All Things Considered

Doing dim sum right: A brunch connoisseur shows a newbie around

A dim sum cart
A dim sum cart with dumplings, pork and mussels at Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington on May 26.
Lukas Levin | MPR News

MPR News reporter Nicole Ki grew up eating dim sum in New York with her family, so when she moved to the Twin Cities she quickly zeroed in on the best spots for dim sum brunch. Her picks: Yangtze Restaurant in St. Louis Park and Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington.

Fellow MPR News early education reporter Kyra Miles grew up in the south. Her idea of brunch was more along the lines of eggs Benedict and mimosas. Ki decided to introduce her colleague to a Sunday dining experience centered around shrimp dumplings and tea.

Pork buns sit on a table
BBQ pork buns and shrimp dumplings at Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington.
Ngoc Bui | MPR News

That’s what dim sum is all about. Originating centuries ago in China, dim sum is comprised of small dishes that are mostly steamed and, most importantly, accompanied by tea.

There’s a wide range of dishes at dim sum, served in steel or bamboo baskets. The must-haves, Ki says, are shrimp dumplings, chicken feet, BBQ pork buns and pineapple buns.

Another factor that sets dim sum dining apart: Instead of ordering off a menu, metal carts are filled with baskets of food and pushed from table to table. Servers shout out what’s in their cart and drop it off. It’s a fast-paced experience.

“They’re always asking you if you want food and bringing carts to you,” Ki said.

A dim sum cart in a restaurant
Dim sum carts being pushed around the dining floor at Mandarin Kitchen.
Lukas Levin | MPR News

Then there’s the tea, which is at the heart of dim sum.

“Dim sum in Cantonese is referred to as ‘yum cha.’ It literally translates to drink tea,” Ki said.

A pot of tea sits at the center of every table. The custom is to serve tea to the other people at the table who express their gratitude by tapping with three fingers on the table. “It’s a very insider thing,” Ki explained.

Two women pose for a photo
Nicole Ki (left) and Kyra Miles with their dim sum order at Yangtze Restaurant in St. Louis Park.
Ngoc Bui | MPR News

To hear more from Ki and Miles’ dim sum experience, click play on the player above.