In part 1 of “Let’s have some Dim Sum in Hong Kong!”, I discussed a few common and tasty dim sum dishes to try out. Now that you know what to order let’s talk about when it’s served and how to order.
Dim sum is traditionally a breakfast food. However, most restaurants now offer it until ~4pm. Dim sum price is also dependent on the time you arrive/leave the restaurant.
The dim sum hours and price varies by restaurant, but in general, there are three sessions:
a) Morning (opening time until noon): If you want the lowest cost dim sum, this is the best time to go. But don’t overstay your welcome since you often must pay and leave the restaurant by noon to be eligible for the lower prices. If you leave after noon, you must pay the lunch time price.
b) Lunch (noon until ~2pm): This is when almost everyone goes to have dim sum. Not surprisingly this is when dim sum prices are at their highest.
c) Afternoon Tea (~2pm until ~4pm): Prices are either the same as the morning or somewhere between the morning and lunch prices. You must enter after 2pm.
While we are on the topic of prices, all dim sum dishes are categorized into 5 different levels: S, M, L, XL, XXL. On the dim sum ordering sheet or the restaurant menu, the specific price for each category is listed. Then, next to each dish, either the specific price of the dish or the category that the dish belongs to is listed. Note that while the dishes are categorized into different “sizes” such as S, M or L as mentioned above, the category does not necessarily represent the size of the dish, but rather the perceived value of the ingredients inside the dish. For example, anything with seafood such as the shrimp dumpling is likely to be L and above, no matter how small is the actual dish.
When you arrive at the restaurant, the hostess will either a) ask you how many people is in your party and lead you directly to your table, or b) give you a number so you can wait in queue until a table is available. It is customary for Chinese to share table during breakfast and lunch at a restaurant (dim sum or not). So don’t be surprised if you get seated at a partially occupied table.
If you want a table to yourself, ask the hostess when you arrive, but the restaurant may choose not to accommodate your request. You will have to wait much longer for a private table than a shared table.
Once you are led to your table, you will be asked what type of tea you want. There are many types of Chinese tea to choose from. If you are not sure, just say green tea or black tea etc. My favorite tea is Jasmine tea, shown here:
The waitress will bring you back two pots: one with tea and the other is just hot water. In some restaurants, an extra empty bowl is also provided.
The tea pot has… well, tea. The hot water however serves 2 purposes: 1) It provides hot water for the tea in case you need more water; 2) Some Chinese also like to rinse all the utensils, bowls and plates themselves, so you can use the water to rinse in the extra empty bowl provided for you. I don’t usually do step #2, but it really depends on you and how comfortable you are with the sanitary environment of the restaurant you go to. When you run out of water for your tea, just tell the waitress and she will refill the water for you.
By the way, a small charge for tea per person (not per serving) will be added to your bill. Can you decline the tea, you ask? I suppose you can, but no local ever declines tea. So I don’t really know what the reaction will be…Try at your own risk ;)
At this time, you should see some dim sum ordering sheets on the table. In traditional restaurants, servers push food carts with different dim sum dishes around the restaurant. When they pass by your table, you can just point at what you want. Many restaurants in the U.S. that sell dim sum still use this system. However, in Hong Kong, almost all restaurants have transitioned to the made-to-order system. You need to locate these dim sum ordering sheets on the table, check off the dishes you want, and hand them over to the waitress. In Hong Kong, mark the items you want with a check-mark, NOT a cross (‘X’) like we do in the U.S., otherwise you will confuse the waitress. We briefly forgot to do this and ended up with a confused waitress.
After you have done this step, relax and your food should arrive shortly. If you want more, just mark them on the ordering sheet again and repeat the process.
When you are ready to pay the bill, just tell the waitress and you should be all set.
We hope you find this two-part dim sum series helpful for your travel. Dim sum is integral to the Hong Kong culture. If you have never had dim sum when you come to Hong Kong, it is like going to Italy without trying pizza, Morocco without the tangines, and Spain without the tapas.
So go on out and try some dim sum! And while you are in Hong Kong, don’t forget to watch the Symphony of Lights performance by the Victoria Harbor! What’s your favorite dim sum dish? We would love to hear from you!