Do you remember your first yum cha experience? Maybe it went something like this: the first menu appears. Your group says yes to everything. Twenty minutes later you’ve eaten your fill. But the table that sat down before you are still there, snacking on a spread of incredible looking dishes you’ve never set eyes upon. What do they know that you don’t?
Yum cha can be wonderful, but getting the most from your experience is not always simple. We talk to Jade Temple’s recently recruited Dumpling Master Ng Moon Kuen – fondly known as Dicky – about how he became a master of his trade and how to get the most from your yum cha experience.
Expert on everything
Dicky has been making dumplings since he was 14, training in the prestigious kitchens of Hong Kong’s Lei Garden Restaurant and then running dumpling sections in several revered Hong Kong and Macau venues. It took him 15 years to hone his craft. He now handmakes hundreds of yum cha items daily for lunch at Jade Temple.
“You have to work in countless kitchens, across all different sections, and under the tutelage of numerous, well-respected dumpling masters to absorb the depth of understanding required,” he says of his path to Dumpling Master. “The hardest skill is knowing, instinctively, when dough or pastry is at the right consistency, texture and temperature to form a faultless dumpling or dim sum. It takes years of practise. In fact, the process is ongoing. Making the perfect dumpling is the ultimate Holy Grail.”
Dicky says the most common faux pas first-timers make is ordering too many similar dishes. “Great yum cha encompasses a wide range of small plates,” he says. “Some steamed, some deep-fried, others pan-fried or roasted. There should also be diversity in ingredients – lots of vegetables and tofu, as well as duck, pork and prawns – and diversity in style and technique, from steamed dumplings, to barbeque buns, intricate pastry work and roast meats.” The best yum cha experience is a balance of all these things.
Yum cha should be light
“Great yum cha should be light and not too filling,” says Dicky. That doesn’t mean you can’t feast – part of the fun is trying so many different things. The key is in the order you choose your food. “Structure your meal from light to rich,” says Dicky. “Start with some steamed vegetable dumplings, moving into saltier meat-based dumplings and then fried or roast meat.”
Dicky says his favourite example of good yum cha on the Jade Temple menu – only available at lunch - is his crystal skin dumplings. “The dough has tapioca starch in it and turns translucent when steamed,” he says. “We do a few different varieties, but our latest version – with scallop, garlic chive and beetroot – is my pick. It looks very striking.” For something fried, he suggests a daikon puff. “We make the skin using a laminated dough (like puff pastry) and the filling is really simple: stir-fried daikon. It’s remarkable how tasty a daikon can be.”
Whatever your group is eating, tea is the ideal accompaniment. “Often customers forget about drinking tea with their yum cha,” says Dicky. “It’s not only customary, but the subtle notes of tea complement rather than detract from the flavours of the food.” Dicky recommends Jade Temple’s Silver Needle tea as a pairing. “It’s a white tea that’s very delicate and high in antioxidants.”
Dicky’s last tip is to always enquire about non-menu items. A good yum cha chef will be looking for seasonal ingredients to work with that may not have had time to make it onto the menu. At Jade Temple, Dicky changes his menu daily with a diversity of items to create a quick lunch option. “We always play around with produce,” he says. “For example if we’re not confident of supply for bamboo or asparagus (the bamboo season is very short), or if we’re not sure if a dish has a permanent place on the menu, we may just run a few portions of them. So it’s always worth asking if there are any special additions for the day.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Rockpool Dining Group.