Dim Sum Etiquette and Ordering

Grant ChenSeptember 7th, 2007
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(Page 3 of 5)

You’re in the Restaurant, Now What?

Now that you’re finally seated, you’ll get a few plates, some tea and a strange-looking long piece of paper that turns out to be your bill (don’t worry about the bill yet, that’ll be covered later). If your waiter has not brought you water, be sure to request it before they leave – many authentic Chinese restaurants don’t normally serve water with your meal, and will only provide it upon request.

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Typical restaurant tea set

Your first order of business before ordering should be to pour some tea, as is customary. Before you pour, show off some foodie knowledge by lifting the lid of the tea and checking if it is ready. Depending on your tea (green or brown), the color of the water should be colored or dark if it has absorbed enough of the tea leaf. If the tea is clear or very light colored, let the tea sit for a few more minutes before you pour.

If your teapot gets empty, depending on your tea pot, put the lid upside down on top of the pot, or simply open the lid so the waiter can see it.

Now Go Order Some Dim Sum!

The next thing in the order of business? Order some food! Luckily for you, the food will literally be coming straight to you. The metal carts you noticed the servers are wheeling around are like roving food islands, each with a particular selection of assorted dim sum dishes. There will usually be a cart solely for steamed dishes, another for baked or fried dishes, and various other carts for specialized dishes like congee (rice porridge) or dessert. Servers and their carts will constantly rotate around the restaurant, heading back to the kitchen to stock up from time to time.

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Variety of dim sum

Ordering is fun, because the servers will often try to offer you everything on the cart while you simply say “yes” or “no.” Other times, you will have to be a bit more pro-active and say what you want, or point and choose if all else fails.

Occasionally, a waiter will come by with a tray that has some regular Chinese dishes like chow mein, walnut prawns or Chinese asparagus. Avoid these dishes! They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re often much more expensive than you’d pay otherwise.

Many people don’t know this, but if there is a specific dish that you want but you don’t see, you can request it from the wait staff, who will send the order to the kitchen. It’s a great way to get a fresh dish straight to your table, but this trick usually only works at larger establishments. Smaller restaurants may not always have the ingredients or resources to make a dish just for you.

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