Breaking Bad Periodic Table of Dim Sum
I love dim sum, you love dim sum, we all love dim sum! Dim sum can be confusing and it can be extremely difficult for people who have food allergies or food restrictions because you can’t really tell what’s in each dish. This guide aims to help sort you out when you’re eating dim sum so you have a general idea what some of the most common and traditional dim sum dishes contain.
For those who aren’t familiar with dim sum, dim sum is typically eaten during lunch or brunch and it’s a great way for the family to gather and share a meal together. Similar to tapas, each dish is meant to be shared amongst those around the table and it is generally carb heavy so you’re meant to wash it down with hot tea. Traditionally, when you eat dim sum, the dim sum dishes are placed in trolleys and they wheel them around the restaurant, so you can just pluck out the dishes you’re interested directly from the trolley; however, most restaurants now give you a menu to order from instead, most presumably because it can get chaotic with all those trolleys being wheeled around. Some restaurants still keep it old school with the trolleys and that’s always a super authentic and fun experience to try out!
Here’s the Periodic Table of Dim Sum (click image to enlarge):
If it’s your first time trying out dim sum, the top picks are labelled with a crown so you can just order those dishes and then choose and pick which ones to reorder for your second visit. Chicken feet is a must try at some point!
NOTE FOR THOSE WITH FOOD ALLERGIES AND RESTRICTIONS:
Please note that these are the traditional dim sums and the ingredients stated are what is normally in them; however, lots of restaurants now embrace fusion foods and try to create creative and modern takes on the traditional dim sum and it may contain different ingredients to the traditional ingredients. That being said, please use the Periodic Table of Dim Sum as a guide only. To be quite honest, in Hong Kong, there is little concept to what a food allergy is (it’s even harder for them to grasp the gluten free concept…); therefore, if you do go to dim sum, please be extra careful and have someone test the dishes for you. We like to use mince pork in a lot of dishes, so beware if you don’t eat pork. Also, be especially alert if you are allergic to seafood, particularly shellfish because we like to use dried scallop and shrimps in practically everything, and the waitstaff always forgets to mention it even if you tell them you’re allergic to shellfish or seafood.
Dumplings (Column A & B – L to R, top to bottom)
We love our dumplings!
16 S: SHRIMP DUMPLING (HAR GOW)
Favourite dish of mine at dim sum. Translucent skin with a shrimp and bamboo shoot filling; restaurants that skimp on shrimp will incorporate a bit of pork into the shrimp mixture. The skin should be thin but strong enough so it doesn’t break and chewy but not tough. The filling should be mostly shrimp with a very crisp and sweet shrimp flavour. Yum.
19 K: SHRIMP & PORK DUMPLING (SIU MAI)
Shrimp and pork filling with some fish roe on the top and then wrapped with a yellow egg dumpling wrapper. These are dim sum “siu mai(s)” as the ones you see at snack stands in HK contain a fish paste filling instead of the pork and and shrimp filling. The most traditional siu mais were actually made with pork liver as the filling; however, these are very rare nowadays.
15 P: SOUP DUMPLING (XIAO LONG BAO)
A very flavourful pork filling with lots of soup inside the dumpling. Approach this dumpling delicately because you do not want to break the skin and have all the delicious soup leak out. Best to gently pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks and then place it onto your waiting spoon. Bite the top off and then you can pour the black vinegar and julienne ginger right into the middle of the dumpling. Be careful when biting into it as it should be extremely hot. The vinegar and ginger helps bring out the sweetness of the pork and soup filling.
23 V: SHRIMP & CHIVES DUMPLING
It’s hard to get this one right. The skin cannot be too thick and there has to be a crisp and golden brown bottom or else this shrimp will taste too soggy and oily. Skip this if you’re not into chives because the chives’ smell and flavour can be quite overpowering.
8 O: POTSTICKERS
Once again, this is a dumpling that has a pork filling. This one is pan fried, unlike the other dumplings which are steamed, with a thicker wrapper and when done properly, it has a really crispy bottom and juicy filling.
74 W: CHIU CHOW PORK AND PEANUT DUMPLINGS
Once again, it’s a pork filling, but this one has some other ingredients mixed in, most notably, peanuts. The wrapper is like the shrimp dumpling whereby it is translucent, but it’s much thicker and even chewier. This is my mom’s personal favourite because there are more textures involved with the chewier skin, with the filling having more flavour and bite.
21 Sc: SCALLOP DUMPINGS
Very similar to the shrimp dumpling, except the filing is with scallop instead of shrimp.
Protein (Column C – L to R)
33 As: ROAST PORK
Basically suckling pig but Asian style and even better. The best ones will have a very crispy skin with very juicy and flavourful meat. The very best roast pork will not usually be at a dim sum place, but instead at a restaurant that specialities in meats.
75 Re: SPARE RIBS
These spareribs are tasty! They’re steamed in a black bean sauce with a little bit of a kick from chilies and lots of garlic.
