to do would be to order tea. You can ask the servers what is in stock because the types of tea available will vary for each establishment. However, the most common types of tea include, Jasmine, Oolong, Chrysanthemum (Gok Fa Cha), Bo Lei (Pu-er) and Sau Mei (White tea).
Each person is charged with a tea fee, whether you drink one or not. You can save money by informing the servers ahead of time that you will not be drinking tea so that they can deduct it from your bill.
2. Drinking Tea
Once the tea is served, the person nearest the pot should be the one to pour it by filling the other’s cup first before his own. Also, when someone serves you tea, instead of the common “thank you” or bow, you simply tap your middle and index finger twice if you are married, and only use your index finger if you are single.
This practice came to be when an Emperor once longed to experience a commoner’s life. He decided to disguise himself and go into the city. It was a rule then that everyone should bow in the presence of the Emperor, however his companions could not do so because this gesture would give him away. In the dim sum house, the emperor was the one who was pouring the tea for everyone in the table. As he was pouring tea, his companions tapped two bent fingers on the table to represent bended knees instead of bowing. This tradition still carries on today during yum cha.
If you run out of tea or hot water (used to water down tea that has been sitting for a while or to remove some grease on food) there is no need to call the server. You just place the lid of the pot ajar or upside down. This actually signals the server to come over, because this can mean that you want a refill, you need more hot water because your tea has gone cold, or this could indicate how good the service is. Pots with lids that has been constantly open means that the server hasn’t been paying much attention to you.
You may also notice some diners who fill their teacups halfway, swirl the tea around before discarding it at the nearest bowl or ashtray perhaps. According to practice, this is the proper way of warming the teacup before serving tea. Some may even dip the tips of their chopsticks or pour tea on plates and bowls. To the unfamiliar observer, this may seem like odd behaviour bordering on obsession, but this practice is actually an accepted custom for dim sum dining.
3. Making an Order
In most dim sum restaurants, the food is often wheeled in carts. You can flag these carts, or the servers will approach you for you to be able to see if there is anything you want. It’s also okay to stand and approach a cart which contains the food dish you want, but also be polite in your approach and bring your stamp card with you.
Today, more modern dim sum restaurants don’t serve in carts anymore. Some use the checklist method where there are boxes that you can stamp or put a cross beside the name of the dish that you want to order. There is also a separate box where you can indicate how many you want to order. After you are done, you simply wave the paper in the air for the servers to come and collect these. Since it is not common practice in most dim sum restaurants to have a specific server for your table, it’s okay to give your order to any server available.
Most of the carts are labelled, however, usually these are in Chinese. If you are unable to read this, it’s okay to lift the lid of the baskets to see what is inside.
4. Dim sum Dining
Dim sum is best enjoyed when shared, so for instance if there are three of you and there are only two dumplings left, cut these in half so there are more portions available for everyone. This is what makes good food and good company come together in constant celebration. It is an unwritten rule to leave the last piece of food as a sign of politeness. Since it would be a shame to waste good food, it’s okay to eat the last piece, but be sure that you’ve asked others if they would like to have it.
It is customary to place your food in the small bowl placed on your plate. A common mistake made by foreigners is placing their food directly on their plate, when this is actually used for discarding bones or any pieces of food you will no longer be eating. Do remember this if you want to avoid getting funny looks from people.
Since dim sum comprise of dishes that are already beautifully seasoned, it is advised that you just enjoy it as is. Requesting for more seasoning or sauces can be offensive to the chef. So enjoy how it comes fresh out of the kitchen.
It is also okay to get your dessert in the middle of your meal. There is no stringent rule to have this at the end of the entire fare. Go ahead and indulge in the burst of flavours that authnetic dim sum desserts have.
5. After Meals
Now that you’ve had your fill of good dim sum, it’s time to take your attention to the wrapped wooden toothpicks that are often arranged near your chopsticks. If you have a habit of using this to remove morsels of food stuck within your teeth. Be discreet in doing so by using your other hand to cover your mouth as you pick away.
Now that you have the basics, the only thing that you need to focus on now is to enjoy the flavours and experience. What better place to have this in Singapore than Tak Po. We will delight your palate with authentic hand-made dim sum. Visit us today or book your table ahead to avoid the long lines at www.takpo.com.sg.
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