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Dim Sum for Dummies—Plus, Our Favorite Spots Around the World

Carolyn Phillips—a food writer and artist who worked for decades as a Mandarin translator and interpreter in both Taiwan and California—knows Chinese food. So when her first books, The Dim Sum Field Guide and All Under Heaven, were released at the end of August, we quickly devoured them cover to cover.

As dumpling enthusiasts, we were particularly captured by the pint-sized field guide—a portable cheat-sheet that not only lists every item available at a Chinese teahouse, but also offers helpful illustrations, origins of the dish, and even nesting habits (how they’re served) and recommended sauces or dips. Eager to test out our new dim sum knowledge, we asked Carolyn to share her favorite under-the-radar spots in the Bay Area and got to work compiling our own short-list for six of the cities we know best: New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Seattle. For those who want to create a dim sum experience at home, we designed some seriously delicious (and slightly cleaned up) recipes, and stocked the goop Home Shop with all of the accessories you’ll need to execute them, from steamers to an excellent rice cooker.

Carolyn’s tips on how to dim sum like a pro:

  1. Order from the menu, rather than the carts. This slows you down and also ensures that your food arrives piping hot.

  2. Get just two or three things at a time. Don’t rush this meal, as it’s designed to be a time for relaxing and lingering. Call the waitperson over when you’re about finished with one round so you can request a couple more items. Repeat until you’re full, but leave at least a little room for dessert.

  3. Aim for variety every time. Have a steamer basket, a small plate of roast meats, and maybe something from the fryer. If one is shrimp, one is pork, and one is taro, for example, you will end up with a nice range of textures and flavors.

  4. Ask to have the larger pieces cut in half, for your waitperson often has a pair of shears at the ready just for this purpose. This way you can enjoy small nibbles of a number of dishes, rather than fill up quickly on one or two things.

  5. Start with lighter foods like har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) to tease your palate and appetite, and then work your way up toward the heavier items.

  6. Finish with a round or two of sweets. These too can be cut in half, making dessert just a tad less sinful.

  7. Always drink hot tea with dim sum. Your server will offer you a variety to choose from and will refill the pot throughout the meal.

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Dim Sum Recipes from the goop Kitchen

  • Cabbage-Wrapped Shrimp Shumai

    Cabbage-Wrapped Shrimp Shumai

    A new riff on GP’s ingenious cabbage dim sum—this time wrapped shumai-style with a simple, but super tasty shrimp filling. Don’t forget the squeeze of lime at the end—that bright acidity makes all the difference!

    GET RECIPE

  • Chinese Pearl Meatballs

    Chinese Pearl Meatballs

    These delicious meatballs are super flavorful and totally gluten free! The combination of the tender meatball and chewy rice dipped in savory tamari and tangy rice vinegar is just beyond.

    GET RECIPE

  • Five Spice Squash Dumplings

    Five Spice Squash Dumplings

    Roasted squash makes a delicious dumpling filling, and once you get the hang of the folding process, they’re pretty fun and easy to make. If the four corners folding process seems too complicated, make triangular dumplings instead.

    GET RECIPE

  • Spring Veggie Dumplings

    Spring Veggie Dumplings

    We can’t get enough of these little veggie-packed green dumplings. The folding takes a bit of time and practice, but the end result is worth it, so enlist some friends (or your kids) to help!

    GET RECIPE

The Best Dim Sum in Our Favorite Cities

    Bay Area

    • Chef’s Wok

      Chef’s Wok

      “Few outsiders are even aware that this little spot on the island of Alameda exists, and its name isn’t do it any favors, either. But Chef’s Wok has the Bay Area’s best Portuguese-style custard tarts in puff pastry, duck chins in Maggi sauce, honeycomb taro-wrapped pork, sesame rollups, herbal guiling jelly, and red bean tapioca balls. It’s a hidden treasure with excellent roast and braised pork and poultry, good service, and reasonable prices. Other than the lovely and huge hand-painted wallpaper of an idyllic Chinese landscape, the décor is barebones and a little tatty. But no one is coming here for anything but the food.” —Carolyn Phillips

    • Peony Seafood Restaurant

      Peony Seafood Restaurant

      “Peony has recently really stepped up its game, and the dim sum here is now simply fabulous. Master chefs in the back make just about everything to order: stellar har gow, garlic chive packets, and fried fun gor (filled half-moon dumplings) with a dipping sauce, while their crackly suckling pigs and lacquered ducks are slowly cooked over open flames. The truffled baozi are beautiful and delicious, too. This cavernous place fills up quickly at lunch and is almost impossible to squeeze into on the weekends, but the service is great and the prices are reasonable.” —Carolyn Phillips

