Dim Sum Etiquette
I met some friends for Dim Sum yesterday and her little boy asked why the Chinese are so rude, tapping away at the table every time the waiter refilled our cup of tea? For those that don’t know, it probably does come across as rude, why can’t the Chinese muster a “Thank you?”
The story behind finger tapping or tea tapping originates from the Qing Dynasty 1644 – 1911 A.D. Emperor Qian Long enjoyed travelling amongst his citizens in disguise to get a feel of how everyday people were living. On one occasion while dining in a restaurant, the Emperor poured his servant a cup of tea, which is unheard of at the time for an Emperor. The servant could not bow to thank Qian Long as that would have blown his cover, so instead he discreetly tapped his fingers on the table to show the Emperor that he was grateful.
The finger tapping is now seen as a silent bow and thank you to the person pouring you tea.
On a practical level, if you have ever eaten Dim Sum in Chinatown, you will have noticed that the Chinese are quite loud and animated in conversation, it would not be practical to stop mid conversation to say Thank you every time the waiter or those sitting around the table refilled your tea.
Here are some other Do’s and Don’ts while eating Dim Sum:
What to do
Do eat each dim sum dumpling in one go to get the full flavour of the components in your mouth. It is also less messy!
Do drink tea with dim sum and never order other hot drinks such as coffee as it can overpower the taste of the dim sum. Tea is the most important factor when eating dim sum, especially Jasmine or Chrysanthemum tea which cleanses the palette and aids digestion.
Do always pour others tea before your own as this is tradition in China.
Do turn the lid of the teapot upside down and place it slightly ajar on the teapot to draw the attention of the waiter to refill the tea pot.
Do order a lot of different dishes and share between the table for a variety of flavours. When eating dim sum order rice as it is a good way to cleanse your palate.
What not to do
Don’t use your own chopsticks to serve yourself from the communal bowls.
Don’t save dessert until last. It is acceptable to request a dessert dish in the middle of the meal such as Egg Custard Tarts. As the tea freshens your palate diners can mix sweet and savoury dishes.
Don’t lean over or cross over another person while reaching to pick an item of food with your chopsticks, wait until the other person has finished.
Don’t lay claim to one dish but share and order more if necessary.
Don’t leave chopsticks stuck in food and if you’re full, place your chopsticks on the bowl or plate parallel to you.
Don’t eat dim sum cold, it needs to be eaten hot. It should not be left to cool and it should be eaten within 15 minutes of being served. Start with fried dim sum then steamed as the fried dim sum cools quicker.