Your Guide to Dim Sum

When it comes to how you order, Cantonese dim sum houses fall into two categories: ones that feature roving carts stacked with small plates, and those that offer a checklist-style menu. No matter where you go, though, you can expect to find versions of the same old classics. Here, Brian Moy, co-owner of China Pearl, in Quincy and Chinatown, breaks down the must-order items available at his restaurant and elsewhere.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Photos by Heath Robbins
Styling by Jessica Weatherhead/Team 

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Turnip Cakes

Chinese radish (or, sometimes, taro root) is shredded, boiled, mixed with rice flour and Chinese sausage, molded, sliced, and pan-seared.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Mango Mochi Balls

The mochi dough (made from glutinous rice) is blended with mango purée, filled with fresh mango chunks, and dusted with dried coconut flakes.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Shark’s-Fin Dumplings

This dish, traditionally made with pork, shrimp, cilantro, and carrots, is named for the ridged texture of the pinched wonton—not the filling.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Bo-Lei Tea, Also Known As Pu’erh Tea

You’ll typically receive Jasmine green tea at the start of your meal, but there are actually five additional varieties:

1. Bo-lei (pictured), popular with the Chinese for its ability to aid in the digestion of rich food.

2. Chrysanthemum, which has flower buds that expand in the hot water.

3. Wulong, also known as oolong.

4. Shou-mei, a type of white tea.

5. Tie-guan-yin, another type of oolong.

Tip: To indicate you’re ready for a refill, leave the lid off to the side of the teapot.

Etiquette: Pour your dining companion’s tea before your own.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Sticky-Rice-Stuffed Lotus Leaves

Sticky rice is mixed with Chinese sausage, chicken, ground pork, and crushed salted egg yolk, then steamed inside a lotus leaf.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Rice Noodles with Pork Ribs

Rare, bone-in spare ribs are placed atop rolled noodles and steamed.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Salty Pork Dumplings

Thin-skinned wrappers made from sticky rice-flour batter are filled with ground pork and dried baby shrimp and fried.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Rice Noodles

Rice-noodle sheets are wrapped around shrimp, beef, or—in this case—airy fried crullers, and served with a soy-based sauce.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Pineapple Buns

Named for their golden, cookielike crust, these pastries actually don’t contain any pineapple, but are instead filled with creamy custard.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Congee

This traditional rice porridge is topped with tea-smoked dried fish, peanuts, and scallions. Other toppings include ground pork and a preserved duck egg.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Chicken Feet

The trimmed and cleaned feet are deep-fried, then simmered slowly in soy sauce, cloves, and hoisin sauce till they’re soft.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Barbecue Pork Buns

You’ll also find baked and fried pork buns, but this fluffy variety, filled with honey-barbecue char siu, is most common.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Tofu and Vegetables Stuffed with Shrimp

Blocks of tofu (and vegetables like eggplant and green pepper) are filled with ground shrimp and then fried.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Crab Claws

A claw, with the meat attached, is encased in a ground-shrimp mixture and fried.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Sauces

Condiments such as hot sauce, mustard, red vinegar, soy sauce, sambal, and chili oil are typically available upon request.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Shumai

These open-faced dumplings are filled with ground shrimp and pork, then garnished with a red dot of dyed scrambled egg.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Har Gow Steamed Shrimp Dumplings

Chopped pieces of shrimp fill a translucent, wheat-starch-and-cornstarch-based pouch.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Stir-Fried Noodles

These thin noodles are pan-fried until crisp, then tossed with scallions, soy sauce, and onion. Not typically available on carts.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Sesame Balls

Sesame-seed-coated spheres made from a rice-flour batter are filled with dense, sweet lotus-seed paste or less-sweet red-bean paste.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Egg-Custard Tarts

Rich custard is poured into a flaky pastry shell and baked.

 

WHERE TO GO

Dim Sum from the Cart: Hei La Moon, Chinatown; and China Pearl, Chinatown.

Dim Sum from the Menu: Winsor Dim Sum Café, Chinatown; Great Taste Bakery, Chinatown; and China Pearl, Quincy.

 

OR TRY THIS INSTEAD

Taiwanese-style brunch—centered around noodles, buns, and the ultimate scallion pancake—is another way to inject fun into an otherwise humdrum Sunday.

Where to Go: Jo Jo Taipei, Allston; Chung Shin Yuan, Newton; and Shangri-La, Belmont. Brunch served on weekends only.

 

WHAT TO ORDER

Photos by Connor Sumner

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Scallion Pancakes Rolled with Roast Beef

These flaky disks are rolled around thin slices of roast beef.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Fried Steamed Buns

At Jo Jo Taipei, the buns are topped with sweetened condensed milk and crushed peanuts. Other versions are stuffed with pork and chives.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Salty Soy Milk

This savory concoction is finished with dried baby shrimp, scallions, and a drizzle of chili oil. Pair it with an order of fried crullers.

dim sum photo guide chinatown boston

Leek Pockets

Half-moon pastries filled with a mixture of leeks, egg, and vermicelli noodles.

  

For more on Asian cuisine in Boston, check out our complete guide to Asian cuisine: Umami Rising.

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  • kakashi2011

    This article is forgetting the Dim Sum Chef from the 88 food court in Brighton. That place makes it fresh to order unlike the Chinatown dim sum places where you don’t know how long it’s been in the carts.