Dim sum is a Chinese-style meal consisting of small, bite-sized dishes, typically served with tea and enjoyed with family or friends.
The Cantonese people of Southern China created dim sum. However, other regions and cultures of China have also adopted this eating style, so it’s a prevalent dish throughout the nation.
Dim sum has also become a popular dish worldwide. As a result, you can find dim sum restaurants outside in many big cities, and some of the best can be found in the United States.
I am something of a dim sum enthusiast myself. I love dim sum because I love having various ingredients, flavors, and textures in one sitting.
It’s challenging to get that level of variety in one main dish. But with dim sum, you can sit around a huge round table and treat yourself to a range of delicious small plates.
Here are the best dim sum dishes you should try.
Chicken Feet (Feng Zhua)
Feng zhua, called chicken feet in English, is a dim sum dish that consists of just that — the feet of a chicken.
Although it’s not common to see chicken feet on the menu in Western dishes, they are a popular, flavorful part of the bird across Asia and Africa.
Dim sum-style chicken feet include the skin, cartilage, bones, and tendons of the feet, which is why it packs so much flavor.
It doesn’t have much meat inside, but the meat you get has a lot of collagen, which is very healthy for humans to eat.
I like eating chicken feet not only because of the flavor of the meat itself but the sauce that usually comes on it.
The sauce includes pepper, garlic, ginger, oyster sauce, chilis, and other punchy ingredients.
Egg Tarts (Dan Tat)
An egg tart, or dan tat in Chinese, is a dim sum dessert dish that contains similar ingredients to many baked goods — e.g., milk, sugar, flour, vanilla extract, etc.
This pastry also has a flaky outer crust, like a pie crust.
However, what makes an egg tart unique is the filling. Egg tarts get their name because the main filling ingredient is eggs.
The eggs are usually mixed with milk and sugar to create a smooth, custard-like filling.
I love egg tarts because they’re a bit sweet, but not too sweet. They’re the perfect dessert to have after a savory meal.
I also appreciate their bite-sized shape, allowing you to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of the meal without going overboard.
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf (Lo Mai Gai)
Sticky rice in lotus leaf is a glutinous rice dish wrapped in a lotus leaf and then steamed.
The sticky rice is usually mixed with other ingredients like mushrooms, Chinese sausage, chicken, and shrimp.
I love this dish because it’s so fragrant and flavorful. The lotus leaf gives the sticky rice a unique flavor, and the other ingredients inside add even more depth of flavor.
I also appreciate how the dish is usually family-style, as it’s a perfect dish to share with others.
Crystal Shrimp Dumplings
Crystal shrimp dumplings are a dim sum dish containing, you guessed it, shrimp.
The shrimp is minced and mixed with pork and other ingredients like scallions, ginger, and cilantro.
This mixture is then wrapped in a clear wrapper made from tapioca starch and water.
I love crystal shrimp dumplings because they’re so delicate and pretty to look at, with their semi-translucent skin resembling a clear crystal.
I also enjoy the taste of the dumplings, especially when I dunk them into a dumpling sauce mixture, such as a soy ginger dipping sauce — yum!
The only problem I have with crystal shrimp dumplings is that they tend to go away quickly because everyone loves them too!
Sesame Balls (Jian Dui)
Sesame balls are one of the best dim sum dishes for people who love semi-savory pastries.
They’re made of glutinous rice flour that is shaped into a ball and deep-fried. Once they’re fried, they’re rolled in sesame seeds, hence the name “sesame balls.”
The inside of a sesame ball is usually filled with a red bean paste, a sweetened paste made from boiled and mashed red beans.
However, you can also find sesame balls filled with lotus seed paste or black sesame paste.
I personally love sesame balls because of the contrast in textures — the crispy exterior and the soft, chewy interior. I also enjoy the sweetness of the red bean paste filling.
Sesame seeds are a seed that’s also very healthy, providing lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)
Soup dumplings are one of my favorite sim dim dishes because they’re so delicious and unique.
They’re made with a thin, delicate wrapper that encases a pork and soup filling.
The soup filling usually contains chicken broth, pork, vegetables, and spices.
You have to create a chilled, gelatinous mixture to be able to fold those ingredients into a dumpling wrapper.
Then, when you steam the dumpling, the heat causes the gelatin mixture to turn into a delicious broth that you can sip along with the dumpling itself.
These dumplings are also exceptionally difficult to make yourself — trust me, I’ve tried — so I appreciate being able to order them when I’m at a dim sum restaurant.
Soup dumplings are a must-try for anyone who loves dim sum.
BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
BBQ pork buns are another classic dim sum dish you can’t miss.
They’re made with a fluffy, white bun filled with a sweet and savory BBQ pork filling.
The bun is then steamed until it’s nice and soft.
BBQ pork buns are undoubtedly one of the best dim sum dishes for those new to dim sum and looking for a “safer” choice. You can’t go wrong with them, especially if you already love pork.
I love BBQ pork buns because the oyster and dark soy sauce make the pork filling so fragrant and tasty. I also enjoy the pillowy softness of the bun itself. It’s just such a comforting dish.
BBQ Pork Puffs (Char Siu So)
BBQ pork puffs have a similar filling to pork buns, but instead of a fluffy, soft bun, the filling is encased in a flaky, buttery puff pastry.
I love how crispy and flaky the puff pastry is and how it contrasts so well with the sweet and savory BBQ pork filling. The filling is also generous, so you get a good amount in each bite.
Pork puffs are one of my favorite dim sum dishes because they’re so darn delicious.
If you were to ask which one I like more, between pork buns and pork buffs, I’d have to say it depends on the day!
Open-Face Pork-and-Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai)
People tend to think of dumplings as folded and enclosed, but that’s not always the case.
Open-face dumplings — like siu mai — are a dim sum dish made with a wrapper that is only partially closed on the bottom and sides.
Siu mai is made with a wonton wrapper filled with a mixture of pork, shrimp, and vegetables. They’re then steamed until cooked through.
I’m obsessed with siu mai because of the pork-and-shrimp filling. I love the combination of those two ingredients because they complement each other so well.
The shrimp adds a touch of sweetness to the filling, while the pork keeps it grounded with its savory flavors.
Pan-fried Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Go)
Turnip cake is a dim sum dish with shredded turnips, rice flour, and Chinese sausage.
You then pan-fry the cake until it’s nice and crispy on the outside.
I’m a big fan of turnip cake because I love its versatility. You can eat it as-is or dip it in a sauce of your choice. I usually eat it with a mixture of soy sauce and chili sauce.
I also enjoy the sweetness of the Chinese sausage that restaurants often include in the turnip cake.
It’s such a delicious and unique dish that I always order it at my favorite dim sum spots.
Rice Noodle Rolls
Rice noodle rolls are a tasty, unique Cantonese dish that looks like a spring roll but isn’t fried.
It’s made with rice noodles, some meat (usually pork or shrimp), and vegetables, all wrapped up in a thin rice paper wrapper.
The actual roll tends to be on the more mild side, allowing the roll to take on the flavor of the sauce it comes with.
I always enjoy rice noodle rolls because I love how the rice paper wrapper gives it a slight crunch.
The filling is also usually very flavorful once dipped in sauce, and I enjoy the contrast between the chewy rice noodles and the crunchy veggies.
Shao mai is a steamed dumpling that is made with a wrapping of either dough or rice paper.
The shao mai filling is usually a mixture of pork, shrimp, and vegetables.
I love shao mai because the wrapper is always nice and thin, so you get a good ratio of wrapper to filling.
I also enjoy the delicate flavor of the shrimp, which pairs well with the other ingredients in the filling.
Shao mai is very similar to siu mai, but the former is Mandarin, and the latter is the Cantonese version.
Sponge cake is a Dim sum dessert made with egg whites, sugar, flour, and baking powder.
It’s an airy and light cake that has a very subtle sweetness to it.
I like sponge cake because it’s not too sweet, and I find that it’s the perfect way to end a meal.
The cake is also very light, so it doesn’t weigh me down after I eat it. This is crucial because I usually eat a ton of food when I’m eating dim sum!
I usually like to eat sponge cake with a cup of jasmine tea, and the two go together perfectly.
Stuffed eggplant is a dish that is made with, as the name suggests, eggplants!
The eggplants are hollowed out and then filled with pork, shrimp, and vegetables.
They’re then steamed until cooked through.
I enjoy the stuffed eggplant dish because I love the flavor of the eggplant.
It’s a unique taste, and it pairs well with the other ingredients in the filling, like sesame oil, brown sugar, or oyster sauce.
Last but certainly not least are spring rolls, arguably one of the most common dim sum dishes.
Spring rolls are rolled-up wrappers containing ingredients such as carrots, cabbage, bamboo shoots, and other vegetables, as well as meat like pork or shrimp.
Then, the roll is deep-fried to give it a crispy, crunchy outer shell that is to die for.
Spring rolls are not my top priority at dim sum because I get them all the time in other Chinese meals as well.
However, they are so delicious that it’s hard to resist picking up one or two during a dim sum meal.