Dim Sum

It was an over-seas business trip to Hong Kong that first introduced me to dim sum. Sunday, just before noon, and my host and I climbed the steps and entered the well-decorated, but motionless, dining room. I was being promised a feast that I would never forget.

As soon as we were seated, tea was served, soon followed by a beautifully-dressed server pushing a steaming metal cart. Opening the lid revealed a dozen or more small, bamboo steamer baskets. Each basket concealing something noticeably different. Pieces of paper resembling a bingo card mixed with many Laplace matrices, all in Chinese characters, were placed at the table’s edge. My host begins pointing and smiling and soon at least three of the many differing varieties of foods were before us. The server picks up the “cards” and makes marks corresponding to each dish served. This was repeated six more times before we had sampled each dish the restaurant had to offer.

Welcome to the ultimate buffet: Chinese-style. Dim sum. What followed was an hour or more of savoring and sampling an eclectic assortment of dumplings, meats, sauces, and rolls. One would think that, with such smallish serving sizes, one could not become full. One would be sorely mistaken. It was a grandiose and sweeping exposure to Chinese cooking, ingredients, and preparation.

Watching the dining room flood with new guests was an experience in and of itself. It seemed to this author that Sunday dim sum was akin to my own family’s habitual excursion to the local “Bob Evans” for pancakes, sausage gravy and biscuits, and coffee. A tradition spent with loved ones over a set period of time for the purposes not only of dietary nourishment but for the soul as well.

Of course, returning to the United States, I was moved to re-create as best I could the tastes and smells I came to know in China. After many, many culinary disappointments and successes, I would like to share with you how to re-create a little bit of the dim sum experience at home. What follows are three unique recipes garnered from both the Web as well as my own trial-and-error as well as the equipment and ingredients you will need on-hand.


  • A food steamer or bamboo steaming baskets. The food steamer may be, in my humble opinion, the best kitchen small electric investment you will ever make. If not, bamboo steaming baskets are available at Asian groceries or on-line at chef stores such as www.chefskitchen.com. (I prefer bamboo to metal steaming baskets.)
  • A wok.
  • A sundry of various wooden spoons, spatulas, chopsticks, knives, and forks.
  • Waxed paper.
  • A small basting brush.
  • A variety of cups, bowl, and plates.


  • Vegetable oil. (NOT olive oil)
  • Wanton wrappers (available in your grocer’s produce section).
  • Meat: cooked ground pork, cooked and peeled shrimp, cooked chicken, etc. All chopped.
  • Vegetables: onions, carrot, celery/bok choy, water chestnuts, peas, broccli, beans- all diced or finely chopped. Separate each for logistical reasons.
  • Sauces: Plum, soy, Hoisin, etc.
  • Other: shaved ginger, crushed hot peppers, minced garlic

The Recipes:

Transparent Steamed Vegetable and Meat Dumplings

The name comes from the effect that steaming the wanton wrappers produces. These are the most simple and versatile dishes.
    Begin with one layer of waxed paper on the bottom inside of the steamer basket or the included basket of your electric steamer. Coat very lightly by brushing with vegetable oil. Bring the steamer to temperature.

    Working quickly, fill the center of a wanton with your choice of meats, vegetables, and spices; being careful not to over-stuff (roughly 1.5 teaspoons of ingredients). Wet the edges of the wanton and, while cradling in the palm of your hand, pinch together the edges into a ball-like shape. Lay within the steamer with tongs so as not to burn yourself.

    Repeat this process until you fill the basket with some room to spare. Steam for 3 – 5 minutes and remove with spoon or wooden tongs. Allow to cool slightly, dip in your favourite sauce, enjoy!

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns

The quaint part of this recipe is the buns. They are made from a sweetdough that is very light due to it being steamed rather than baked. The following recipe was found at www.recipesource.com. For the dough:
  • 1/3 c. warm water
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 pkg. dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 1/2 c. cake flour
  • 4 T. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. shortening
  • 1 1/4 c. low fat milk
  • 16 pieces white paper, 2 inches-square
For the filling:
  • 6 oz. Chinese BBQ pork, diced
  • 1 T. oil
  • 2 tsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. thin soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp. hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 4 tsp. cold water (for thickening)

Mix together the warm water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and yeast in an 8 ounce measuring cup. Let the mixture stand until it rises to the 8 ounce level (about 20 minutes).

Sift the flour, cake flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Add the shortening, yeast mixture and milk.

Knead the mixture for 5 minutes to form a dough. Cover it with a damp cloth and set the dough in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.

Heat a wok, add oil and stir-fry the pork for 2 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons water, salt, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce and hoisin sauce. Bring it to a boil.

Prepare the thickening by mixing the cornstarch and 4 tablespoons cold water. Stir this into the mixture and cook for 1 minute. Let it cool before using.

After 3 hours, when the dough has risen, shape it into rolls about 2 inches in diameter. Cut each roll into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

Shape each piece into a shallow bowl shape.

Put 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each piece of dough, close and twist the dough to form a bun. Put the bun on a 2-inch square of white paper. (This prevents the bun from becoming soggy while steaming.) Place 8 buns in a pie pan and allow them to set and rise for 15 minutes in a warm place.

Steam for 25 minutes.

Chinese Egg Custard Tarts

These are simply fantastic! I first had them when my host and I made an un-planned road-trip to a computer “mall” to have his PC fixed. We were sitting and waiting and, out of nowhere, one of the employees comes out with a small tray of these bright yellow tarts. Before this, I had never seen a Chinese eat a sweet, so I was surprised. And, having forgotten the warning to not eat strange foods from strange sources, I quickly accepted her offer. I downed it in one bite, being the connoisseur of sweets that I am, and was very satisfied. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! This recipe is from "Dim Sum" by Rhoda Yee. For the Tart Pastry:
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. lard
  • 1 egg
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
For the Egg Custard Filling:
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 3 extra large egg yolks
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 1 c. sugar

Cream the butter with the lard. Add the egg and sugar. Beat well. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time. The dough will be mealy. Work quickly with your hands to gather the dough into a ball. Knead it lightly so that the mixture adheres. You may chill it at this point while making the filling.

To make the Egg Custard Filling: Be sure all of the ingredients are at room temperature. Beat the whole eggs at low speed with the egg yolks well. Do not over beat. Add the sugar, then milk, then half and half. Let the mixture rest 10-15 minutes. Skim the foam from the mixture. Separate the dough into 24 ball. Press each into a 2 1/2 inch tart shell to an even layer across the bottom and all the way up the sides. Fill the shell with the filling almost to the top. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the tarts on a cookie sheet and bake them for 45 minutes. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Loosen slightly by inserting a toothpick along the sides. The tart shell should unmold easily.

    It is important that the ingredients for the filling be at room temperature and beaten over a bowl of warm water. Cold ingredients will cause the filling to separate during baking. By skimming off the foam, the custard will have a golden, creamy appearance with a velvety smooth texture which is a most unique and delightful gastronomic treat! Do

    not bake at high heat, as this will cause the custard to bubble up like a balloon and burst.

As you can see, this represents only a small sample of the variety that dim sum has to offer. If you live in an area that has a dim sum restaurant, I want to strongly urge you to check it out. Bring a healthy appetite! And if you would like to see more dim sum articles and recipes here at Seasoned Cooking, please let us know. We would be happy to oblige!