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Your guide to Yum Cha

By HannahTuesday 13th October 2015

Yum Cha is consists of Dim Sum (small dishes) and tea – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch Yum Cha is consists of Dim Sum (small dishes) and tea – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch

Food is an important part of every culture, and you can learn a lot about a place and its people through traditional cuisine and the associated customs. In Japan, for example, slurping and making loud noises while tucking into a large bowl of hot soup or noodles is encouraged, as it allows you to eat more quickly, show you’re enjoying your meal, and is thought to improve the flavour of the food.

Yum Cha is a traditional meal that is served throughout China, although it is most prevalent in the south, particularly in Hong Kong, and is a must-try for visitors. At Royal Caribbean, Yum Cha is one of our favourite culinary traditions, so we’ve created this mouth-watering guide to whet your appetite.

Dim Sum is ordered using a small slip of paper – Image by Flickr user  Phil Whitehouse Dim Sum is ordered using a small slip of paper – Image by Flickr user Phil Whitehouse

What is Yum Cha?

The name ‘Yum Cha’ translates to ‘tea tasting’; a nod to its roots and a testament to the important role that tea still plays in the meal today. Traditionally, Yum Cha is a morning tea or afternoon tea meal – it isn’t served in the evening – that consists of different kinds of tea and small dishes known as Dim Sum.

Where did it come from?

The origins of Yum Cha go far back to the ancient Silk Road, where roadside teahouses were established to provide sustenance for weary travellers, serving pot after pot of tea and small snacks. Overtime, the meal has evolved to include a wide variety of food, and is a weekly occasion for most families in southern China.

Utensils

Each person is given a small plate, a tea cup, a Chinese soup spoon and a pair of chopsticks. As well as these utensils, once the order has been placed, the table will become covered with small plates of Dim Sum and teapots. Chicken feet are a popular choice – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch Chicken feet are a popular choice – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch

Tea and customs

As you’ve probably guessed, tea is an incredibly important part of Yum Cha, and it brings with it a whole host of customs. There are many kinds of tea available – here are just a few: Green – made from tea leaves, green tea is somewhat grassy in flavour. Oolong – Oolong is described as being halfway between green and black tea Bo-lei – This type of tea undergoes years of fermentation and is usually compressed into a brick-like shape. Chrysanthemum – As its name suggests, this tea is made of chrysanthemum flowers, rather than tea leaves. Scented – Scented teas are a mixture of tea leaves and flowers, like jasmine or grapefruit flower. Whichever type of tea you choose, it’s important that you follow these age-old customs:
  • Your cup must be filled by someone else
  • Use your right hand to pour for the person to the left (and vice versa)
  • ‘Finger kowtows’ (tapping one or two knuckles on the table) is a way of saying thanks when your cup is filled
  • Rest the teapot lid on its side to attract the server’s attention
Enjoy Xiao long bao, delicious ‘soup dumplings’ – Image by Flickr user Charles Haynes Enjoy Xiao long bao, delicious ‘soup dumplings’ – Image by Flickr user Charles Haynes

Dim Sum

Accompanying the endless supply of tea is Dim Sum, small plates of delicious snacks that are shared by everyone on the table. You place your order on a small slip of paper, and servers wheeling heated trolleys containing different selections of dishes, bring them to your table in courses, usually starting with the smaller dishes first. Popular dishes include:
  • Xiao long bao – These tasty ‘soup dumplings’ are filled with meat or seafood and flavoursome soup. Be careful not to burn your tongue!
  • Pork congee – China’s answer to porridge, congee is made from a   special type of rice which is served with savoury toppings. Preserved egg and pork is a popular choice.
  • Tofu skin rolls – These rolls are essentially the same as spring rolls, except the filling is encased in tofu instead of pastry. There are meat, vegetarian or seafood options, and you can have them steamed or fried.
  • Har Gow – Har Gow are shrimp dumplings, with thin, almost transparent, wheat starch shells, which are always served steamed.
  • Egg tart – You’ll find this baked, sweet treat on any Yum Cha menu. They’re made from flaky pastry topped with egg custard.
  • Chien chang go – Also known as ‘thousand layer cake’, Chien chang go is a multi-layered, sweet, egg dough cake.
Siu Mai, a steamed pork dumpling – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch Siu Mai, a steamed pork dumpling – Image by Flickr user insatiablemunch

Yearning for Yum Cha?

Take a look at our Asian cruises, which cruise to various destinations in China – including Hong Kong, where you can join one of our shore excursions and sample traditional Yum Cha.

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