The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, and dim sum might be the best way to get there.
The exact history of the term—which translates to “touch the heart”—remains the subject of debate, but we do know the tradition of eating these beautiful, expertly assembled snacks dates back thousands of years, at least to the Song Dynasty, though some legends date the custom as far back as 300 B.C.
In China, it’s common for people, especially the older set, to wake up and go for dim sum (also known as yum cha, which translates to “drink tea”) as early as 5 a.m., with restaurants staying open through lunchtime.
Chef “Danny”Ho Wong of Tim Ho Wan at the Palms learned the craft of dim sum as a teenager in China. “I still remember learning to make har gow [shrimp dumplings],” he says. “It was so complicated. You fold and fold and fold the dumpling, and it takes a long time just to make one. Why not make it easy?” he says with a laugh.
After years making dim sum, the chef decided to be a baker so his days wouldn’t start before dawn. Years later, he moved to the U.S. to run a bakery in Sacramento, and eventually, he found himself making dim sum in the desert.
Wong says Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred Hong Kong dim sum house with outposts in seven countries, is known for its classic approach to the Cantonese cuisine. “There’s more procedure. It takes a long time to prepare the food. It’s more traditional,” Wong says. Many dishes are served as buns, dumplings or rolls, stuffed with pork or shrimp, and are steamed, baked or fried. All dishes are made with painstaking detail.
Tim Ho Wan is open for dinner, but that’s not the custom in China. There, dim sum is enjoyed like brunch, and tea is central to the experience. If you want dim sum, Wong says make sure you have at least an hour to spare. “If you’ve got 15 minutes, 30 minutes, don’t go to a restaurant for yum cha. You need to enjoy the moment, relax, drink tea, read a newspaper,” he says.
Other than that, there’s no right or wrong way to do dim sum, he says. Whether you’re with a group or dining solo, it’s simply about savoring food—and life—in the here and now.