In Hong Kong, there’s a tradition known as yum cha wherein people enjoy Chinese tea with dim sum. It’s a practice that originated in ancient China, where teahouses were a place of rest and conversation for commoners. During World War II, Chinese immigrants brought this practice, solidifying its importance in modern society.
Despite initially being a part of Cantonese cuisine from the Guangdong province in China, Hong Kong is undoubtedly one of the best places to eat yum cha food. Of course, some Chinese restaurants outside of Hong Kong serve this kind of food too, and it’s great to try them out with your friends and family.
You can gain a complete understanding and appreciation for yum cha by knowing its history and the reason behind certain practices in this tradition.
Yum Cha Etiquette
When you’re enjoying yum cha with friends and family, it’s essential to keep in mind that there are specific etiquette rules you need to follow as a sign of respect to the culture you’re appreciating. After all, yum cha focuses on the act of sharing and being respectful.
The first rule you should know is to finish everything in your bowl, from the dim sum down to the last grain of rice. The second is that you should never stick your chopsticks straight down into your bowl of rice, and, lastly, you should never bang them on the bowl. These etiquette rules were born from certain superstitions, but they also show respect for the culture.
The Source of the Tradition
Many traditions often originate from anecdotes passed down from generation to generation. The yum cha tradition is no different. One of the most famous legends that people believe started this practice was Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty when he visited a town in China dressed as a commoner.
He was accompanied by several staff members for security when they went to a teahouse for yum cha. When the emperor poured tea for his staff, they couldn’t kneel in thanks because they feared it might break his cover. Instead, they curled three fingers to signify kneeling three times and knocked on the table thrice.
The Practice of Knocking
The practice of knocking during yum cha is also an important tradition. The Han Dynasty’s Folk Customs, a book by Xu Jie-Xun, explains that this custom could have originated from the Tang and Song dynasties. During banquets, guests had to sing songs for each round of drinks while listeners created a beat for the singer.
They had no access to proper percussion instruments, so they knocked their fingers on the tables instead. This practice is known as ji-je, and later on, it became a sign of thanks and encouragement during tea-pouring. Every time someone pours you tea, you have to knock on the table to signify your gratitude.
Yum cha is a beloved tradition in Hong Kong cuisine, embedded deeply in rich Chinese history. It’s perfect if you want to spend quality time with your friends and family while enjoying delicious bowls of dim sum, steaming rice, and other food. Knowing its history and the reason behind its practices can help you gain a better appreciation for this tradition, and it can enrich your future encounters with Chinese cuisine.
Ocean Palace Restaurant is the perfect dim sum restaurant in Houston to visit with your friends and family. We parade rolling carts of steamed and fried dim sum during the weekends, along with other kinds of Chinese food. Contact us today for more information!