Dim sum is an umbrella category for small Chinese dishes. Typical examples of dim sum are small dumplings, wrapped foods such as won tons and egg rolls, and other more exotic foods. In general, individual portions of dim sum are small, so that numerous dishes can be ordered and sampled by the table. Most dim sum falls under the category of a savory pastry, although these foods can be prepared in a variety of ways. Dim sum can be steamed, fried, boiled, baked, or broiled, and this wide range of options makes for a lively and varied meal.
Usually, dim sum is served from rolling carts, which makes it markedly different from Western foods. In a dim sum restaurant, servers wheel out fresh trays of delicacies and tables can take what they please. A specific type of dish is used for each food, so that at the end of the meal, the staff can add up all the dirty dishes to determine how much should be charged. Eating traditional dim sum is like grazing, and it encourages diners to linger and nibble, sometimes for hours
Most restaurants have a dazzling array of dim sum available, with large establishments offering over 100 different varieties of food that change from day to day. The chef is given a great deal of leeway to create whatever he or she pleases, depending on seasonal availability and what he or she thinks is auspicious for that day.
Usually, a dim sum meal begins with light steamed dishes, such as har gow, followed by heavier fried items including pot stickers or egg rolls. Then exotic foods are brought out, and the meal finishes with sweets for dessert. This order is not always rigidly observed, although it sits better in the stomach than a jumble of foods. Dim sum is also accompanied by a small tray of condiments, which usually includes sesame oil, fermented black beans, soy sauce, and other similar ingredients in which the dim sum can be dipped. Dim sum is a delicious culinary adventure, and one which will never be the same no matter how many times you return to the same restaurant.