One of the best perks of Markham is the plentiful supply of high quality dim sum. On weekends, popular restaurants will have a queue outside, long before they open. For me, dim sum is one of the only reasons to wake up before 10am on a Saturday. There are two types of dim sum restaurants, ones with carts loaded with dishes and wheeled around the restaurant for diners to order tableside, or those with ordering sheets. Most dim sum restaurants today favour the ordering sheet. If you’re new to the morning tradition of “yum cha”, the bevy of steamed dishes and Asian-centric ingredients may be daunting. Add in the fact that many restaurants lean towards exclusively speaking Cantonese or Mandarin and an order sheet with minimal descriptions, it gets even harder to figure out what to order. To help, here are 10 dishes, savoury and sweet, that would be a good start to any dim sum journey. Each dish is listed with their English name followed by Cantonese and Mandarin pinyin.
(1) Shrimp Dumplings – Har Gow, Xia Jiao
A staple, plump shrimp wrapped in a transparent wrapper and steamed to perfection. The wrapper should be thin and the dumplings shouldn’t stick to the paper or other each. I like mine with a dab of hot sauce.
(2) Shumai – Siu Mai, Shao Mai
Another classic steamed dish, generally with ground pork, shrimp and mushrooms wrapped as an open dumpling.
(3) Chicken Feet – Fung Zau, Feng Zhua
Yes they’re the feet of chicken and look odd, but when prepared well, the perfectly rendered skin and cartilage melt off the bone. Start with trying just one knuckle.
(4) BBQ Pork Bun – Char Siu Bao, Cha Shao Bao
Steamed and soft or crispy and baked, BBQ pork buns are a must.
(5) Lotus Leaf wrapped Sticky Rice – Lo Mai Gai, Nuo Mi Ji
A sticky rice ball filled with chicken, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese sausage all wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed. This dish is filling and full of umami flavours.
(6) Rice Noodle Roll – Coeng Fan, Chang Fen
In general, this dish consists of a long sheet of rice noodle rolled with a filling and steam. Typical fillings are fried dough fritters (my favourite), ground pork or shrimp. The fish is served with a seasoned soy sauce that’s poured on top of the roll.
(7) Steamed Tripe – Ngau Pak Yip, Niu Bai Ye
This was the dish that made tripe one of my favourite proteins. Thin slices of the white offal is steamed to a perfect tenderness with fragrant ginger and green onion.
(8) Beef Offal – Ngau Jaap, Niu Za
Honeycomb tripe is featured in this dish along with lung, spleen, daikon and various other goodies. It’s like a treasure chest of textures and taste.
(9) Sesame Ball – Jin Deui, Ma Tuan
Made with glutinous rice flour, often filled with a red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds, half a ma tuan is my favourite way to end a dim sum meal. Half, because that’s usually all there’s room left for.
(10) Egg Tart – Daan Taat, Dan Ta
Puff pastry filled with an eggy custard, egg tarts are a one bite wonder. The pastry should be flakey and the custard silky smooth, creamy and not too sweet. When I find a good plate of egg tarts, I will happily take a plate to go.