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Heart’s Delight: Fun with Dim Sum by Julie Goldstein

Women pass rolling carts to every table in the dining room and offer guests a selection of dishes. Every cart holds a different dish, each one equally unique and mouth-watering. Diners choose what dishes to accept, which allows everyone at the table to sample an assortment of delights. The process warrants a leisurely meal; in fact it is encouraged for diners to linger, relax, and enjoy. The diner has the power to choose as many plates of an item as he can eat, but he must be wary as the servers count the empty plates at the end of a meal to calculate the cost. Perhaps it is the pleasing aroma that drifts from the tiny indulgences in steamer baskets or maybe the joy one gets from selecting which dishes to taste that make dim sum an enchanting culinary tradition.

Dim sum can be compared to French hors d’oeuvres, Spanish tapas or even to a buffet where diners get the privilege of opting for a variety of dishes. With dim sum every dish is an individual portion that evokes a sense of exclusivity to the diner. It is a fascinating Chinese custom as it enables one to taste a selection of morsels from the myriad of offerings of the beloved cuisine. Dim sum, literally meaning, “To touch the heart,” originated in the Canton region of China, and is closely related to the Chinese tradition of yum cha—drinking tea. Ancient travelers along the Silk Road would often need a place to rest so they would stop at tea houses and enjoy yum cha. Though it was once considered unbecoming to enjoy food with tea, it became known that tea aided digestion, so as teahouses started adding snacks to their menus, this custom steadily progressed into what we now know as the delightful dim sum.

Dim sum was brought to North America in the 19th century with Chinese immigrants, many of whom were Cantonese, and has become a popular trend in the United States. Restaurants serving dim sum have arisen all over the country, particularly in Manhattan and other metropolitan areas. There is a little something for everyone to eat at dim sum, which makes it a versatile way to eat, especially for a group dining together. Both sweet and savory dishes are served at dim sum, the Chinese meal equivalent to the American brunch. It includes a plethora of fried wontons, dumplings, meatballs, steamed cakes, and puddings. On the table sits a selection of condiments typically including sesame oil, soy sauce, and fermented black bean sauce for dim sum dipping.

Dim sum is often served in courses beginning with lighter steamed dishes such as har gow—delicate shrimp dumplings, carefully dipped in a bath of soy sauce to enhance the sweetness of the shrimp . Fried wontons, pot stickers , and spring rolls may be served in the next course—then striking delicacies of chicken feet, crab claws, and spareribs appear. Diners often find themselves in a whirlwind of culinary amazement as the carts roll by. What could the next cart hold? Possibly congee, a savory rice porridge, or char siu bao—steamed buns traditionally filled with sweet barbequed pork. Dessert consists of steamed cakes and mini buttery tart shells filled with smooth and sweet egg custard.

Shumai: pork and shrimp dumplings
One of the most popular dim sum items is shumai, savory dumplings often served along with har gow, steamed dumplings made with pork fat, scallions, and bamboo shoots. Shumai dumplings are actually easy to make at home; most large grocery stores have the more unusual ingredients nowadays, and steamers are readily available. This is a large recipe, to make sure you have plenty to go around when friends visit. And they will, when they smell these babies cooking. Makes 72 of them.


  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, soaked 30 min. in hot water
  • 2¼ lbs. ground pork
  • ¾ lb uncooked shrimp- peeled, deveined, and diced
  • 2¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1½ tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 6 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 72 gyoza wonton skins
  • 72 peas

Combine all but last two ingredients, mix well, and refrigerate 4 hours, uncovered. Take wonton skin, and put 4 tsp. of mixture in center . Crimp dumpling wrapper up the sides while holding the filling, making a little basket shape. Pack down filling, smooth over the top, and lightly tap on surface to flatten bottom. Garnish with green pea. When ready to serve, steam dumplings 7 minutes.

Bull and Buddha, 319 Main St., Poughkeepsie, features a Dim Sum Brunch every Sunday, 11 AM-8 PM. Visit for more information.

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