87 Fr: DEEP FRIED SQUID
Like calamari but with the tentacles instead. The batter is also a bit more golden, crispier and saltier. I personally think it’s even better than calamari.
58 Ce: MINCE BEEF BALLS
Meatballs, but steamed and with some tofu skin to soak up all the juice on the bottom. The black sauce they serve this dish with is not soy sauce, it’s actually Worcestershire sauce.
Deep Fried (Column C & D – top to bottom)
84 Po: DEEP FRIED TARO AND PORK DUMPLING
It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I’m not a big fan of taro so I just find the inside a bit mundane and mushy because it’s a taro based filling but if you like taro, give this a try because it has a very aromatic taro flavour.
3 Li: DEEP FRIED MEAT DUMPLING
Once again, it’s a pork filling and it’s similar to the Chiu Chow pork dumpling, sans peanuts. The best part about this dumpling is the outer glutinous pastry that’s soft, sweet, chewy and golden brown. It’s a sweet dough on the outside with a savoury filling on the inside.
Innards, etc. (Column D – L to R)
9 F: BEEF TRIPE
Before I tell you which part of the cow this is, I have to say that I love beef tripe. It’s got no taste really, but it’s a got a really great al dente texture. Tripe is the edible part of the stomach lining of a cow’s stomach and it’s also in pho if you order the Dac Biet (Special).
6 C: CURRY FISH BALLS & PIG SKIN
This is a medley of stuff that you would find at those HK snack kiosks. Curry fish balls are basically like meatballs but made from a fish paste, and pig skin is spongey like in texture and takes on the flavour of the sauce that it’s cooked in. Apparently it’s great for the skin because it’s got a high collagen content.
49 I: BEEF INNARDS
The big majority of it is beef stomach but they may throw in other ingredients like tofu puff, and perhaps other innards. Beef stomach is a bit chewy in texture, but in a good way.
26 Fe: CHICKEN FEET
The dish that has all foreigners shudder, but it’s so good! The sauce is sweet and so tasty. I think this dish is on all exotic food bucket lists so you may as well order it and give it a go. This is no real technique to eating it but I usually bite off all the fingers/talons off first and consume those parts first. My non Asian friends do not like the palm area because they find it much too chewy so you can discard that part if you wish.
Buns (Column E – L to R)
5 B: BBQ PORK BUN
This is a crowd favourite; in fact, if we have foreigners at the table who are not too adventurous with their food choices, we make sure to order a few servings of these baes to ensure everyone is well fed. You cannot go wrong with these buns – they’re steamed and they’ve got a really tasty sweet pork filling. If the restaurant you’re at has BBQ pork buns, but in a pineapple bun as an outer shell, make sure you try those ones as well because they’re also amazeballs.
18 Ar: EGG YOLK CUSTARD BUN
There are regular egg yolk custard buns and then there are the lava ones. The best ones are the lava ones and lava means that the filling is runny inside similar to a lava cake. This bun eats more like a dessert because the creamy egg yolk custard filling is sweet so it’s great for people with a sweet tooth.
52 Te: LOTUS PASTE BUN
Once again, another sweet bun, but this time, instead of a egg yolk custard filling, it’s a lotus seed paste as the filling and it’s even sweeter. It is not runny in the middle and eats more like a red bean paste. In my personal opinion, I prefer the egg yolk custard bun.
56 Ba: BAKED BBQ PORK BUN
The filling is the same as the BBQ pork buns; however, instead of being steamed, these buns are baked. Some restaurants have taken this bun to a far superior level by giving it a sweet pineapple bun top. So in terms of how BBQ pork buns go: Baked BBQ pork buns with the pineapple bun top is the best, then the steamed BBQ pork buns and then the baked BBQ pork buns.
4 Be: RED BEAN BUN
The consistency of the filling is the same as the lotus paste bun; however, it is a paste made from red bean instead of lotus seed. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth and I love the savoury dishes from dim sum so to be frank, I hardly ever order the red bean or lotus paste buns.
Miscellaneous (Column F – L to R)
102 No: RICE NOODLE ROLLS
Love these. These rice noodle rolls can be plain with no filling inside or you can get them with a shrimp, pork, beef, etc. filling. I would recommend the shrimp (same filling to the shrimp dumpling) or pork filling (same filling to the BBQ pork buns).
92 U: PAN FRIED TURNIP CAKE
These are a crowd favourite amongst Hong Kongers; however, I find that my Westerner friends don’t particularly love these as much as the locals. It’s not really a cake; inside it’s like a dense paste that they pan fry. If done well, the bottom will be crispy and golden brown, and if not, then these could come across as becoming very oily and kind of mushy. It’s made by finely grating turnip and then incorporating other ingredients such as Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and scallion.
