Spring Rolls

I suppose Spring Rolls (春卷) would be the only dim sum that I recognized from my consumption of "Chinese food" in the UK.  Of course, they weren't quite the same thing, but then what is? 

In fact, there are versions of Spring Roll in various countries around the world, notably Vietnam and Thailand, but I think it's generally agreed that the dim sum one is the original. 

CheungyunThe outer skin is a thin pastry, but I fear that my ignorance of culinary matters is going to become obvious here, because I'm not totally sure what is inside spring rolls.  Actually, I think you can bung almost anything inside - any old combination of meat, shrimps and vegetables that takes your fancy.  Then just stick it in the deep fat frier and off you go (no, this isn't one of the healthier dim sum).

As a result, I regard the humble Spring Roll as something of a bellweather dish - good restaurants have good Spring Roll, poor ones have - well, poor ones.  The outer part should be puffed up but not too greasy, the inside should be tasty.  Sadly, too many of them give the appearance of having been mass-produced, frozen, and defrosted.

As for the Pinyin Yale Romanization, it's something like Cheūn gyún if that's any help to you.

Char Sui Bau

#2 in the Dim Sum series is Char Siu Bau 叉燒包, and please don't tell me I've romanized it incorrectly* because I don't want to know.

Char_sui_bauIt's a fluffy white bun filled with BBQ pork (i.e. pork in a barbecue sauce) and, as you will see from the picture, you normally get three in a basket.  It's a popular little Dim Sum and very widely available (I'd say it was ubiquitous if I knew how to spell it).

In my early Dim Sum days it was quite a favourite of mine, but now I find the bun a bit too, well, fluffy, and the BBQ sauce too sweet, so I'll eat it if it is offered, but I wouldn't order it and I wouldn't fight anyone for the last one.

*If you spell it Cha Xiu Bao (which is Pinyin, I think) it's also the name of a blog about food.

Dim Sum: Siu Luhng Bau

When I first came to Hong Kong, I was taken out for Dim Sum at lunchtime.  I was quite surprised to find that it was so different to the Chinese food that I had eaten in the UK, and amazed by the variety of dishes.  That was only the first day, and I was even more amazed to find that on the second day there were even more different Dim Sum to choose from.  And more on the third day.

Of course the excitement has worn off, and going for Dim Sum has become regular Sunday ritual and an occasional weekday treat.  If I remember to continue this series I will highlight some of my favourites and a few to avoid .    

Siu_lam_bauWe'll start with Siu Luhng Bau 上海小籠包 because it's probably my favourite Dim Sum. It originates from Shanghai, and it consists of a thin skin filled with pork and soup.  You may be wondering how they get the hot soup in, and I believe the answer is that they freeze the soup and wrap the skin around it (which seems like cheating to me). 

Tricky chaps to eat as well - you have be careful picking them up in case the skin breaks and the hot soup escapes.  This can happen if the Siu Luhng Bau sticks to the basket or one its fellow Siu Luhng Bau, or by careless use of chopsticks (that would be other people, obviously, and not me).  Plus, the hot soup can burn your mouth if you're not careful. 

So this means that we are looking for a chef who makes the skins thick enough, and can arrange the Siu Luhng Bau in the basket with care.  The ones in the picture look to be OK, and you may notice that they have take the additional precaution of placing each Siu Luhng Bau on a small piece of carrot.  Another approach is to place each Siu Luhng Bau in its own individual metal tray, to be tipped into the mouth oyster-style (though frankly this seems like more cheating).

If you can find Siu Luhng Bau you should order them.  A big basket of a dozen or so goes down well in a Shanghai restaurant, or (failing that) the smaller basket of three in a Cantonese-style Dim Sum restaurant is good enough.