Yummy yum cha!

IF you haven’t experienced Chinese yum cha, you are missing out on one of the best family brunch experiences now available in Suva and Nadi. Thanks to increased tourism from China and Hong Kong, and the arrival of specialised dim sum chefs to Fiji, we now get to enjoy what the rest of the world has been salivating over every weekend.

It’s a popular, even revered, pastime for many a Chinese person to go for yum cha at least once a week with family or friends. Especially for the elderly, going to yum cha on a Sunday morning is a bonding experience for the whole family.

What is yum cha?

Yum cha is the equivalent of a morning or afternoon tea in regions of Southern China. The term yum cha literally translates to “drink tea” in English and is a very popular brunch outing for those in search of the tapas-style steamed and fried dishes served in bamboo steamers. Dim sum is a collective term for the sumptuous dumplings, dim sims, pastries and braised delicacies.

If yum cha is completely foreign to you, here’s a quick guide to what to order and where you can find these Chinese brunch eateries.

Prawn dumplings (har gow)

One of the most iconic dim sum in existence, har gow are the yardstick by which all yum cha restaurants are judged.

The skin of the dumpling is made using wheat and tapioca starch and should be translucent and clear. The filling is made with prawn, bamboo shoots, spring onions and various other seasonings. The number of pleats along the pastry’s edge reflects the chef’s skill in making this quintessential dumpling; the more pleats the more skilled the chef.

Pork dim sim (siu mai)

Often paired with har gow, the Cantonese version of this dim sum is made with ground pork, prawn, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and ginger, with various seasonings. It is then wrapped with thin pastry dough, then steamed. Like it’s prawn cousin, siu mai, it should have a firm crunchy texture.

Phoenix claws (fung jow)

It’s a part of the chicken we seldom appreciate but deep-fried chicken feet stewed and simmered in a sauce made from fermented black beans, bean paste, and sugar is a must try and an art to eat.

I remember first seeing my grandmother put a whole claw in her mouth, chew it around and then spit out the knucklebones like a machine gun. Learning to suck and chew the muscle, tendons and skin off the feet is indeed an art, but once you learn they are not only fun to eat, but very good for you.

Chinese people believe the gelatinous tendons are good for arthritis and joint ailments.

Steamed beef balls (ngau juk kau)

These balls of ground beef steamed with preserved orange peel atop thin bean curd skin are like eating burgers without the bun. There’s something special about the combination of aromatic citrus peel and minced beef that make these a match made in heaven.

Pork buns (char siu bao)

Also known as barbecue pork buns or Chinese buns, they are filled with slow-roasted sweet pork, and come in two variations: steamed or baked. Pork buns a Chinese kid’s go to snack with its sweet doughy pastry and chunky pork filling in gravy.

Cakes (gou)

There are three different kinds of savoury “cakes” that are pan-fried. The different types of cakes include made of daikon radish, dried shrimp, and pork sausage; another made of taro (dalo); and another strange combination with water chestnut.

Egg custard tarts (darn tart)

At some of world’s best yum cha eateries, the egg tart needs to be ordered in advance as these delicate sweet tarts are difficult to make and extremely popular.

The flaky pastry is made with two different types of dough that require refrigeration before they are combined into their multi-layered outer casing. If made with skill, these little beauties are silky, sweet and “eggy”.

How to order

Overseas yum cha restaurants will usually have expressionless older wait staff navigating their way among tables pushing trolleys filled with dim sums in bamboo steamers. “Har gow! siu mai!” they hail as they walk past your table.

The staff members then stop and inform you of what they have in their trolley; the dish is placed on your table and your bill card is stamped to mark the size and quantity of your order.

Fiji’s yum cha is slightly different, in that bamboo baskets are pre-ordered, or you go to a self-servery to choose your own.

What’s with the hot black tea?

For seasoned yum cha diners, a pot of no-milk, no-sugar tea is an essential part of the experience as it aids in the digestion of food, helping to flush unwanted oils and fats through the digestive tract. The little dumplings are deceivingly easy to eat so drinking hot tea during the meal helps to make more room for more!

Where can I

enjoy yum cha?

Some of the known restaurants like China Club in Suva have been serving yum cha for years but there has been a recent spate of new places to enjoy this favourite Chinese brunch pastime.

One of the best ways to know if the quality of food is good is to see how many Chinese are dining there! Arriving early will guarantee you a table, so don’t be surprised to meet family and friends from 9am as families attempt to beat the crowds which usually hit the eateries around 11am-12midday.

The newer yum cha establishments like Pan World Restaurant in Martintar are packed full by 11am so leave the house early. But if you miss out there are plenty of places to try this fun dining experience including at home.

Yu Lai Restaurant, Suva; China Club, Suva

China Town, Suva; Ming Du, Walu Bay

Restaurant 88, MHCC Suva; Hong Sheng, Nadi ; Pan World Restaurant, Martintar

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