Yum Cha or "drinking tea" describes the traditional Cantonese practice of eating steamed and fried dim sum while drinking copious amounts of tea. In Australia, Yum Cha is more of a weekend brunch experience, while in Hong Kong and China, it is eaten every day of the week.
With so many different options, it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed. So here's an Insider's Guide to Yum Cha to break it all down for you.
Rules for the Ultimate Yum Cha Experience
1) Ask your Chinese friends which restaurant they'd recommend. If you don't have any Chinese friends, get some. You'll also benefit from insider knowledge of all the city's best Chinese restaurants and grocery stores.
2) Bring 7-9 friends and don't forget to invite the Chinese friend who suggested the restaurant in the first place. With so many dim sum dishes to choose from and limited stomach space, you want to bring lots of people so you can order more widely from the menu. Two to four people can do yum cha but it's a sad and sorry experience as you can only order a few different dim sum before you are baola (full).
3) Fast before you come. Yum cha is traditionally eaten mid-morning - restaurant sittings are typically at 11am and 1pm - so you may be tempted to eat breakfast when you wake. Resist and you will be rewarded by extra sensitive and receptive taste buds and a stomach screaming out for sustenance.
5) Order strategically. This means a mixture of steamed and fried dim sum, noodles or rice dishes, vegetables (not essential) and one or two dessert dishes. My standard order is as follows:
- Har Gow (Prawn Dumplings)
- Siu Mai (Pork & Prawn Dumplings)
- Pai Gwat (Pork Spare Ribs in Chilli Black Bean Sauce)
- Cha Siu Bao (Roast Pork Steamed Bun)
- Chee Choeng Fun (Steamed Rice Noodles stuffed with Prawns, Pork or bread stick)
- Lo Bart Gow (Fried Savoury Turnip Cake)
- Dan Tart (Egg Tart)
- Ma Lai Gow (Golden Syrup Sponge)
- Mango Pudding (Cold Mango Jelly with evaporated milk)
Optional extras include: salt & pepper squid (clearly not traditional), assorted steamed dumplings, spring rolls, roasted meats, gai larn (steamed Chinese broccoli served with oyster sauce), chicken's feet, tripe, noodles and fried rice.
6) Drink lots of tea as you eat. The Chinese believe that drinking tea with oily food burns away the fat. Like a lot of Chinese folklore, the logic is a little screwy but the outcome is more or less correct. Drinking hot tea aids in digestion and is a perfect accompaniment to rich, fatty food. My preferred yum chat tea is Gook Bow - a dark, strong and fragrant mixture including Chrysanthemum flowers.
7) Roll out of the restaurant happy as a pig in mud. Go for a long walk to ease digestion, brimming over with good will to all men. Such is the positive mood that results after an ultimate yum cha session!