to enjoying Yum Cha

- 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
Delectable and smooth desserts like coconut jelly
 ??  ?? Delicate egg custard tarts - order ahead so you don’t miss out
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
Outdoor venues are becoming popular with locals and tourists alike in Martintar Nadi
 ??  ?? Chicken feet anyone?
Chicken feet anyone?
 ??  ?? Pot stickers are combinatio­n steamed and pan fried
Pot stickers are combinatio­n steamed and pan fried
 ??  ?? Yum Cha menus are appearing at establishe­d Chinese restaurant­s
Yum Cha menus are appearing at establishe­d Chinese restaurant­s
 ??  ??

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