29 Cu: DEEP FRIED BEAN CURD ROLLS
The wrapper is a deep fried bean curd and then minced shallots, carrots, pork, mushroom, etc. is wrapped inside. It sounds healthy; however, as it gets deep fried, the bean curd absorbs all the oil so it’s actually one of the least healthy options on the dim sum menu. Tasty but calorific. Sigh, ’tis life.
7 N: CHINESE DONUT WRAPPED WITH RICE NOODLES
One of my personal faves is this one, just because I really like rice noodles to begin with. This is using the same rice noodle roll, but they roll a Chinese doughnut inside and you dip this into soy sauce, sesame sauce, hoisin sauce and a touch of chilli oil/srirracha. Soft rice noodle on the outside and chewy with a crunch on the inside. YUM! A Chinese doughnut is essentially dough that’s been fried and it’s in a form of a long rod and people eat this usually in the morning as breakfast or as a compliment to their congee.
59 Pr: SPRING ROLLS
This one most should have tried because they have it essentially in any Chinese fast food chain like Panda Express, etc. A fried dumpling wrapped wrapped with various minced vegetables and sometimes with pork. The spring rolls are usually accompanied with Worcestershire as the dipping sauce.
Carbs (Column F – L to R)
32 Ge: CONGEE
Made from rice boiled in water for a prolonged time to turn it to a porridge like consistency. You can have plain congee accompanied with Chinese doughnut or the congee will come with toppings like century egg with minced meat (very popular and the century egg will be an acquired taste for some). Eats like a stew so it’s comfort food and lots of people will eat congee when they’re ill – it’s Asia’s chicken noodle soup.
90 Th: STEAMED RICE WITH TOPPINGS
Fragrant steamed rice with assorted toppings. The best part is that the rice is steamed with the toppings placed on top, so if you order favourites like the sparerib one, all the sparerib sauce will seep into the rice and it’s very tasty. The sparerib rice sometimes comes with a free chicken feet.
99 Es: SOY SAUCE PAN FRIED NOODLES
What the Westerners and Panda Express call Chow Mein. Noodles fried with soy sauce. The best chow meins will be very dry and will not taste soggy and oily.
39 Y: SOY SAUCE PAN FRIED RICE NOODLE ROLLS
Once again, rice noodle rolls for the win!!! This time, the rice noodle rolls will be plain, but pan fried with soy sauce and XO (chilli sauce with lots of dried scallops) and they’re one of my favourites also. Hoisin and sesame sauce are also used as dipping sauces.
22 Ti: STICKY RICE IN LOTUS LEAF
Glutinous rice with a pork, mushroom, etc., filling and then it gets wrapped in a lotus leaf and gets steamed. The fragrant flavour of the lotus leaf will seep into the glutinous rice and it’s tasty! Usually when you order one serving of this, you will get 2-3 of these sticky rice bundles and they’re great for sharing because all that glutinous rice can get quite filling.
Dessert (Column H & I – L to R, top to bottom)
20 Ca: MALAY SPONGE CAKE
Light and airy sponge cake that is steamed and not baked and made from brown sugar. Fairly easy on calories for a dessert and not too sweet – perfect way to finish off dim sum.
91 Pa: BBQ PORK PASTRY
Same BBQ pork filling as the BBQ pork buns, but this time, the outside is a flaky tart like pastry. Perfect dish to even those that are apprehensive to dim sum.
73 Ta: EGG TART
Similar to a lemon tart, but the filling is a creamy sweet yolk filling and the outside is a flaky, buttery pastry. Usually when you order egg tarts at dim sum, the egg tarts are miniature versions of the actual egg tarts you buy at bakeries.
34 Se: DEEP FRIED DUMPLING WITH SESAME
Deep fried dough made from glutinous rice flour and then covered with a load of sesame. Sometimes there is nothing in the dough and it’s hollow, which makes the dough thinner and crispier. If there is a filling, then the filling will be red bean paste and then the dough will be thicker and chewier. To each their own, but I prefer the hollow ones.
13 Al: ALMOND MILK TEA
It’s not really a tea, so I’m not sure why they call it a tea but it is a hot dessert. It’s supposed to be made from actual grounded almonds and it is absolutely delicious if it is; however, a lot of restaurants skimp out on the almonds and compensate with too much sugar. This dessert is consumed for health and beauty reasons because the Chinese believe that this dessert will make their skin smoother and whiter just like the almond milk. Some restaurants will also serve this almond milk with egg whites in it to further up its nutritional value.
94 Pu: MANGO PUDDING
Nuff said. The best kind is if lots of actual mango is in it and if there is a lot of evaporated milk on top. Yummy.
68 Er: WATER CHESTNUT JELLY
This is a very traditional dessert that lots of elders around the table will order. It’s a jelly with bits of water chestnut in it, very light and a bit sweet.
27 Co: COCONUT PUDDING
Coconut milk but in a pudding/jello form. If you like coconut milk, you’ll love this.
Now get your dim sum face on and get ready to stuff yourselves silly!