    • Ton Kiang

      Ton Kiang

      “A Hakka-style restaurant at night, by day this is a nice place to relax over some Cantonese dim sum. You can’t go wrong here with anything that has shrimp in its name, as well as the foil-wrapped chicken, chicken feet, crab claws, and sweet fried sesame balls. Lots of non-Chinese diners are fans, but many of Ton Kiang’s dishes still manage to remain authentic. Service and prices are good, and it tends to be quieter here than in most Chinese teahouses. Lines can frustrate, especially on the weekends, so try to arrive ahead of the rush, which is also when parking is less of a hassle.” —Carolyn Phillips

    • Good Mong Kok Bakery

      Good Mong Kok Bakery

      “If you are on the go in SF and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, be sure to head over to this bakery and pick up some takeout. This is where Chinatown’s denizens shop for everything from breakfast to afternoon tea. Arrive early, since things sell out fast, and then power down into full Zen mode while hanging around in that long line. The counter ladies can be cranky and rarely speak English, but then again you just need to hustle your way to the counter, place your order, plunk down your cash, and leave. Snag some baked char siu buns, whatever steamed dumplings grab your fancy, and a couple of flaky pastries.” —Carolyn Phillips

    • Gum Kuo Restaurant

      Gum Kuo Restaurant

      “Located downstairs from Peony and more deli than regular teahouse, this is where you go for amazing Cantonese tamales (braised pork with peeled mung beans and sticky rice bound with bamboo and lotus leaves), roast duck, char siu (sweet roast pork), congee (rice porridge), and cheong fun (silky rice sheets). Gum Kuo, in low-key Oakland Chinatown, has an enormous oven in the rear for homemade roast meats and birds. Service is good and the prices are amazingly low. Cheap parking is located down below the shopping center.” —Carolyn Phillips

    • New Asia

      New Asia

      “This place is as cavernous as a high school basketball court, but it’s inevitably jam-packed with Chinese folks. Lots of them are elderly, telling you that it’s good and cheap. The deep-fried radish cakes, Chinese beignets, and crackly-skinned pork belly here are the best. Always order off the menu and get things freshly made – this is especially important with the fried and steamed items, which lose too much of their magic when they’re wheeled around that enormous room. Get here before the rush, park in one of the city lots, and then wander around old Chinatown to work off those delicious calories.” —Carolyn Phillips

    Seattle

    • Bamboo Village

      Bamboo Village

      Probably the best thing about Bamboo Village, besides the fact that they do dim sum all day long, is that it doesn’t get as crowded as the other dim sum spots in town. Read: You can always get a seat, and you won’t be rushed through your meal, so you can do all the lingering (and deciding you want just one more dish) you like. Fan favorite dishes include the shumai, humbao, and fried taro from the dim sum menu, and regulars rave about the roasted duck with rice. And while it’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, taste-wise, it’s more than worth ordering the mango jello with cream, which arrives shaped like a jiggling fish.

    • Harbor City

      Harbor City

      Set in the heart of Chinatown in the International District, with red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, lazy susan tables, and birds hanging in the windows, Harbor City is dim sum straight out of central casting. The space is pretty tiny, so we recommend arriving early on weekends to skip the lines. They do all the classics really well—the har gow, gai lan (steamed broccoli), pork siu mai, and barbecue pork buns all come highly recommended. If you’re feeling adventurous enough to order some fried chicken feet, this is a good place to take the leap.

    • Jade Garden

      Jade Garden

      Not far from Harbor City (the other dim sum favorite in the International District), Jade Garden is a Seattle staple. The restaurant is actually really big, so while there’s a line on the weekends, it moves fast, and you can use the time to look over the specials, which are written on an old-school chalkboard in gorgeous script, in English and Chinese. Try to snag a seat near the kitchen if possible—there are enough tables that folks in the back usually suffer from a smaller selection from the carts. Food-wise, they do classics like shumai and hum bow really well, and locals say the shrimp dumplings either fried or steamed are what they order late-night (it’s open until 3am).

