I'm a dim sum addict. I dream of dim sum. So I'm putting together this ultimate dim sum guide, listing out exactly what it is, and listing out 25 must order dim sum dishes too! Use this guide every time you go for dim sum! It will help you order the best dishes and have a truly local experience!
My aim is to help you order dim sum from the menu like a pro, and to be able to enjoy the full range of dim sum that most cantonese restaurants offer! First, what is dim sum?
What's inside this guide?
What is Dim Sum?
Dim Sum Definition
How to order dim sum
25 must order dim sum dishes
Dim Sum Etiquette
Dim Sum Translation
When I first tried dim sum, I was in love. But only after a few years of eating dim sum in China I asked myself, what does dim sum mean? Luckily, my wife Ting is a verified dim sum expert, growing up in the south of China in Guangzhou, the true home of dim sum. So I asked her and found out it literally means “to touch the heart”. Yes, dim sum is so delicious that it will leave an impact on your heart and soul! People also commonly associate it with “yum cha”, to go “drink tea”.
So when you’re hanging out in Southern China, and people say “let’s go drink tea”, it really means “let’s go eat dim sum!”.
Traditionally eaten for breakfast or brunch, dim sum has evolved into an all day affair in many Chinese cities like Guangzhou. In my Guangzhou food guide, we explore the famous Dim Dou Dak restaurant where you can eat dim sum late into the night!
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? It’s really all about tea. Dim Sum is found inside chalou 茶楼 teahouses. A place to spend time with family and friends, sip tea, and enjoy delicious food. Dim sum is also sometimes served from pushcarts, allowing you to point and choose what you want to eat, the easiest way!
How to order Dim Sum
Ordering dim sum can be difficult if there is no English menu. Lucky for you, most of the best dim sum in the US has English menus. However, you’ll still need to know what to order!
If you’re traveling to China, ordering off the dim sum menu is a little more difficult. Usually you’ll get a menu that looks like this:
Seeing this, you might be too confused to order! But with the help of this guide, you’ll be ordering in no time. Scroll down for pictures and 25 must order dim sum dishes.
Normally, you would write a number indicating your order quantity (usually 1 is enough) at the bottom of each dish listed vertically.
But that won’t help if you can’t read the menu! Luckily, you can ask your server to help you while showing her the photos from below. For your final order, I recommend ordering 1-2 steamers per person, with a minimum of 4 different steamers, so if you’re a group of 4 people, ordering 6 different steamers of dim sum should be more than enough.
FIRST, START WITH TEA.
Even before ordering, the first question that you’ll be asked is what type of tea you would like to drink. If you hear the word “Yum” (to drink), you should respond with one of the teas below:
Common teas to order include:
Black tea 红茶 (Hung Cha – Hóngchá)
Pu’er tea 普洱茶 (Po Lei Cha – Pǔ’ěr chá)
Chrysanthemum 菊花茶 (Gok Fa Cha – Júhuā chá)
Jasmine 茉莉花茶 (Mot Lei Fa – Mòlìhuā chá)
Oolong tea 乌龙茶 (Wu Long Cha – Wūlóngchá)
The 25 Best Dim Sum Dishes List
Har Gow - Xiā jiǎo - 虾饺 - Shrimp Dumplings
The KING of dim sum, the har gao, is the benchmark of any dim sum restaurant in Southern China. Stuffed plump with springy shrimp, pork fat, and bamboo shoots, and wrapped with a delicate rice flour wrapper, these are the ICONIC dish of any dim sum meal. I order them every single time! You can judge the quality of the restaurant simply by the quality of their har gao. It should be juicy and springy and full of juice yet the outside should be dry and slightly sticky. I’m guilty of dipping them in chili sauce, known as 辣椒酱 Làjiāo jiàng.
Siu Mai - Shāomai - 烧卖 - Pork Dumplings
Another iconic dim sum dish and essential item for any dim sum feast, the siu mai minced pork dumplings are truly addictive and found in almost all dim sum restaurants. Filled with minced pork, bamboo shoots, water chestnut, and garnished with crab roe or sometimes even caviar, these juicy dumplings pop in your mouth with juice and you won’t be able to stop eating! I’m also guilty of dipping these in chili sauce.
Fung Zao - Fèng zhuǎ - 凤爪 - Black Bean Sauce Chicken Feet
Don’t be afraid! These are INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS! You may be hesitant to order these, but trust me, you have to give them at least one try! Entire chicken feet are steamed in a savoury and slightly sweet and spicy black bean sauce that is soaked deep into the succulent skin, and taking small bites of the fatty skin and the tendons inside is truly satisfying.
Another famous dumpling to try is the Chaohou Fun Guo, a plump and deliciously filled pouch of pork, cilantro, peanuts, mushrooms, and celery. This huge variety of flavours and textures is what makes the fun guo unique! The contrast between the soft dumpling skin and the crunchy and juicy fillings make this another must order dish in dim sum!
