Besides chicken and waffles, dim sum is my favorite brunch options. My family often chooses to go dim sum when we get together, since it’s really good for big groups. Dim sum is like the tapas of Chinese food. The more people you have, the more different dishes you can order and try! It’s mostly only available during lunch hours; at night, the restaurants serve other Cantonese food. At most dim sum restaurants, there are carts roaming around with dishes in them. At some restaurants, there will be a menu or a card you order off of. Each dish is assigned with a size and associated price. Small, medium, large, X-large, special, etc. The larger the size, the higher the price. With the carts, you’ll have a card that the cart ladies will stamp once you order a dish off their cart. They usually don’t label the dishes in the cart, so you won’t know what size is assigned, unless you ask. But realistically, no one asks and just accepts the fate when the lady stamps your cart. Oh yeah, it’s usually an old lady running those carts. But sometimes a male or female waiter will come around with fancier-looking dishes. Those are usually “special” which can run you at least $7 a dish. And sometimes, it’s not the freshest stuff cuz not that many people get it, and who knows how long it’s been sitting out. Sometimes there is a buffet-style line of food. Bring your card there to retrieve those dishes. If you don’t see a dish you want, feel free to ask the waiter and they’ll hunt it down for you or ask the kitchen to make it. Or…. totally acceptable to just go hunt it down yourself, if you see the cart all the way on the opposite side of the restaurant.
You’ll also see a tea-fee per person. I think it is $1 per person for most places. They’ll usually ask you what kind of tea you want. My family usually brings their own tea (yeah…. we don’t mess around. we’ll still get charged the tea-fee though) but if not, we’ll get pu-erh tea (cantonese: Bolei) which is a darker tea or a pu-erh chrysanthemum combo (cantonese: Guk-bo). More popular one is the chrystanthemum tea (cantonese: Guk-fa) and you can tell them to add sugar or not.
Once you party is finished dim-summing, ask a waiter to cost out your dishes. Most of the time, you’ll pay up front at the cashier and leave a tip at the table. Sometimes, you can pay at your table.. I would see how others around you do it first.
In New York, there are 3 different Chinatowns. One in Manhattan, which I call the OG Chinatown. One in Queens called Flushing, which I frequent often for Asian food since it’s closer to me. The other is in Brookyln.
In Chinatown, the most popular dim sum place is Golden Unicorn. They are slightly more expensive only because (1) popularity = more tourists willing to pay more $$$ and (2) they’re actually pretty good. I don’t go to Chinatown often for dim sum, but would end up here if I do. Jin Fung is also a popular choice for tourists but I had a bad experience when I ate there (Yelp review here) so I can’t recommend them. But there are handful of other dim sum restaurants in the area, so yelp around. I would say most dim sum restaurants now have staff who speak English since they get so many non-Chinese customers now.
In Flushing, I’ve been to probably most if not all of the dim sum restaurants. My favorite is Asian Jewels (yelp review here). Their prices are slightly more expensive, but food and service is great… and Chinese restaurants are not known for great service. They have great variety of dim sum, big tables for big groups, and have a parking lot that fills up pretty quickly ($2 tip). If you don’t get a spot at their parking lot, consider parking at the nearby Skyview Center and walking over. It’s $3 once you enter, and you can park up to 3 hours, which is plenty of time for dim sum. I’m a frequent here, and will almost always bring any out-of-towners here for good dim sum.
I don’t really ever go to Brooklyn so sorry, I can’t recommend any places!
Okay, so you picked out a location. But what do you order? For my family, we have dim sum basics, which means that if we don’t order most or all of these dishes in this category, then we feel like it wasn’t a true dim sum experience. But I’ll also include other favorites my family and I have. I’ll also include the Cantonese pronunciation of these just incase you’re feeling brave. More after the jump!
I took pictures the last time I ate at Asian Jewels so I won’t have pictures for some.
Dim Sum Basics
Other Yummy Stuff
- Steamed Chicken Glutinous Rice (Lo Mai Gai)
- Fried Turnip Cake (Lo Baak Gau)
- Malaysian Sponge Cake (Ma Lai Go)
- Custard-filled Bun (Lai Wong Bao)
With that said, TRY THEM ALL! Even if you have no idea what it is, dim sum is the time to be adventurous. Don’t hold back and get ready to eat some GOOOOOOD stuff. The chicken feet and fried dough rice noodle roll are my favorites. Let me know if you have any questions or any other suggestions.