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Chinese Snack Foods
Dim Sum and Other Snack Foods
Spring Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(1) pages: 20 to 22
Dim Sum is Chinese snack food and since the 10th
century, if not before, the Chinese have delighted
in devouring dumplings. They are just one of
their many snack foods, also known as dim sum, if
they are Southern Chinese. Their Northern relatives
call them dien tsin; and they love them, too. Over
many centuries, the numbers and different kinds have
increased. So have their deliciousness, and the tradition
of enjoying them earlier rather than later in the day.
And in China’s North, many use wrappings made with
wheat or another grain or grains, some seasoned or
dipped in vinegar or in a more complex sauce to be
appetite stimulants. More so in the north, many look
like or taste like a bread, bun, cake, noodle, or a pancake.
These are heavier than those in the South of China, can
have a more meatier filling, and can be made with less
finesse. In China’s West, they also like them heavier,
spicier and more complex, too. Some are filled with hot
green or red peppers to make them piquant stimulating
the appetite increasing the desire to eat more of them.
In China’s south, these snacks are more delicate, more
often steamed, some slow-cooked, grilled, or served with
or in a soup. The most popular ones in Shanghai are
called Soup Dumplings. They are made with cold gelled
soup that melts when steamed. There, diners need to
be careful when biting into them as they can scald lips,
tongue, and mouth very easily.
All regions can have some doufu (which will be featured
in a future issue) in them or look that way. They might
feature duck, goose, seafood, or fish in them, there they
are smaller, some even tiny, many three to a steamer
basket. They are cooked quickly, some pan fried then
steamed, even deep-fried. They might also be three on a
plate, hot or warm, rarely cold, and always yummy.
Cantonese brought these delights to the US and the
western world about the mid 1850s. They quickly caught
on and were served in larger and larger restaurants just
featuring these snack foods. The kinds and numbers
did keep increasing, as did the number of folks in the
kitchen making them. Not uncommon these days are
dozens making them, dozens serving them from wheeled
wagons or trays, and dozens eating them.
There are regional differences, if from Nanjing they might
have originated in the Temple of Confucius or feeding
local merchants in local tea houses, wine taverns, or
various other eateries in their local neighborhoods. All
are commonly considered ‘snack foods’ that are most
often served from early morning to some time after
two or three in mid-afternoon. A few appear do appear
before or in the middle of main meal time or when
groups gather any time.
From Guangzhou to Beijing can be large restaurants
touting fifty or more varieties available on week-ends
and holiday in particular. One finds them wherever
Cantonese and other Southern Chinese live, visit, or
gather to eat. They are in Singapore, London, San
Francisco, New York, and other large cities, and they are
very popular. Going to one, people can wait an hour
for a table, come with a newspaper and save seats for
late-arriving family or friends, and be there for an hour
or more, eating, talking, reading, and relaxing. We know
this as we go as often as we can to do all three.
These delicacies come around the establishment carried
on trays or pushed in wagons by waitresses. Those
younger than this more than eighty-year-old lady do not
remember the empty plates counted and the bill tallied
at them in years gone by. That was done when someone
on the wait staff tallied them and advised of the payment
needed. Nowadays, the system is lots different. Then,
some did reduce the cost secreting several empty plates
in a big purse or bag they arrived with. These days, a
waiter or waitress stamps foods delivered and when
finished eating those selected, they tally the tariff on
what began as a blank check. Some places have even
more sophisticated systems.
Customers can order the tea they want to accompany
these delights, even noodle or rice dishes, too, though
often not before the noon hour. Large places can have
several sections cooking them for customers to walk to,
ticket in hand, to choose heated foods or those to be
cooked for them. Most larger restaurants have green,
black, chrysanthemum, pu-er, or an other special tea
available; they cost more than the setting or simple
oolong or woolong offered at a modest price.
Many books about these large tea-houses explain many
things available, some even have recipes to make them at
home, or know what they are made of should you want
to know about some of the less well- known selections
available such as Beef Soup with Stuffed Dumplings,
Sesame Seed Cakes with Dried Noodles, Jellied Bean
Curd with Scallion Pancakes, Osmanthus Flower-stuffed
Yuanxiao with Five-colored Cakes, Layered Duck-oil
Sesame Seed Cakes, Spiced Beans and Spiced Eggs, Pork
and Pent Dumplings, Smoked Fish with Silver Threads,
Jade Dumplings with Asparagus, Crab Meat Buns.
Fujianese Rice-flour Rolls, or other things beyond simple
Scallion Pancakes, Shao Mai, Taro or Turnip Cakes.
Pork Buns, Egg Rolls, Har Gao, etc.
One does not need to spend a fortune at these big eatery
places. My husband says that lots less than twenty dollars
a person is what he shells out when going to one with
all of us. He says their pastries, buns, and other things
in bamboo baskets most often cost him fifteen or up to
twenty dollars a person, more at the table can cost even
less. He should know as our family leaves stuffed to the
gills these many years we indulged in them.
Each person in our varied size party usually picks out a few
choices after seeing them arrive on trays or wagons when
coming to our table. We know they cost only a few dollars
each, and he says he never spends a fortune, rarely has
left-overs, and he deems these dim sum meals a bargain.
Most of us select from the food that comes around, once
in a while, we get up to order something that did not,
Shanghai Soup Dumplings often among those items that we
want and did not make it to our table. Scallion Pancakes
is another item often failing to appear. Over the years, we
have learned to try to order slowly so things do not get
cold. If someone has a favorite, they ask a server for it
soon after thinking of it. We still try to eat slowly but often
are not successful so doing as we arrive starved and the
aromas do get our appetites working. Though small, if an
item looks big, we ask the server to cut it in half, and they
oblige, and still we over eat when having dim sum.
