Research: The History of Dim Sum

Friday, December 9, 2016
Some meals bring you peace and comfort, while some are wild and celebratory. Dim sum has the remarkable distinction of bringing a certain measure of both of these kinds of joy into our lives. But how and when did it arrive on our shores? As with any historical question, there are some conflicting accounts. Kyle touched on a few aspects of the origins of dim sum during a podcast episode, but let’s take a closer look.

Dim sum is often translated as “touching the heart”, which is a perfect way to put it, isn’t it? It is inextricably linked with “yum cha”, or the Chinese ritual of drinking tea. Combining teatime with eating was once frowned upon, as leading physicians of the day thought that it would lead to excessive weight gain. That didn’t deter the farmers and travelers along the Silk Road, who, exhausted from a long day’s work (or journey), would stop into the teahouses that sprang up along the way for a bite to eat and to exchange news and gossip.

Records of dim sum go back almost a thousand years, and in fact, it may be the precursor to brunch in its entirety. Immigrant workers who settled on both coasts of America would often combine their morning and afternoon meals, and after World War II, Americans started to warm to the exotic Chinese dishes they had always avoided in the past.

Dim sum’s popularity soared in both America and China, and has expanded even beyond its modern connotation as “Chinese brunch”. Dim sum can be eaten on the go, as dinner, or even as an Asian version of tapas. I tend to prefer it as brunch, but no matter how you consume it, that rolling cart is sure to bring some fun and adventure to your table, along with the shrimp dumplings.