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.
Photos by Heath Robbins
Styling by Jessica Weatherhead/Team
Chinese radish (or, sometimes, taro root) is shredded, boiled, mixed with rice flour and Chinese sausage, molded, sliced, and pan-seared.
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.
This dish, traditionally made with pork, shrimp, cilantro, and carrots, is named for the ridged texture of the pinched wonton—not the filling.
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.
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.
Rice Noodles with Pork Ribs
Rare, bone-in spare ribs are placed atop rolled noodles and steamed.
Salty Pork Dumplings
Thin-skinned wrappers made from sticky rice-flour batter are filled with ground pork and dried baby shrimp and fried.
Rice-noodle sheets are wrapped around shrimp, beef, or—in this case—airy fried crullers, and served with a soy-based sauce.
Named for their golden, cookielike crust, these pastries actually don’t contain any pineapple, but are instead filled with creamy custard.
This traditional rice porridge is topped with tea-smoked dried fish, peanuts, and scallions. Other toppings include ground pork and a preserved duck egg.
The trimmed and cleaned feet are deep-fried, then simmered slowly in soy sauce, cloves, and hoisin sauce till they’re soft.
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.
Tofu and Vegetables Stuffed with Shrimp
Blocks of tofu (and vegetables like eggplant and green pepper) are filled with ground shrimp and then fried.
A claw, with the meat attached, is encased in a ground-shrimp mixture and fried.
Condiments such as hot sauce, mustard, red vinegar, soy sauce, sambal, and chili oil are typically available upon request.
These open-faced dumplings are filled with ground shrimp and pork, then garnished with a red dot of dyed scrambled egg.
Har Gow Steamed Shrimp Dumplings
Chopped pieces of shrimp fill a translucent, wheat-starch-and-cornstarch-based pouch.
These thin noodles are pan-fried until crisp, then tossed with scallions, soy sauce, and onion. Not typically available on carts.
Sesame-seed-coated spheres made from a rice-flour batter are filled with dense, sweet lotus-seed paste or less-sweet red-bean paste.
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
Scallion Pancakes Rolled with Roast Beef
These flaky disks are rolled around thin slices of roast beef.
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.
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.
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.