Yum Cha 飲茶
Yum cha is a dining experience which involves drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum dishes. Yum cha is Cantonese which literally means “drink tea”. Dim Sum loosely translates to “ordering from the heart”. An array of small delectable portions is available for each food connoisseur to sample, keeping in mind that these bite-sized pieces allow ample room for a wide variety of dishes. It is an integral part of the culinary culture of Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau. In any city with a sizeable population of Cantonese people, going to yum cha is a tradition on weekend mornings, and whole families gather to chat and eat dim sum and drink Chinese tea. Yum cha is also a morning ritual for the elderly to spend a good part of the morning after early morning exercise of tai chi or a walk. It is also popular with stay at home mothers to attend yum cha for social interaction. Salesmen and business men woo their customers with yum cha. It’s popular to have a yum cha lunch with friends and workmates during the weekday. Basically, yum cha is traditionally a social occasion, especially for families and friends as they catch up on news and discuss the week’s events and happenings. Yum cha is an activity that is tasty, fresh and usually inexpensive.
Nowadays, yum cha is not only served from morning to afternoon tea, but also for dinner. Yum cha restaurant offers a choice of Chinese teas to compliment the food, to aid digestion. n a traditional Cantonese yum cha restaurant, tea is charged per head once you sit down on the table whether or not you order a meal. Usually small children are free of charge.
Dim Sum 點心
Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition of Yum Cha (drinking tea), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest. Thus teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would also go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks. It was originally not a main meal, only a snack. But it is now a staple of Chinese dining culture, especially in Hong Kong.
Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The dim sum are usually served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Because of the small portions you can try a wide variety of food. Traditionally, the cost of the meal was calculated based on the number and size of dishes left on the patron’s table at the end. In modern dim sum restaurants, dim sum servers mark orders by stamping a card on the table. Servers in some restaurants even use different stamps so that sales statistics for each server can be recorded.
Any reason is good enough to ask someone to “Yum Cha?”
In the past, Cantonese diners would rinse all utensils with hot water or hot tea before they ordered due to the relatively poor hygiene standards. Some medium to high end restaurants still maintain this tradition. If you are dining in a Cantonese restaurant, don’t be shocked if you see guests washing their own utensils.
A custom unique to the Cantonese is to thank the person pouring the tea by tapping the bent index and middle fingers together on the table, which symbolicily ‘bowing’ to them as a sign of appreciation.
According legend, this gesture recreates a tale of Imperial obeisance and can be traced to the Qianlong Emperor, a Qing Dynasty emperor who traveled incognito. While visiting South China, he once went into a teahouse with his companions. In order to maintain his anonymity, he took his turn at pouring tea. His stunned companions wanted to kowtow for the great honor but to do so would have revealed the identity of the emperor. Finally, one of them tapped three fingers on the table (One finger representing their bowed head and the other two representing their prostrate arms) and the clever emperor understood what he meant. From then on, this has been the practice. Given the number of times tea is poured in a meal, the tapping is a timesaver in loud restaurants or lively company, as an individual being served might be speaking to someone else or have their mouths full.