Dim sum has its roots in the Chinese tradition of yum cha, or tea drinking. Silk Road travelers would stop for yum cha at teahouses, and proprietors began adding small snacks to complement the tea. Over the centuries, the Cantonese dining style has transformed from a restful experience into a loud, happy one – in fact, when Chinese immigrants brought yum cha and dim sum to the West in the 1800s, it may have marked the beginning of American brunch.
Dim sum is still a popular choice for Sunday meals for families of Chinese decent and beyond. And now we are seeing operators that have embraced the traditional service in America – and as its popularity grows, the cuisine inevitably evolves. Diners want to experience new restaurants, cuisines and styles of cooking in a familiar way, and dim sum is growing to include more than classic Cantonese cuisine.
Traditional dim sum has two styles of service that benefit both front and back of house: a menu of small plates to share and mobile carts from which guests can select ready-to-eat items. It is particularly suited to diners’ desire for adventure, because the option to see the food, pick and choose small portions to taste and share throughout the evening gives them a sense of control. They can try new dishes and flavors with little risk. Wait staff can engage with diners in a different way as well, offering and suggesting dishes based on what the diner is ordering and enjoying. And the kitchen gets more flexibility, without worrying about working tickets and timing courses – dishes are prepared in small batches and offered when they are ready to go.
Global dim sum is a growing trend. Restaurants across the country are taking advantage of the traditional service style to offer a variety of cuisines and preparations, and diners are starting to take notice.
Take a look at restaurants that are doing more with dim sum:
State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, CA
- Run by the husband-and-wife, chef-owner team of Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, State Bird Provisions rolls out dozens of dishes a night on dim sum-style carts.
- Pork Belly Citrus Salad
- Guanciale Chawanmushi
- Snacking Pork with apple mostarda
- Mushroom and Pork ‘Fried Rice’ a la plancha
má pêche, New York, NY
- Part of David Chang’s momofuku empire, má pêche has been taking classic dim sum to new heights. Diners can order a la carte offerings or choose from a selection of passed dim sum plates presented tableside from cart service.
- Pork Bun with hoisin, cucumber and scallion
- Spicy Pork Rice with black beans and Szechuan peppercorn
- Breakfast Noodle with chorizo, a soft egg and queso fresco
Church Key, Los Angeles, CA
- This interactive LA hotspot from Chef Steven Fretz offers a modern American take on dim sum, wheeling both food and cocktails to the table on carts. The restaurant offers a printed menu as well as dim sum-style small bites.
- Pork-stuffed Egg Rolls
- Pig’s Ear “Cheetos” with guacamole fluff
- Crispy Pork Belly with gochujang glaze and cashew butter
- Charcuterie Plate with country pork terrine
Gunshow, Atlanta, GA
- With an open kitchen and bare industrial feel, Chef Kevin Gillespie’s Atlanta restaurant is an in-your-face experience fueled by modern Southern dim sum dishes:
- Smoked Ham Hock Confit with green peas and aerated potatoes
- Okonomiyaki – Japanese bacon and rock shrimp pancake
- Swedish-Style Pork Schnitzel
- Pork Belly Larb with pistachios and consommé gelee
Yum Cha, Chicago, IL
- Chef Rodelio Aglibot blends innovation and tradition at his Chicago restaurant. Yum Cha offers dim sum for lunch and dinner, with cart service on the weekends to give the kitchen more flexibility. He features a range of dishes, including ones inspired by his global travels.
- Pork and Shrimp Sui Mai
- Char Siu BBQ Pork Jowl
- Sisig with pork face, stomach, belly and a fried egg
Grit & Grace, Pittsburgh, PA
- A blend of traditional dining and dim sum, Chef Brian Pekarcik’s Grit and Grace balances opposites to create a unique dining experience. His printed menus offer composed dishes, while carts serve small bites tableside.
- Pork Belly Bites with orange, chili, garlic and ginger
- Pig Face Roulade with egg yolk hot sauce and toasted sourdough
- Mortadella Steam Bun with coriander mustard and pickles
- Roasted Pork Ramen with a 5-minute egg in tonkatsu broth
Travelle, Chicago, IL – cocktail service
- Call over the roving bar cart at Travelle and watch as your bartender expertly prepares your cocktail right at the table. Chef Tim Graham’s small plate menu pairs perfectly with your handcrafted cocktail and the midcentury modern atmosphere.
- BBQ Octopus with pork belly and sea island red peas
- Roasted Pork Shoulder Flatbread with Fontina, chili and apple
- Grilled Rosemary Ham with figs, peppers and port
Underbelly, Houston, TX
- At Underbelly, Chef Chris Shepherd serves a new take on Creole cuisine inspired by dim sum-style service. He merges local ingredients and diverse cultures on a menu that features no appetizers and no entrees – just food to be shared and enjoyed by the whole table.
- Smoked Pork Roast with cabbage and sweet potatoes
- Charcuterie Plate with house pickles and mustard
- Szechuan Pork Belly with meatball negimaki, noodles and broth
- Hog and Hominy Poutine with pork bone gravy and chili oil
Alden & Harlow, Boston, MA
- Inspired by the spirit of dim sum dining, Chef Michael Scelfo’s Boston restaurant delivers a true communal experience. His menu is all small plates, and execution and timing is left up to the discretion of the kitchen.
- Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly with blistered grape agrodolce
- Pig Blood Scrapple with Thai basil crème and kimchee
- Maple-glazed Smoked Pig’s Tails with cheese crisps and grits
- Mortadella and Burrata Rotolo with Calabrian chili and mint