    • Monsoon

      Monsoon

      Monsoon is actually a family-run Vietnamese restaurant, but they’re known for a great dim sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (the menu includes an incredible Bloody Mary with pho broth). It’s also the one Seattle dim sum spot on our list that wins points for decór—there’s a bar with cool, sculptural wooden lanterns and a sunny rooftop patio in the summer. The dim sum menu is short and sweet, with steamed shrimp dumplings, lotus leaf sticky rice, and barbecue pork buns, plus a sampling of Vietnamese and Western brunch dishes, like drunken chicken with rice and a fried egg, steak and eggs with banana ketchup, and congee with roasted shitake mushrooms and a poached egg.

    Los Angeles

    • Monterey Palace Restaurant

      Monterey Palace Restaurant

      This old-school spot in Monterey Park doesn’t have any carts—you order your dim sum (which is priced at a seriously cheap $2.09 per order) from a fill-in paper menu. The menu is huge and a little intimidating, but it’s pretty hard to screw up an order here, since they do most things well—keep an eye out for siu mai, har gow, and the steamed bean curd roll, and they’re most famous for their yellow shumai with orange crab roe. Crowds can get intense on the weekends, so we recommend coming early or late, or during the week. Another pro tip: Park in the surrounding neighborhood, as the spots in their lot are tricky to access.

    • Shanghai No. 1 Seafood

      Shanghai No. 1 Seafood

      This quirky spot in the San Gabriel Valley is famous for its over-the-top interior, which features ornate silver chairs, chandeliers, and red velvet walls. Like most dim sum places in LA, they’ve scrapped the carts in favor of paper menus—and admittedly, the carts wouldn’t fit in with the decor anyway. The dim sum here is mostly cantonese, but there are some Shanghai-style dishes, too. We love the Shanghai vegetable bun, the fried rice cakes with pork, and the deep fried tarot balls, and the pan-fried noodles are also a favorite if you need a break from dishes that come in baskets.

    • Elite Restaurant

      Elite Restaurant

      Though the dinner scene at Elite is a little intense (they’ve got a long menu full of traditional Chinese delicacies, and it’s easy to rack up a significant bill), the weekend dim sum is accessible and blessedly cheap, as even the chef’s specials top out at under $7. Foodie types come here for the egg custard, a classic dish that they do especially well, and the pork shu mai, which comes topped with a delicate scallop and a generous dollop of roe.

    • Sea Harbour Restaurant

      Sea Harbour Restaurant

      Modeled in the style of high-end dim sum restaurants in Vancouver and Hong Kong (the management company also manages several restaurants in both those cities), most people view Sea Harbour as the quintessential LA dim sum experience. Accordingly, it also has some of the worst lines, but trust us when we say that everything on the menu is worth the wait. They excel at the classics, like the barbecue pork buns, which you can order in several different styles; note, though, that the original rice-noodle-roll version usually sells out early on weekends. The chefs here also offer some innovative takes on classic dishes, like the sticky rice ball stuffed with “salty egg,” a dumpling with the texture of mochi wrapped around a soft, sweet, custard-y egg.

    • Din Tai Fung

      Din Tai Fung

      Located in the sprawling Americana mall, this Taipei export is famous for its steamed dumplings—and all the requisite extras like green beans with sautéed garlic, Shanghai rice cakes with shrimp, and noodle soups.

    New York

    • Tim Ho Wan

      Tim Ho Wan

      Since its’ opening in late 2016, this NYC outpost of the famed Hong Kong chain has been packed – like, lines around the block packed. Known by many as the world’s cheapest Michelin restaurant, Tim Ho Wan boasts an extensive menu – some highlights include excellent crispy turnip cakes, baked BBQ pork buns, and deep-fried eggplant with shrimp. Unlike some other popular dim sum spots, it has limited seating and no carts, but it’s also open all day, which means you can get your dumpling fix any time between 10 am and 10 pm.

    • Nom Wah

      Nom Wah

      This NYC institution has been around since 1920, and although it’s evolved and changed over time (it was originally a bakery and teahouse serving dim sum on the side), it’s still one of our favorite places in New York. The small dining room, decked out with booths and red-checkered tablecloths, is adorable, and their scallion pancakes, “OG” egg rolls, and anything made with rice noodles (like the har gow and any of the rice rolls) do not disappoint. Don’t confuse this with the new-ish NoLita location – although the food is solid, the more modern, fast-casual concept in no way rivals the funky charm of the original.

