Yum cha
Yumcha Dining.jpg
Traditional Chinese飲茶
Simplified Chinese饮茶
Literal meaningdrink tea

Yum cha is the Cantonese tradition of brunch involving Chinese tea and dim sum.[1][2] The practice is popular in Cantonese-speaking regions, including Guangdong province, Guangxi province, Hong Kong, and Macau.[3] It is also carried out in other regions worldwide where there are overseas Cantonese communities. Yum cha generally involves small portions of steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried dim sum dishes served in bamboo steamers, which are designed to be eaten communally and washed down with hot tea.[4][5] People often go to yum cha in large groups for family gatherings and celebrations.

Description

Founded in 1889 and in its present location since 1980, Lin Heung Teahouse serves traditional dim sum in Central, Hong Kong
Founded in 1889 and in its present location since 1980, Lin Heung Teahouse serves traditional dim sum in Central, Hong Kong

Yum cha (traditional Chinese: 飲茶; simplified Chinese: 饮茶; pinyin: yǐn chá[6]; Jyutping: jam2 caa4; Cantonese Yale: yám chà; lit. "drink tea"), also known as going for dim sum (Cantonese: 食點心), is the Cantonese tradition of brunch involving Chinese tea and dim sum.[1][2] The practice is popular in Cantonese-speaking regions such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, and Macau.[3] It is also carried out in other regions worldwide where there are overseas Chinese communities, like Vietnam, Australia and the United States.

Yum cha generally involves small portions of steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried dim sum dishes served in bamboo steamers, which are designed to be eaten communally and washed down with hot tea.[4][5] Traditionally, the elderly gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises.[7] Many have yum cha with family during weekends and holiday gatherings.[7][8][9]

Overhead view of yum cha at Dim Sum City in Hong Kong
Overhead view of yum cha at Dim Sum City in Hong Kong

Etymology

Yum cha in the Cantonese language, both literary and vernacular, literally means "drink tea".[4] "飲" means "to drink", and "茶" means "tea". The term is also used interchangeably with tan cha (嘆茶) in the Cantonese language, which colloquially translates to "enjoy tea".[10]

In Cantonese, yum cha refers to having a meal with dim sum dishes. Dim sum is the English word based on a Cantonese pronunciation of 點心.

In colloquial Mandarin dialects and Standard Vernacular Chinese based on one form of colloquial Mandarin, this character () is often used to mean 飲 for the verb "drink". In the Chinese language, 點心 refers to a variety of foods, including European-style cakes and pastries, and has no equivalent in English.

In the English language, dim sum refers to the small-dish appetizers and desserts.

In Australia, the term "yum cha" is specifically used to describe Cantonese restaurants serving dim sum from pushable carts, rather than à la carte.[11]

Breakfast at yum cha in Hong Kong. From left to right and top to bottom: shrimp dumplings (ha gau), jasmine tea, chicken and vegetable 'congee' (two bowls with spoons), hot sauce dip (red), steamed dumplings, rice noodle rolls with soy sauce ('cheong fun', on plate), steamed buns with pork filling (three, 'char siu bau').
Breakfast at yum cha in Hong Kong. From left to right and top to bottom: shrimp dumplings (ha gau), jasmine tea, chicken and vegetable 'congee' (two bowls with spoons), hot sauce dip (red), steamed dumplings, rice noodle rolls with soy sauce ('cheong fun', on plate), steamed buns with pork filling (three, 'char siu bau').

Service

An introductory video on yum cha and dim sum

Traditionally, yum cha is practiced in the morning or early afternoon,[12] hence the terms zou cha (早茶, "morning tea") or ha ng cha (下午茶, "afternoon tea") when appropriate. The former is also known as yum zou cha (飲早茶, "drinking morning tea"). In some parts of Guangdong province, restaurants offer dim sum during dinner hours and even late at night. This is known as yum je cha (飲夜茶, "drinking night tea"), though most venues still generally reserve the serving of dim sum for breakfast and lunch periods.[13] The combination of morning tea, afternoon tea, evening tea, lunch and dinner is known as sam cha leung fan (三茶兩飯, "three tea, two meal").[14][15]

The history of the tradition can be traced back to the period of Xianfeng Emperor, who first referred to establishments serving tea as yi li guan (一釐館, "1 cent house"). These offered a place for people to gossip, which became known as cha waa (茶話, "tea talk"). These tea houses grew to become their own type of restaurant and the visits became known as yum cha.[16][17]

A server pushing a dim sum cart at a yum cha restaurant in Hong Kong
A server pushing a dim sum cart at a yum cha restaurant in Hong Kong

The traditional methods of serving dim sum include using trays strung around servers' necks or using push carts.[5] The teoi ce (推車, "push-cart") method of serving dim sum, dates back to the early 1960s and includes dim sum items cooked in advance, placed into steamer baskets, and brought out on push carts into the dining area.[18][19] Employees call out the items they are serving, customers notify the server about the items they would like to order, and the server places the desired items on the table.[4] The general yum cha atmosphere is a loud, festive one due to the servers calling out the dishes and the groups of diners having conversations.[20]

Many dim sum restaurants now use a paper-based à la carte ordering system.[21][22] This method provides fresh, cooked-to-order dim sum while managing the real estate and resource constraints involved with push cart service.[23][24]

Tea cup, tea pot, and bill card.
Tea cup, tea pot, and bill card.

The cost of a meal was traditionally calculated by the number, size and type of dishes left on the patron's table at the end. In modern yum cha restaurants, servers mark orders by stamping a card or marking a bill card on the table.[25][26][27] Servers in some restaurants use distinctive stamps to track sales statistics for each server.

Customs and etiquette

A tea-drinker tapping the table with her fingers to show gratitude to the member of the party who has filled her cup.
A tea-drinker tapping the table with her fingers to show gratitude to the member of the party who has filled her cup.

The customs associated with the tea served at yum cha include:

For the diners, some typical customs include:

Lazy susan at yum cha lunch in Hong Kong with dim sum and lunch dishes
Lazy susan at yum cha lunch in Hong Kong with dim sum and lunch dishes

While eating, some of the manners include:

A video showing yum cha at Lin Heung Teahouse

Status and future

Yum cha continues in both traditional and modern forms, including restaurants serving both traditional and modern fusion dim sum.[45] Modern dim sum can include dishes like abalone siu mai and barbecued wagyu beef bun.[46] Dim sum chefs for yum cha continue to be trained at leading culinary institutes.[45] One restaurant in Hong Kong creates social media-friendly dishes by preparing dumplings and buns shaped to resemble animals.[47] Whether traditional or modern-day, yum cha is to be shared with friends and loved ones.[13]

See also

References

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Further reading