For those who are serious about enjoying such an event,
think cocktail party, big buffet, or another feast, go to
your local library to borrow some books about this special
Chinese meal, those with pictures work best as then you
can recognize their shapes as these are classic. Then you
will be prepared to identify them. Try them and then you
can know what they will taste like.
Some advise before you go. Do not eat breakfast
beforehand, go early but not before ten in the morning or
the selection can be limited, the best time is about 11:00 or
thereafter, eat slowly, go to the bigger more popular places,
and do be prepared to wait for a table. There are some
articles about these snack foods on many a web site, read
them and get yourself educated, and enjoy these snack
meals, You can read about them on this magazine’s web
site at www.flavorandfortune.com.
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup scallions, slivered on an angle
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground white and black pepper, mixed
1. Mix flour with one and a quarter cup warm water and
knead until smooth (about five minutes), then let the
dough rest for an hour before rolling it into a snake, and
cutting it into ten pieces, and rolling each into a half-inch
2. Brush with the oil and sprinkle with scallions, salt, and
ground peppers. Gently roll these into the dough, and
roll the circles into a snake and coil them into a round
tucking each end into the coil, then roll this coil again
to about an eighth of an inch thickness, brush each with
come sesame oil, and stack them.
3. Heat a fry pan, brush some oil on it, then fry each one
on both sides until golden. Repeat until all are fried;
drain each one and put them on paper towels. Serve
while hot or very warm.
|Crab Meat Buns|
½ pound ground pork
½ pound crab meat, cartilage removed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
1 egg white, mixed with 1 teaspoon cool water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
30 to 40 round dumpling wrappers
6 lettuce leaves, divided
1. Mix all ingredients and put them in a strainer over a
deep bowl; set this aside for twenty minutes.
2. Wet edges of the wrappers and fill each one with scant
two teaspoons of minced pork-crab meat mixture.
3. Fold dough in half, and seal or pleat the wrappers
4. Put half lettuce leaves on a steamer basket, put buns
no touching each other on half the lettuce leaves and
steam for twelve minutes, then serve on a lettuce leaf-lined
|Bao Spring Rolls|
½ pound shrimp, put into a pot of three cups of water, veins discarded, shrimp cut into slivers
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
½ pound firm doufu, slivered, and fried until almost crisp
1 small can bamboo shoots, drained and slivered
1 carrot, peeled and slivered
4 cups fresh cabbaged. Slivered then cut into one-inch pieces
½ cup snow peas, strings and ends discarded, slivered
1/4 cup slivered dried seaweed sheets
1 large garlic clove, peeled and slivered
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
10 round spring roll pieces of dough
1 Tablespoon chili paste
1 Tablespoon coarse mustard
2 cilantro sprigs, minced
1. Simmer shrimp heads and shells in two cups of water
for ten minutes, then strain and set the liquid aside.
2. Heat oil and fry shrimp bamboo shoot, carrot, cabbage,
snow pea, seaweed, and garlic slivers stirring them for
five minutes, then sprinkle with salt, sugar, and rice
3. On a spring roll, lightly brush a little chili paste
and mustard, put two Tablespoons of the shrimp and
vegetable filling, fold in the ends and roll, putting a little
water on the end to seal them, and put each one seam
side down on a clean plate.
4. Brush a fry pan with oil, and fry the rolls until a very
light golden color. Cut each in half on an angle, put them
closed ends down in a shallow soup bowl and serve.
|Pork and Peanut Dumplings|
1 pound ground pork
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 ribs Chinese celery, minced
5 water chestnuts, minced
½ teaspoon mixed salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ cup minced coriander leaves and stems
½ cup chopped roasted peanuts
30 - 40 dumpling skins
1 egg white mixed with a tablespoon of cold water
1. Mix pork and cornstarch and two tablespoons of
2. Heat one Tablespoon oil in a deep pot, and fry garlic
for half minute, then add the celery, water chestnuts,
and salt and pepper and stir-fry for two minutes; then
set this aside in a strainer over a deep bowl.
3. Put the rest of the oil in this pot, add the pork mixture,
and stir-fry for two minutes until no longer pink, then
using a slotted spoon set this into the strainer with
the celery mixture adding the coriander pieces and
peanuts, and mix this well.
4. Take one dumpling skin, put a heaping Tablespoon or
two of the pork mixture on it, fold the dough over it and
seal its edges or pleat them with the egg white.
5. Bring water to a boil, put the dumplings into a steamer
basket, and steam them all for five minutes; then serve.
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
1 small clove garlic, peeled
15 asparagus, minced
5 canned water chestnuts, minced
3 scallions, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
30 wonton wrappers
a handful of lettuce leaves. Divided
1. In a blender, mix ginger, garlic, asparagus, water
chestnuts, scallions, and the sesame sauce until
coarsely blended, then add the sesame oil and dark soy
sauce, and gently stir this in.
2. Put two scant teaspoons of the asparagus mixture
on a wrapper, and twist all four corners of the dough
together keeping all the filling inside the dough. Repeat
until all dumplings are made and filled.
3. Put the dumplings into a steamer basket on lettuce
leaves, do not let them touch each other, and do cover and
steam for ten to twelve minutes over boiling water. Then,
remove them to a lettuce-leaf lined platter and serve.