Dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine, primarily Cantonese in origin, that is prepared in delicious bite-sized morsels and served in bamboo steamer baskets or on small plates. Traditionally served in Cantonese teahouses, dim sum consists of fully cooked, ready-to-serve dishes that are brought to the restaurant on carts for diners to choose their fancy without even having to leave their seats.
Dim sum is often linked with the age-old tradition of yum cha (essentially just drinking tea), which grew its roots on the ancient Silk Road, where travelers, weary and needing a place to rest, stopped at roadside teahouses. Later, people discovered that drinking tea while eating can aid digestion, so teahouses began to add various snack-like dishes — dim sum!
This unique culinary art form from Southern China slowly transformed the relaxing practice of yum cha into the loud and bustling dining experience that dim sum is today. Traditionally, dim sum is eaten as breakfast or brunch, and most restaurants stop serving it afternoon; however, due to its recent popularity, it has become commonplace for restaurants to offer various dim sum items well into the evening, with some even being sold as take-out options for office workers or students on the run.
But let’s take us out of the mystical Orient and into the somewhat kitsch, lantern-lit streets of London’s Chinatown. Everything smells awesome, and it’s hard to distinguish one shop from another, so how are you going to find the xiaolongbao that will make your mouth sing yet avoid the stodgy baozi that will solder your mouth shut? Below is a Chinatown bucket list with everything from traditional to new-world cuisine — and even a bit from the hidden cocktail bar scene as well — to get your chopsticks clackin’.
Make Your Mouth Sing Remember the xiaolongbao mentioned earlier? This is where you’ll get them. A specialty from the guys at Dumplings’ Legend, these broth-filled parcels can be a tricky beast to eat, but if you manage to master the all-in-one mouthful, then you’ll understand why they’re a favorite among the most ardent dim sum crowd. Prepared to order (a rarity these days), you can take a risk and go for the spicy pork, play it safe with the plain ginger version or opt for the garlicky vegetarian number. Other dishes to look forward to including the Thai-style spicy chicken feet, silky Cheung fun (rice noodle roll) and the polemical durian cream puffs. Although they do serve a selection of dim sum on their evening menu, it’s worth coming down before 5 p.m. to check out the main event.
Address: 15-16 Gerrard St, London W1D 6JE
Visit Hong Kong Without Leaving London One of the few places left in town that still offers trolley service, New World is as close as you’re going to get to the frenetic energy found in the heaving lunchtime eateries of Hong Kong. In terms of the décor, they’ve gone for a no-holds-barred approach to stereotyping Chinese culture. You’ll find the obligatory hanging red lanterns, the too-big-to-be-cozy red-and-gold dining rooms that are spread over a towering seven floors, and harried staff too busy to notice or care whether your order was wrong. But if you’re up for an almost theme park-style experience at cut-rate prices, then New World will give you a lunch that you won’t soon forget.
Address: 1 Gerrard Pl, London W1D 5PA
Take a Walk Down Chinatown’s Gerrard Street Keep your eye out for a jade door, which is easier to spot if you’re also looking out for an enormous bouncer. Climb the four narrow flights of rickety stairs, and inside you’ll find the charming Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour. What was once a former gambling den is now a multileveled cocktail playground decked out in a Shanghai-style speakeasy vibe and home to both killer drinks and legendary dim sum. Chow down on a crab-and-samphire dumpling, and wash it down with an Opium #6 cocktail (complete with smoking pipe). If one hidden bar isn’t enough for you, then ask to be taken through to the hidden bar within Opium. Peony is an intimate space where you can pull up a seat at the bar and watch the talented mixologists at work while munching on a classic steamed pork bun. Bonus: It’s open till 3 a.m.
Address: 15-16 Gerrard St, London W1D 6JE
Take a Detour More in Soho than Chinatown — but well worth the slight detour — is Duck and Rice, one of Alan Yau’s (think: Hakkasan, Yauatcha, and Park Chinois) empire. Adorned in ornate Chinese tile, this oriental pub is a local favorite. From the six shiny barrels of home-brewed Pilsner Urquell hanging above your head when you enter (try it; it tastes like buttered sourdough and will make any hop-lover cry tears of joy) to the roaring open fireplaces dotted around the premises, Duck and Rice is anything but traditional. The selection of intensely satisfying dim sum features modern takes on Cantonese classics, and they offer a plethora of tasty vegetarian options as well.
Address: 90 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 0QB
So now that your BUCKiTDREAM dairy is full of places to find a decent a dim sum or two, why not find out what else this bucket list destination has to offer by reading How To Drink Like A Local In London’s Best Pubs and 5 Of London’s Best Sky-Scraping Restaurants. For more of a city overview, check out Keep Calm And Go To London.