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What is Dim Sum?

By Shirley Fong-Torres

Dim means “point” in Cantonese; sum means “the heart.” Dim sum is offered in tiny cafes and huge dim sum palaces. It is usually served from 8 a.m. until around 2 p.m., but nowadays some restaurants have it available around the clock. It is a time for family and friends to gather, and almost always on Saturdays and Sundays. However, dim sum can be found any day of the week.

In the restaurant, you sit at a table that is set with plate, chopsticks and napkin, and usually an assortment of sauces: soy, chili, and mustard. Then the fun begins. The dim sum carts swirl all about you. But don’t blink, they may pass you up! Point to the cart, and it will suddenly stop in front of your table. If you are lucky, you get to take a peek first, and pick the food you want. You and your friends will be silly happy, eating all the food you choose! Enjoy piping hot cups of tea, and friendship and conversation.

Usually, a minimum of four people sit at a table — remember: the more people you have at the table, the more you can order! When the carts, or trays, come around, servers announce what they are offering, unfortunately often in Chinese, and you point. If it looks good to you, point, and it’s yours. What you eat is kept track of by the number of plates you have, or the server stamps the size of the plate you choose, which determines the cost of the food. It is fun to order at least 10 items, to share. Cost can range from $1.35 a plate, to over $4-5 for a serving of Peking Duck.

*Some of my personal favorite places for dim sum in San Francisco: Yank Sing, Four Seas, and Louie’s.

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