Yum cha, or dim sum, as it’s known in the West, has its roots in the Cantonese morning tradition of consuming often-delicate morsels with a pot of tea. Often referred to as Asian tapas, in its contemporary form it’s fused with local ingredients.
Cape Town food blogger Ming-Cheau Lin says: "Dim sum is appealing because of the variety of textures and flavours — sweet and savoury ... If you don’t like one, there’s definitely another you will."
What can you expect? A starting point would be pan-fried pot-stickers, feather-light pork and leek wontons steamed or served in fragrant broth, delicate siu mai filled with succulent prawns, and fluffy white bao (steamed buns) encasing hoisin and five-spice flavoured roast duck or pork.
Locally, dim sum can be ordered as a full lunch or dinner. Outside traditional restaurants, it’s served with beer, wine and soda instead of tea.
He Sheng, Cape Town
An authentic, no-frills Chinese restaurant, this classic serves large, family-style portions. Try the scallion pancakes, pork and prawn dumplings and beef egg rolls.
269 Main Rd, Sea Point; (021) 433-0739
South China Dim Sum Bar, Cape Town
Based on the casual Asian street-food concept, here the seating is basic and set against vintage martial arts posters. Eddie Hung mans the kitchen, serving hawker noodles, dumplings, pan-fried turnip cakes, braised beef short rib and Shanghai iced tea. Booking is essential.
289 Long Street, CBD; 078-846-3656
Haiku, Cape Town
Opened in 1995, upmarket Haiku is a stalwart in the East-meets-West tapas concept. While it serves robata, sushi, wok dishes and elaborate tasting menus now, the dim sum has garnered a solid fan base. Pillowy duck bao, translucent steamed spinach and cream cheese har gow, and the spicy lamb pot-stickers are consistently good.
58 Burg Street, CBD; (021) 424-7000
Shun de Chinese, Jo’burg
Frequent diners advise that you arrive before 11am on weekends to pick from the dim sum as they arrive on trays from the kitchen, and mark your choice on a piece of paper. It’s not uncommon to see tables with lazy susans groaning under the weight of plates and baskets filled with steaming dumplings, bao and spring rolls. Don’t skip the chicken feet, either.
1st Floor, 30 Derrick Ave, Cyrildene; (011) 025-2979
Great Eastern Food Bar, Jo’burg
Chef-owner Carolina Rasenti offers Asian-inspired food and drinks with "a killer view" in Melville, she says. Her unusual, fresh combinations have Jo’burgers lining up. Regulars rave about the scallion pancakes, Sichuan chicken dumplings and silky agedashi tofu, Rasenti adds.
53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville; (011) 482-2910
Mooki Noodle Bar, Durban
This quirky pan-Asian restaurant offers ramen alongside dim sum plates of panko-crusted fish cakes, dumplings in mushroom broth and shiitake mushroom-stuffed spring rolls. It’s a playful red and green space and an ode to the Nintendo gaming era, and patrons love the laid-back vibe.
190 Brand Road, Glenwood; (031) 811-9199
Mellas Dim-Sum & Noodle Bar, Port Elizabeth
Opened by Chinese South African Dion Forlee and his wife Camilla in April 2015, Mellas is one of the first dim sum eateries in the city. The dumplings and noodles are handmade in-house. Forlee says that the lamb pot-stickers with spicy yoghurt, red pork and rice, and the open-face chicken siu mai are the top choices for diners.
15 Bain St; (041) 582-2736