No mai gai - Nuòmǐ jī - 糯米鸡 - Sticky rice chicken lotus leaf wrap
The no mai gai is one of the most filling and satisfying dishes to order at a dim sum restaurant. Beautiful lotus leaves are wrapped around steamed sticky rice filled with chicken, pork, and mushrooms, with light seasonings. It’s heavy and very sticky and so enjoyable! This is another mainstay of dim sum and most dim sum restaurants will feature this item.
Lo Bak Go - Luóbo gāo - 萝卜糕 - Turnip Cake
The lo bak go is a surprisingly delicious dim sum dish, considering it’s mainly just radish and rice flour batter. The real secret is the aroma from Chinese ham mixed inside (tastes like bacon!) and the sizzling slightly smoky aroma from the grill with a slight crunch on the outside. While the lo bak gao isn’t my absolute favourite, it’s surprisingly delicious and I order it more often than not!
Similar dim sum:
Máhtàihgōu – 马蹄糕 – Matiga0 – Water chestnut cake. More jelly like and sweet. Most people either like this one or the turnip cake, so it’s good to try both, although on different occasions.
Wuhtàuhgōu – 芋頭糕 – Yutougao – Cantonese taro cake. Less sweet than the above, and quite starchy from the taro. Also very delicious!
The world famous Xiaolongbao, famously at their best in Shanghai are also offered in many dim sum restaurants throughout Guangdong. The XLB are stuffed PLUMP with pork and stock that is an explosive risk to you and anyone around you. Be careful. These are hot and explode upon impact. Pick them up from the top and put them in your spoon, then bite in gently to the side and slurp all the juice out! You’ll be in heaven! After the hot heavenly stock is out, you can bite in for the finishing move and savour the flavour!
Xiefen Xiaolongbao 蟹粉小笼包 – Xiaolongbao dumplings with crab meat!
Wodan Niuroufan - 窝蛋牛肉饭 - Steamed rice with beef and egg
This is super famous in Southern China. Minced beef loaded with light seasonings and cilantro is served with a raw egg and steamed overtop of rice. It’s super gooey and satisfying! In traditional dim sum restaurants, this will be served in a metal bowl and is often eaten as an entire meal if it’s a quick in and out type place. Otherwise, it’s served as a different variety cooked in claypots and known as baozaifan, which is a world on it’s own of delicious treasure cooked in a claypot over high flame!
Cheong Fun - 肠粉 - Rice Noodle Rolls
Cheong fun AKA rice noodle rolls are one of the best foods to try. Rice flour water is splashed onto a hot metal tray and steamed while adding on your ingredients of choice like shrimp, bbq pork, bean sprouts, or crunchy bean curd skin. Then it’s covered in a light soy sauce and you pull it apart with your chopsticks to It’s one of the most satisfying foods to eat in China. I personally love the shrimp cheong fun.
These are absolutely delicious! Tofu skin is wrapped around chicken or pork, plump mushrooms, bamboo shoots, radish, and taro. Sometimes shrimp are added too. You can dip these beauties in oyster sauce. They make a great addition to a full table of dim sum.
Cha siu bao -叉烧包 - BBQ Pork Stuffed Buns
A true mainstay of cantonese cuisine, these plump and slightly sweet BBQ pork buns are found in all dim sum restaurants throughout Guangzhou and throughout the general Guangdong province region of China. You can’t go wrong with choosing these BBQ pork buns on any yum cha outing. Good chasiubao are super fluffy and stuffed plump with bbq pork on the inside, and should be slightly sweet and sticky. Delicious!
Chashao canbao 叉烧残暴 – Unlike the steamed fluffy char siu bao, these are more like a regular baked golden white bun stuffed with BBQ pork.
Lìhnyùhngbāu - 莲蓉包 - Lianrongbao - Lotus seed bun
Sweet lotus seed paste dim sum buns! There are so many varieties of sweet dim sum to try, and the lianrongbao are one of the best. You can order this bun or the famous liushabao egg custard steamed bun to round out your order with something sweet to go with all your savoury dishes.
The liushabao is one of the iconic sweet dim sum dishes to order in Guangzhou. It’s stuffed with sweet and gooey salted egg yolk mixed with butter and sugar, to become one of the gooiest and delicious sweet buns you can order! It’s very custardy and sweet and is a must order dim sum dish to try at any chalou dim sum restaurant in Guangzhou.
Malagao - 马拉糕 - Cantonese sponge cake
Cantonese sponge cake is served as a large tower on a plate or cut into squares in a steamer basket. This is a staple of the “chalou” 茶楼 teahouse restaurants found all throughout Guangzhou and is famous for it’s thousands of little bubbles in the cake. It’s sweet, super fluffy, and very addictive!