    • Golden Unicorn

      Golden Unicorn

      No NYC dim sum list would be complete without Golden Unicorn, the classic, 2-story Cantonese spot that draws tourists and New Yorkers alike with its ornate decorations and delicious dim sum offerings. Since everything (they’re best known for mainstays like shrimp and pork shumai and BBQ pork buns) gets piled high in baskets and rolled around the dining room on carts, try to snag a seat near the kitchen, ensuring you get the freshest possible food. Oh, and be sure to order the little piggy buns, filled with egg custard and endlessly instagrammable.

    • Jing Fong

      Jing Fong

      If you’re looking for a quintessential New York dim sum experience, Jing Fong is probably your best bet. With a sprawling dining room (it seats 800), communal tables, and blue and pink fluorescent lighting, this Cantonese palace is worth a trip for the fun (if slightly chaotic) atmosphere alone. Some reliable dishes include the soup dumplings, vegetable dumplings, and rice noodle rolls with shrimp. Go during the week, or be prepared to wait at least an hour on the weekends.

    Hong Kong

    • Tim Ho Wan

      Tim Ho Wan

      Chef Mak Kwai Pui originally opened this casual dim sum eatery as a 20-seat restaurant in Mongkok, which earned a Michelin star in 2010, leading to its claim to fame as the world’s least expensive restaurant to hold one. In 2015, this Sham Shui Po location received a Michelin star, too, and it’s not difficult to understand why—every dumpling is perfect, perhaps the best anywhere. Be sure to try the pork buns, which are equal parts sweet and smoky, soft and chewy; but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The original location closed in 2013, but they have outposts all over, including a recently-opened (and unsurprisingly popular) spot in Greenwich Village. If you want to avoid the crowds, try going in the afternoon.

    • Liu Yuan

      Liu Yuan

      Recently renovated and located on the third floor of an office building in the Wan Chai District, Liu Yuan Pavilion is known as one of the best Shanghainese restaurants in Hong Kong (and has a 2017 Bib Gourmand from Michelin to prove it). Don’t miss the dim sum, of course, but it’s also worth trying dishes like their Mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce or their braised pig knuckle. Because of its popularity and small-ish space, it’s usually very hard to drop in—definitely make reservations in advance.

    • China Club

      China Club

      If you happen to know a member of this club, hit them up for an invite (a good hotel concierge should probably be able to get you in, too): It’s the closest thing to a contemporary Chinese art museum in Hong Kong, with an unparalleled collection. Their dim sum is top-notch, too.

    • Fook Lam Moon

      Fook Lam Moon

      This long-standing, family-owned restaurant boasts some of the best Cantonese food in Hong Kong. This is the place to try more expensive dishes like bird’s nest soup or abalone, but they’re well-known roasted suckling pig, fried crispy chicken, and excellent dim sum classics. It’s a great spot for an upscale lunch; They have several outposts, but this is the original.

    • Duddell’s

      Duddell’s

      With two Michelin stars, Duddell’s—helmed by Executive Chef Siu Hin-Chi—is an arts-devoted restaurant stylishly merging Hong Kong’s joint British and Chinese heritage to great success, serving contemporary spins on traditional Cantonese cuisine—especially dim sum—in a cool setting reminiscent of a country estate. On any given day they also host lectures, talks, screenings, and guest curated exhibitions of international modern and contemporary art, including some local to Hong Kong, and some on loan from private collectors—while the food is exceptional, the art in and of itself makes it a must. As an added bonus, their garden terrace is a welcome escape from the city streets.

    • Man Wah

      Man Wah

      If you’re in the mood for superlative dim sum, look no further than Man Wah, which is perched on top of the flagship Mandarin Oriental. The setting is impeccable and old-world, and the dim sum is exactly what you want after a long flight to Asia. There’s also a buffet in the café that sits overlooking the lobby.

    Paris

    • Diep

      Diep

      If a little bit of kitsch is what you’re after, then look no further—this nonetheless elegant gem of a restaurant is decked out in Chinese patterns and fine china. Plus, this is one of the finest dim sum experiences in Paris, offering all the Chinese classics plus a wealth of Thai dishes, too, all made with fresh ingredients and done to Michelin standard. The menu is extensive and boasts all the classics, though those who would rather not wade through can go for set menus for two or four, making this a great spot for groups, too.

    • Raviolis Chinois Nord-Est Saint-Denis

      Raviolis Chinois Nord-Est Saint-Denis

      So successful is the original Raviolis Chinois that it’s now opened up a new spot not too far away in Saint-Denis. Again, don’t expect much in terms of decor, however, this new location offers a little more dining territory and a longer wine list. In other words, their delicious Beijing jiaozi, of which there are always at least ten varieties, steamed or grilled, are made to be enjoyed in situ.

