to en­joy­ing Yum Cha

mailife - - Food - Words and pho­tos by LANCE SEETO

The Fiji food scene has come a long way in the past year thanks to in­creased tourism and our new­found cul­ture of din­ing out more of­ten. The change seems more preva­lent in the tourism precincts, and es­pe­cially in the Western cor­ri­dor be­tween Nadi In­ter­na­tional air­port and Port De­na­rau. Queens Road in Mart­in­tar and Na­maka has be­come the un­of­fi­cial foodie street in the West; just as Hong Kong has Stan­ley Street and Mel­bourne has Chapel Street. In­creased tourism from China and Hong Kong has also given rise to new re­gional Chi­nese restau­rants in Suva and Nadi serv­ing a style of Asian cui­sine we have long been wait­ing for – 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 on the week­ends. It also refers to the en­tire act of drink­ing tea and eat­ing dim sum - small steamed and fried dishes served in bam­boo steam­ers. Dim sum is a col­lec­tive term for the sump­tu­ous dumplings, dim sims, pas­tries and braised del­i­ca­cies. It’s a pop­u­lar, even revered, pas­time for many a Chi­nese per­son to go to yum cha at least once a week with fam­ily or friends. Es­pe­cially for the el­derly, go­ing yum cha on a Sun­day morn­ing is a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the whole fam­ily. The phrase ‘I’ll treat you to yum cha’ is thrown around al­most as com­monly as west­ern­ers of­fer to take some­one out for cof­fee. But the best part of yum cha is the food – and now we can en­joy this Can­tonese ex­pe­ri­ence in Fiji. Dim sum come in all shapes, sizes and va­ri­eties, con­stantly evolv­ing to suit the lo­cals. The dim sum avail­able in Syd­ney yum cha may be vastly dif­fer­ent to what is found in Hong Kong or Fiji. But no mat­ter where you go, there are cer­tain sta­ples that you must have to fully en­joy the Yum Cha ex­pe­ri­ence.


One of the most iconic dim sum in ex­is­tence. Har gow in a Yum Cha restau­rant is akin to a Big Mac at McDon­alds or a Whop­per at Burger King – they are the yard­stick by which the eatery is judged. The skin of the dumpling is made us­ing

wheat and tapi­oca starch and should be translu­cent; like look­ing through a white wed­ding veil. 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 tex­ture of the steamed prawn mix­ture should also be crunchy and firm, not soft and mushy.


Of­ten paired to­gether 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 should have a firm crunchy tex­ture. Chi­nese stores have the pas­try frozen and once you mas­ter the filling, are easy to make with the fam­ily (even if they don’t look per­fectly straight!)


It’s a part of the chicken we sel­dom ap­pre­ci­ate but deep­fried 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. An al­ter­na­tive ver­sion is the bak wan fung jow, where the chicken feet is mar­i­nated in rice vine­gar, sug­ared rice wine, salt, and minced gin­ger be­fore be­ing served cold.


This del­i­cacy is not for the feint hearted but for yum cha con­nois­seurs, stewed beef en­trails are a gourmet de­light. A se­lec­tion of the tripe, pan­creas, in­tes­tine, spleen, and lungs of the cow, all are stewed in a stock sauce made of thir­teen herbs. These in­clude fen­nel, Sichuan pep­per­corn, star anise, dried cit­rus peel, cin­na­mon, sand gin­ger and nut­meg. It is highly nu­tri­tious and in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious.


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


Also known as bar­be­cue pork buns, these buns are filled with char siu, slow-roasted sweet pork fil­lets, and come in two vari­a­tions: steamed or baked. Steamed pork buns are white and denser than reg­u­lar Chi­nese buns. Baked pork buns are brown and glazed.


This is def­i­nitely a spe­cialty dish you’ll ei­ther love or hate. The tripe, or oma­sum, is the third com­part­ment of the cow’s stom­ach, and this is sliced and steamed with gar­lic and scal­lions.


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.


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 mul­ti­lay­ered outer cas­ing. If made with skill, these lit­tle beau­ties are silky, sweet and “eggy”.


Overseas Yum Cha restau­rants will usu­ally have ex­pres­sion­less older wait staff nav­i­gat­ing their way amongst ta­bles push­ing trol­leys filled with dim sums in bam­boo steam­ers. “Har Gow! Sui Mai!” they hail as they walk past your ta­ble. The staffs 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. WHY IS HOT BLACK TEA SERVED? This no-milk, no-sugar tea is im­por­tant to aid 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! Chi­nese black tea is gen­er­ally charged per head and added to your bill. It’s al­ways a good idea to make friends with the man­ager of the es­tab­lish­ment, as it’s also pos­si­ble to get the tea price de­ducted (but you didn’t hear it from me!) if you play your cards right!

Yum Cha is the per­fect week­end fam­ily re­union of cute, steamed and fried del­i­ca­cies wrapped in pas­try, dough and skins. The hus­tle and bus­tle of a typ­i­cal Yum Cha eatery is what com­pletes this South­ern Chi­nese food ex­pe­ri­ence. The va­ri­ety of dim sum is now so vast, that you’ll con­stantly be sur­prised no mat­ter how of­ten you go to yum cha; the chef has come up with a new dish to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

These are my fa­vorite dishes at yum cha - what are yours?

De­lec­ta­ble and smooth desserts like co­conut jelly

Del­i­cate egg cus­tard tarts - or­der ahead so you don’t miss out

Out­door venues are be­com­ing pop­u­lar with lo­cals and tourists alike in Mart­in­tar Nadi

Chicken feet any­one?

Pot stickers are com­bi­na­tion steamed and pan fried

Yum Cha menus are ap­pear­ing at es­tab­lished Chi­nese restau­rants

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