Dim sum is a Southern Chinese (Canton province) meal. Originally it started out as friends gathering to share a pot of tea and have a few little bites. Eventually the little bites took over. Everything is made to compliment tea, and dim sum should always be eaten with tea (in my opinion... I'm not your mother, you do what you want.) It's really a collection of small plate dishes, steamed dumplings, fried dumplings, baked goods, noodles, meat, seafood. Often times it's served by little old ladies pushing carts around the dining room offering you tasty things. Everything is made to be shared with several friends or family.
The art of making dim sum has be perfected for hundreds of years. The flagship dumplings being works of art. My favorite is Har Gow (shrimp dumpling)
These are shrimp surrounded by a translucent wrapper. A proper wrapper should be as thin as possible without tearing when you pick it up. The more transparent the wrapper the better. It's simplicity is it's greatest asset, the wrapper is made of tapioca flour and wheat starch. A few simple ingredients, shrimp, a little bit of pork fat, scallion and steam.
There are literally hundreds of different common dishes available during a dim sum meal.
Rice noodle roll. This is a thick wide rice noodle wrapped around Beef, pork or whole shrimp swimming in a pool or seasoned soy sauce, sometimes with BBQ pork drippings.
Bean curd rolls. This is the skin on top of soy milk that forms as it's turning into tofu. This is a surprisingly tough little bit of protein which absorbs flavor like no one's business and can hold a big payload of Pork, minced mushrooms, and shrimp.
An amazing, though not healthy, dumpling is fried taro dumplings. This is mashed taro (a purple root vegetable) wrapped around an incredibly flavorful pork mixture, rolled in a light breading and deep fried until crispy, moist and so flavorful it's making my mouth water even now. They are so delicate that they would be impossible to pick up if they weren't so light.
Radish cake, this one is so good I occasionally beg my mom into making it. It's grated daikon radish mixed with BBQ pork and rice flour, then it's pan seared until delicious.
This last one is a dessert, many Dimsum places won't even have this on the menu. This one is a lard pastry dough stuffed full to bursting with durian, the king of fruits.
If you've never tasted durian... well I'm not that surprised. Even where they grow you will constantly see signs banning them. They are stink bombs waiting to go off as soon as you crack open their skin. However they are amazingly tasty, banana, pineapple, custard apple, passion fruit all mashed into a single fruit. 10 minutes later it smells like a rotting high school locker room.
Why do I love dim sum so much? You're required to bring a crowd, everything is passed, everything is shared. It's exotic enough to challenge the most experienced eater to new ingredients and it's kid friendly enough to please everyone. When it's done well the food can be transcendent, just a few ingredients can become so much more then the sum of its parts. It's the culmination of centuries of tweaking, testing and tasting. It's exotic and familiar at the same time.
Try it. You will not be disappointed. If you need a professional orderer I can always be convinced to go to dim sum. Order your favorites, and try a few things you've never tried before.