04 May 2011

Today I Lost My Yum Cha Virginity

Image: chokphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I was brought up on traditional English/European food. Italian is my favourite. I think I had Chinese takeaways once with friends as a teenager, but apart from that casual eating out involved fish and chips, pizza or Georgie Pie. I'd never had Indian food until I worked late one evening at my first proper job and my boss insisted on ordering some for the group. Since then at work functions I've had more Indian and some Thai. I think that pretty much sums up my experiences with Asian cuisine.

Before today, I had heard of 'yum cha' or 'yum char' a couple of times, but never tried it. A colleague I knew several years ago looked at me like I was from another planet when I told her I'd never had it. She went frequently, always building it up for days beforehand, and then exclaiming over it afterwards.

Today we went to Grand Harbour to farewell a colleague. I didn't attempt to research yum cha before going, prefering to discover it for myself. I was relieved when someone else asked for forks, because I suck with chopsticks. The table was laid with small plates, bowls, little cups and a huge 'lazy susan' style disc in the middle of the table.

So what is yum cha? It literally means "drink tea", and is like the Chinese version of a high tea. It's basically like tapas, but you don't get to choose what is brought to the table and most of it is either sticky dumplings or deep fried. Everything seems to have either seafood (mainly prawns) or pork in it, mixed with vegetables. It's not spicy. Waitresses come around with a range of dishes and you either accept or refuse. It's not always obvious what everything is. Everyone shares dishes as there are three or small four portions in each dish. The lazy susan goes round and round, and you have to tell your tablemates which ones you want to try if there's only one dish of that item. This article describes the custom well (Wikipedia says some people call it 'dim sum').

Did I like it? Well, I wouldn't go that far. It was sort of bland, with strange textures. I had trouble swallowing some items. One half-moon shaped dumpling filled mainly with snow peas was tasty. The tea was okay. Would I do it again of my own free accord? Probably not, but I wouldn't protest if another similar situation presented itself.

As the pace of the little dishes slowed, I looked around and thought, "Well, I can write about yum cha in a book now." So not a total waste!

Do you yum cha?

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