As a born and bred Hong-Konger, going to yum cha with my family every Sunday is an important tradition that has lasted many generations. Here, stories old and new are recounted over a table full of bamboo baskets that hold a variety of dim sum – small bites that encompass everything from delicately translucent prawn dumplings and silky rice rolls to molten lava custard buns and sweet roasted pork buns.
Literally meaning ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese, yum cha is as common a meal in Hong Kong as coffee and toast in Western culture, where Chinese tea is enjoyed with dim sum at traditional tea houses. Dating back to ancient China, teahouses have long been a place of rest and conversations for the common people.
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After World War Two, new immigrants from China brought yum cha culture with them, often becoming a regular routine between family and friends, and still now it remains an important part of Hong Kong society. Though it is a Cantonese cuisine originating from China’s Guangdong province, Hong Kong remains one of the best places in the world for authentic yum cha food and atmosphere.
Yum cha is a group activity that involves everyone around the table. As it’s centred on sharing, there are certain things to bear in mind when you’re being served or serving others. My grandmother, the eldest in our weekly yum cha gathering, has always been quick to straighten out everyone’s table manners. A few rules that she frequently mentions include finishing the last grain of rice in the bowl so a future spouse’s skin will resemble the smoothness of the clean bowl; and to never stick chopsticks straight down into a bowl of rice because it resembles incense for the dead and will bring bad luck. She also reminds us to never bang our chopsticks on the bowl for fun because that was what beggars used to do for attention and is thus believed to bring poverty to the family.