Guide to Dim SumGuide to Dim Sum


A cart is wheeled to your table, and steamer baskets placed upon it. Your stomach gurgles its approval; the hand-moulded dumplings in each long (Chinese for ‘basket’) are beautiful, concealing all manner of minced pork, chopped shrimp and spring onion, finished with seasoning and a bit of love.

Dim sum – or yum cha, to mean ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese – is a favourite among Singaporeans and tourists, no less for its convenience than how tasty (and often affordable) it is. Having first arrived in Singapore by way of the scores of early migrants and barterers that once mingled in the former fishing village, the Hong Kong-hailing comfort food has evolved to include Shanghainese, Sze Chuan and local influences.

Here, we offer the lowdown on popular dim sum options, and how to best enjoy them.

siew mai

Siew mai 

Unlike most dumplings, siew mai (also known as siu mai or shumai) is an open-faced dumpling fashioned primarily from minced pork and chopped shrimp, then wrapped in its distinct yellow wanton skin and steamed. Canton Paradise offers an excellent rendition, as does Imperial Treasure. Both restaurants’ refined takes on the dumpling are unlike the ready-made options you may spot in steamers fronting coffee shops and hawker centre stalls 'round Singapore. 

xiao long bao

Xiao long bao

Remember that ‘exploding’ xiao long bao video by Time Out London that went viral for, well, the wrong reasons? Netizens set their not-so-tiny blunder alight, to the point where an apology had to be issued.

Don’t fall prey to that mistake; xiao long bao – broth-filled steamed pork dumplings – hail from the Jiangnan region, and the traditional way to enjoy them is by first using your chopsticks to pinch the topmost area of the dumpling, then carefully dipping it in your saucer of vinegar and sliced ginger.

After placing it on your porcelain spoon, nibble a corner off the bottom of the dumpling, slurping up some of the warm broth within as you go – then pop the rest of it in your mouth. Din Tai Fung is your go-to for xiao long bao; the famed Michelin-starred restaurant issues freshly made dumplings daily, offering curious visitors a glimpse behind-the-scenes through its glass-walled kitchen. 
har gow

Har gao 

Translucent, folded skins with whole shrimps within: har gow is another dim sum favourite, and essentially translates to steamed shrimp dumplings. It generally has a thicker, chewier and stickier skin than xiao long bao, and when done right can be enjoyed on its own. 

salted yolk bao

Salted egg yolk buns 

Char siew bao (a barbeque pork-filled steamed bun) is a firm favourite among dim sum lovers, but there’re in fact many permutations of the bao for the more adventurous. And when in Singapore, your yum cha experience is only complete if you’ve tried liu sha bao, a salted egg yolk custard bun famed for its distinct, powdery texture and molten insides. Should it make a fan of you, IRVINS at Marina Bay Sands  – you'll spot the queues before you see the standalone store – is famed for its ready-packed salted egg yolks snacks (yep, locals are big on the flavour).


Dim sum is typically paired with tea to neutralise strong flavours or oilier dishes. While you might not have a wide variety of options if you’re dining in a 24-hour dim sum joint (Swee Choon Dim Sum Restaurant and 126 Wen Dao Shi are prime options for the peckish, particularly after hours), restaurants including Canton Paradise and Imperial Treasure offer a good range of teas to pair with dim sum based on your order. For instance, chrysanthemum tea is excellent to neutralise the oiliness of fried slabs of carrot cake, while pu-erh tea could aid digestion if you choose to have your siew mai with chilli sauce.