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The clatter of carts, the steady hum of conversations, and the aroma emitted from steamed baskets are unmistakable hallmarks of the dim sum experience. More than just a meal, dim sum brings together an assortment of small plates with dumplings, baos, and more for diners to delight in. Kids can learn all about what makes dim sum so special in the newly released “Dim Sum, Here We Come!.” In this beautifully illustrated picture book, a Chinese American girl and her sister Cece share how going to dim sum is a special weekly tradition for her family, including her parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins.
Dim sum, originally from China, is popular around the world, typically as a brunch or lunch. We talked to author and illustrator Maple Lam about her love for dim sum and the inspiration for the book. Lam has published several books including “My Little Sister and Me” and “Where Are The Treasures?” (Chinese).
When asked about growing up in Hong Kong — the undisputed dim sum capital of the world — Lam admits that dim sum restaurants weren’t a pleasurable experience: “In the late ’80s/early ’90s, I actually didn’t like dim sum. As a child, I didn’t like how rowdy it was. I was a pretty sensitive child to sound.”
The hustle and bustle of the dim sum experience caters to those who want to try different tastes, with the server pushing carts of freshly steamed and cooked veggies and bites. Diners order by looking at the offerings of the cart and picking what they want on the spot. The waiter then marks a card at the table to tally the dishes. To the people who think that dim sum is only for the adventurous eater, there actually are many dishes to choose from. Everyone can likely find something that they like, from shrimp dumplings to ribs to chicken feet.
Lam acknowledges that it wasn’t until she immigrated to America with her family at the age of 11 that she grew to love dim sum. “I’m not sure if it’s because as you grow a little bit older, your taste buds change a little and lean more toward savory things than sweet things,” she shares. “I love the little nuggets that are just a bit juicy, delicious, and savory. It’s also because you slowly realize that the diners and the servers are not purposely making a lot of noise. It’s more that families and friends are so very enthusiastic about seeing each other that they can’t wait to share their stories.”
It’s that love between family and friends that Lam captures in the pages of “Dim Sum, Here We Come!,” as well as insights on etiquette and the sights and sounds of a dim sum restaurant.
For example, why do we tap the table when tea is refilled? According to legend, a Qing Dynasty emperor was traveling in disguise to better observe his people. He didn’t want anyone to know that he was the emperor of China, so he and his staff dressed as nobles instead of their usual regalia. Lam recounts, “It’s a tradition to take the teapot and pour tea to the person next to you. And so, the emperor did the same thing. Of course, the senior official, who was on the receiving end of it, completely freaked out. He was like, ‘Am I supposed to bow for this? But if I bow, I’m gonna blow his cover.’ So instead, he bows with his fingers by tapping on the table as a thank you. And so we all do this.”
From tapping on the table to waiting your turn as the revolving turntable brings food your way, these small moments not only make Lam’s book feel authentic, but also provide lessons on patience and sharing for young readers.
Adults might notice one thing missing from her book: the fight over the check between uncles and aunties. Those who treat dim sum as a family affair will know well the intensity of the moment when the check is brought to the table, and everyone wants to pay for the large meal. Lam did not include this scene, but we share a laugh about the meaning it holds for those from large immigrant families to be able to treat one another. “It gets a little tense,” Lam says. “Everyone’s trying to fight for that check at the end of the meal, because it’s the right thing to do.”
All in all, Lam’s “Dim Sum, Here We Come!” is not just about Chinese American culture and dining, but also about family, togetherness, and kindness that comes together around food like dim sum. Moreover, for kids who might feel lost in the commotion of the restaurant, this book is a great introduction to dim sum. But beware, the steaming char siu bun illustrated by Lam made my mouth water, and readers will yearn for the warmth and joy that dim sum brings.
Last modified: January 4, 2023