Aside from having your fill of flavorful Chinese food, nothing beats the satisfaction of ordering Chinese food successfully. Whether you like to admit it or not, it feels good to be complimented by your friends when you know what you’re ordering—especially when the names are in a foreign language.
This can be easy especially if you’re getting food from a restaurant you’ve always frequented. However, there will be times where you’ll want to try a new restaurant to try other dishes you haven’t tasted before.
Truth be told, Chinese menus can be quite intimidating. While some have pictures to help you, they’re not always there to give you an idea of what a dish is. In some cases, you may end up paying for food you weren’t even craving for. In the worst cases, you may end up ordering a weird combination for your family or friends!
To help you avoid this embarrassing moment and enjoy great Chinese food, here are some key terms you must know when it comes to Chinese dim sum.
1. Dim Sum – Diǎn Xīn (点心)
Dim sum is ingrained deep into Chinese culture. Initially, it referred to the group of small dishes that were eaten during teatime. Eventually, it has been used to refer to any snack eaten between meals.
Today, dim sum is served all day in bamboo or metal steamer baskets and is often paraded through Chinese restaurants in trolley carts.
2. Dumpling – Jiăo Zi (饺子)
Dumplings are a staple in dim sum. They are made of pieces of dough wrapped around a filling and can either be steamed or fried. The dough can be made from flour or potatoes and the filling can either be meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, or fruits.
This dish is prepared and eaten during the Chinese New Year celebration as it represents prosperity according to Chinese tradition.
3. Buns – Bāo Zi (包子)
This is a type of yeast-leavened filled bun that is popular not only for its taste but also its appearance. While you may think that buns are naturally round, there’s an interesting story behind why bāo zis have assumed this shape.
According to history, the buns we enjoy today are invented by Zhuge Liang, a military strategist during the Three Kingdoms period. Bāo zis were made to resemble human heads as a symbolic offering to the gods to end the plague.
4. Siomai – Shāo Mài (烧卖)
Siomai is one of the most famous steamed dumplings—if not the most. Originating from Hohhot, this dish is an open-wrapped dumpling and is usually served as a dim sum snack. It is usually filled with pork and shrimp and resembles a budding flower with its appearance.
5. Radish Cake – Luó Bo Gāo (萝卜糕)
If you’re a vegetarian, it helps to remember this dish’s name. Also sometimes called turnip cake, this is a savoury pudding made from grated radish, rice flour, and bits of Chinese sausage, dried prawns, and soaked dried mushrooms. This is usually pan-fried until the edges are crunchy.
Like dumplings, radish cakes are usually prepared and eaten during Chinese New Year celebrations because they symbolize wealth and prosperity.
There’s a lot more to Chinese dim sum than the five dishes mentioned above. However, if you’re working on your Chinese food vocabulary, starting with these famous dishes is a great strategy. Once you’re confident that you’ve familiarized yourself with their names, don’t hesitate to learn more names and try new dishes. It will take time and effort, but your taste buds will certainly enjoy the experience!
Satisfy your cravings for the best Chinese food in Houston, TX here at Ocean Palace Restaurant! Since 1999, we have been serving traditional Chinese dim sum delicacies and the best Chinese seafood in the area. Visit our website today to order online!