Meaning ‘drink tea’, yum cha is a Cantonese tradition that originally stemmed from roadside teahouses, and was a small, bite-sized snack eaten with tea at breakfast time. However, yum cha is no longer just a breakfast activity, nor is it limited to a few mouthfuls of food. Yum cha restaurants in China and beyond now serve customers well into the day, with staff offering their wares on trolleys or trays, and yum cha chefs training for years to perfect their craft. As is the case in all parts of the world where Chinese food traditions have been transported, the practice of yum cha in Australia is a unique blending of customs. Here, it has been embraced as a way of catching up with family and friends in the middle of the day, with most places opening between 10am and 3pm. Beer is as common a beverage as tea, and traditional dishes, such as steamed chicken feet and expertly pleated har gow (prawn dumplings) find their place beside mango pancakes and prawn toast. In other parts of the world, namely the US and the UK, the term ‘dim sum’ is used instead of yum cha. However, in China and Australia, the term ‘dim sum’ actually refers to the array of dishes eaten during yum cha. And, to make things just a little more confusing, dim sim is also used in Australia to refer to a specific type of dumpling – shiumai.
Photography Chris Chen