    • LiLi

      LiLi

      Tucked inside the Peninsula Hotel, this is as elegant as it gets for dim sum in Paris, with a dining room beautifully decked out in Chinese silks and an extensive menu of Cantonese treats, some of which verge on the extravagant: Just try the caviar filled lobster dim-sum to get an idea. With famed Hong Kong chef Ma Wing Tak at the helm, this is typical Cantonese food made for refined palates and with the best produce Paris has to offer. The restaurant also boasts a couple of private dining options for really special occasions, one of which has a window right into the kitchen where the Dim Sum is prepared fresh for the table.

    • Dim Sum Cantine

      Dim Sum Cantine

      Much like the Cantonese-style dumplings that are its claim to fame, this restaurant is compact but mighty. The house-made dim sum (mushroom, shrimp, lacquered pork, and more) is steamed and then immediately served by the basket, accompanied by salad and rice. Lest you forget you’re in Paris, the steamed brioche buns make for the perfect dessert. Since this restaurant is often packed, check out their second location in the 2nd arrondissement.

    London

    • Yauatcha

      Yauatcha

      Michelin starred dim sum? Yeah, we’re game. All of the dumplings are worthy of the rating, but the Peking spring rolls, sticky rice in a lotus leaf (with chicken and shrimp) are also amazing. Their delicious desserts and pastries are a well-kept secret and a welcome departure from green tea ice cream.

    • The Duck & Rice

      The Duck & Rice

      It’s not a big surprise that restaurateur Alan Yau—Wagamama, Hakkasan, and Yauatcha—has moved on to his next big concept. (He’s sold all three of his ventures.) While the food and the beer list at this Chinese gastropub is undeniably stellar (as expected, the Cantonese roasted duck is the thing to get), the interiors, by Turkish design firm Autoban, might just be good enough to usurp the spotlight—You don’t miss out on either in either of the private rooms which seat up to 12.

    • Park Chinois

      Park Chinois

      Alan Yau is known for creating incredible restaurants and then selling them (Wagamama, Yuautcha, the list goes on) and this may just beat them all. At Park Chinois, as they’re more than happy to explain, the theme is the 1930’s, the era of the Cotton Club, Big Band Jazz, and Shanghai’s golden age. After a dinner of Shanghai-style delights like Bang Bang Chicken Salad and Shabu Shabu, it’s time to dance to some live big band swing in the gilded ballroom—it’s the stuff of pure fantasy.

    • China Tang

      China Tang

      Like stepping back into old-world Eastern elegance, this beautiful dining room serves exquisitely-executed, upscale Cantonese classics, like their whole suckling pig, which requires 24-hour notice and £150 pounds. It’s a splurge but makes for a memorable meal, particularly if it’s served in one of the three adjacent private rooms that seat up to 26—Ping, Pang, and Pong—or combined to seat 80. The dim sum, which is less of an investment, is also great, the seafood and veggie sides are as fresh as they come, and they’ve totally nailed cha siu. A meal here is best enjoyed with an expense account, but you can always hit the swanky bar for one very delicious cocktail.

    • Joy King Lau

      Joy King Lau

      Known to its fans as JKL, this 3 storey Chinatown stalwart serves up lunchtime dim sum at quite possibly the best prices in town. It’s nothing special in terms of decór, or atmosphere for that matter—orders are delivered to the kitchen via walkie talkie equipped waitstaff—but their traditional Cantonese dishes and dim sum make up for it. Don’t miss the pork buns, fried turnip paste, and the scallop Cheung Fun. There’s also a specials menu that is geared toward Chinese guests only: a definite mark of authenticity and a temptation for more adventurous eaters.

    • Mama Lan

      Mama Lan

      This mini chain started out as a supper club hosted by Beijing native Ning Ma, who wanted to bring authentic Beijing Chinese food to London. A quick success, she started her business at Brixton market, bringing her parents, the original Mama Lan included, in on hand rolling the dumplings and developing the menu.There’s a choice of street food-inspired noodle soups and salads, too, and these are worthwhile, though a few orders of fried or steamed dumplings really make the meal here. Don’t expect dim sum rolled out on trays, though, instead, get into the casual street food vibe here, which makes it all the better as a takeout/delivery operation. With 5 more mini locales across the city, from Clapham to Shoreditch, the authentic, home made quality of the dumplings remains.

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