Did you know that some 2,500 years ago, dim sum was an exclusive luxury made only for the emperor and his family as well as the wealthy? Although believed to have originated in Canton, the dish is actually from Northern China and has greatly developed over centuries. 

Today, dim sum has made its way to tea houses, restaurants, and even delivery menus. Since dim sum has undeniable market potential—as seen in its enduring presence in the food industry—entrepreneurs would do well to check out this ideal guide.

What makes them special

Executive chef Meik Brammer helms Marriott Hotel’s Chinese restaurant Man Ho. According to him, dim sum is linked to the Chinese culture of yum cha or drinking tea—a tradition that brings people together. Eating these bite-sized food art is not only about enjoying a meal but also a way of building relationships

“What makes it special aside from the art and years of practice is that dim sum also evolves over time as more chefs bring a contemporary twist to the traditional dish,” says Brammer.

dim sum guide
Some varieties of dim sum are savory, steamed or fried dumplings, rolls, and buns.

Fun fact: Dim sum means “to touch the heart” in Chinese. And, as Brammer suggests, the best dim sum that can “touch a heart” is one that is made from scratch and served fresh. It is when the skin and the filling are in their supreme quality—never stored in a fridge.

Savory, steamed or fried dumplings, rolls, and buns are some of the most common varieties. Dumplings come in thin, almost translucent wrappers filled with minced meat, seafood or vegetables. Examples include siomai, hakaw, and potstickers. 

Another type are rolls. These are wrapped in large sheets of rice noodles and typically splashed with sweetened soy sauce. On the other hand, buns can be made either plain or with meat and sweet fillings such as pork buns and custard bun.  

Startup essentials

“Always include siomai in your menu. It’s the most famous dim sum and one of the most popular among all diners. Start offering traditional dim sum such as hakaw, steamed rice rolls, and pork buns and from there you can develop new and more innovative creations,” says Brammer.   

“What makes it special aside from the art and years of practice is that dim sum also evolves over time as more chefs bring a contemporary twist to the traditional dish,” says Meik Brammer.

His word of advice? Don’t be afraid to innovate. While it’s important to consider guest feedback, the element of surprise is just as vital. From choosing ingredients and preparation to the styling, Brammer encourages experimentation on what works best for a dim sum menu. Instead of using the usual ingredients, twists such as black truffle can be added. Include a variety  with pork, seafood, beef, and vegetables to cater to a wider range of guests. 

“We came up with the idea of offering an experience perfect for sharing and catching up with people you missed. There are four bundles and each bundle is a combination of dumplings, rolls, and other Man Ho specials such rice toppings and stir-fried noodles,” says Brammer of their approach. 

dim sum guide
Man Ho’s dim sum bundles come in a Hotbox—a portable, self-heating box—to keep the dim sum hot and fresh.

One of Man Ho’s bundles costs as low as P450—and that includes two pieces each of pork dumpling siomai, hakaw, chicken potstickers with mushroom, deep fried spring roll with shredded chicken, and yang chow fried rice topped with a choice of pork barbecue or soy chicken

The case for dim sum during a pandemic

“Before the pandemic, we only offered them during lunch, but we later made it available for lunch until late afternoon as well as for takeaway and pickup because we want to make them available for everyone, even those who find it hard to dine out,” says Brammer.

The restaurant’s dim sum chef Du Wen Bo, backed by 27 years of experience, ensures that all ingredients used are fresh and cooked no longer or less than required. All items for pickup and takeout are ready to eat and come in a Hotbox—a portable, self-heating box that lets diners enjoy fresh dim sum anywhere at any time.  

To complete any dim sum experience, Brammer recommends pairing it with tea—whether with a mildly sweet concoction or one with a special blend of black, white, and green tea

After centuries of existence, dim sum has seen itself evolve into countless different forms, each with its own distinctive qualities. The key takeaway? Remember the dish (literally) means.