Dantat- 蛋挞 - Egg Tarts
Egg tarts are famous all throughout Southern China, with bakeries all over the city offering egg tarts to go for hungry locals. The outer pastry dough is soft and flaky and the inner egg custard is sweet and very enjoyable!
Gam cin tou - Jin qian du - 金钱肚 - Steamed black bean beef tripe
Don’t be afraid! This is another famously delicious steamed dim sum dish you need to try in Southern China. The springy honeycomb section of the beef stomach is steamed in a deliciously fragrant and spicy black bean sauce and served in a bamboo steamer. It looks delicious and it tastes delicious, so give it a try, there is nothing weird about this! It’s a must order dim sum dish!
nam jyu zing zyu shou - 南乳蒸猪手 - Steamed pigs foot in fermented black bean sauce
This one is all about the texture! The gelatinous fat that surrounds the pork knuckle and whole pigs foot is extremely satisfying and full of a lightly sweet and fragrant fermented black bean sauce! The mixture of pure fat and bits of lean meat around the knuckle make it a truly heavy yet enjoyable steamed dim sum dish! Must order!
Chiwei Zhengpaigu - 豉汁蒸排骨 - Black bean and garlic steamed spare ribs
These are super famous all over southern China. Pork spare ribs are steamed in a fermented black bean sauce, garlic, chili, and marinated in a little sweet sauce. The combo is aromatic, spicy, and sweet. The juicy pork falls off the little spare rib bones and is very enjoyable!
Hoeng ma zin deoi zai - 香麻煎堆仔 - Stuffed sesame deep fried sticky rice balls
These super satisfying stuffed sesame deep fried sticky rice balls are a must order dim sum dish.They are very hot, gooey, and full of sweet black sesame that makes a delicious Cantonese dessert! They are very filling and golden brown which really brings out the toasted white sesame flavour!
Wat gai cheon gun - 滑鸡春卷 - Chicken spring rolls
Spring rolls! Perhaps the most famous dim sum dish overseas found in almost all Chinese restaurants around the world! Extremely crispy and stuffed plump with chicken and vegetables, they are very delicious!
Hai kim - 蟹钳 - Deep fried crab lollipops
Order these as well! Crab claws have all the shell removed except for the pincer and are wrapped up with either shrimp or crab flesh and coated in bread crumbs and sometimes sliced almonds. They are golden delicious and very nice when dipped in the provided sweet chili sauce!
Lau lin sou - 榴莲酥 - Deep fried durian puffs
Whether you’ve never tasted durian or you are a lifelong durian lover, the deep fried durian puffs are an excellent addition to any table full of dim sum for their fragrance and golden brown crispiness. Once you taste one, it’s hard to stop eating because the sweet and pungent aroma of durian overwhelms your tastebuds and you enter into a new durian world!
The first time I tried these I was blown away with the simplicity and deliciousness of the squid! They are steamed in a slightly spicy chili garlic sauce that goes very well with the slightly springy and soft squid. If you find these on a dim sum menu, order them up! I found a very delicious steamer of them at Fung Shing restaurant in Mongkok.
One of the best dim sum dishes to order is the steamed beef meatballs with water chestnut and cilantro. They have a slightly crunchy texture from the water chestnut and a fresh hint from the cilantro. After they arrive to your table, the server will come by with some light soy sauce and pour it over them for you. They are very delicious!
Wōtip - 锅贴 - Beef potsticker dumplings
The wotip beef or pork potsticker dumplings are one of the most famous Chinese dumplings you can try. Known as guotie in Mandarin, they are fried in oil until crispy on the outside and dipped in a red vinegar that is sour and fresh at the same time. You’ll love ordering these every time you visit yum cha restaurants!
Dim Sum Etiquette
There is also a little bit of etiquette around eating dim sum. As the foreign guest not accustomed to Chinese culture, locals won’t judge you as harshly if you make a mistake, but it doesn’t hurt to do your best!
In Southern China, tea cups and eating bowls are first rinsed at the table with boiling water or tea. This is more of a cultural habit than a distrust in cleanliness. Although it’s still clean, the plate is not rinsed at the table and is not meant to be eaten from. The plate is used for shells and bones. Food is placed into your bowl one piece at a time. It’s very polite to use the communal chopsticks to give others food.
Traditionally, going for dim sum is all about spending time with friends or family. While eating, you the youngest will often fill the cups of the elders. When you want to drink tea, fill everyone else’s cup first, then fill yours.
Remove shells or bones (like from the chicken feet) from your mouth quietly onto your plate either with chopsticks or by spitting.
Eat everything with chopsticks. Never use your hands. If you really need it, you can ask for a fork, but it’s best to try.
Never place your chopsticks directly into your food or rice bowl. This is only done during funerals.
When you are finished, align your chopsticks neatly on your plate.
I hope this dim sum menu guide and dishes list comes in handy for your next dim sum adventure!