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Yum Cha—Cantonese Brunch
The culinary art of yum cha is synonymous with a typical Sunday morning in Chinatown.
At a popular dim sum restaurant you might see the line-up of patrons waiting for a vacant table, who are then seated at round dinning tables where waiters quickly deliver pots of hot tea.
Yum cha is Cantonese for ‘drinking tea’ and for 5000 years tea has been a part of Chinese culture. In yum cha etiquette it is proper to fill another’s cup before filling one’s own and custom is to thank the pourer by taping the bent index and middle fingers together on the table which resembles the ritual of bowing in gratitude. When your tea pot needs refilling simply lift the teapot lid and the waiter will refill it.
For food, the waitresses offer dishes from trays or rolling trolleys stacked with metal or bamboo steamers filled with classical Cantonese dim sum dishes: juicy fried dumplings, steamed buns and dozens of other Cantonese dishes that have been enjoyed for hundreds of years.
A friend from Hong Kong once told me “Chinese people when they go to yum cha, most order the shrimp dumpling—Haa gaau, because it’s like eating pizza without any cheese.”
Some of the other standard dishes are bao which are buns, baked or steamed, filled with meat and vegetables. And then there is Shanghai steamed buns which are favored for their juicy and savory centre.
Other dishes are the Phoenix Talons (marinated and steamed chicken feet), the Mooli cakes and Lotus leaf rice.
For those with a sweet tooth, the mango pudding, coconut jelly, custard tarts, and Chen chang go (the “thousand layer cake”) finish the meal nicely.
Yum cha is a great way to sample a variety of tastes without feeling overly full. For those of us that are used to more western fare for a Sunday brunch with a serve of bacon and eggs, the level of culinary art in yum cha is a tasty, fresh and usually inexpensive alternative.
Most importantly yum cha is traditionally a social occasion, especially for families as they catch up on news and discuss the week’s events and happenings.
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