Dim Sum, meaning literally, 'touch your heart', is a Chinese cuisine that has several things in common with Sushi: it's oriental, it's reasonably good for you, it's tasty, and it's modular. Unlike Sushi, it's almost always cooked.
Although it's a Chinese cuisine, Dim Sum is seldom found in what are usually termed 'Chinese' Restaurants1. Instead, Dim Sum is served in special Dim Sum restaurants, which can be found in most major cities in the world with a significant Chinese population concentrated in one area2.
What is Dim Sum?
When you enter a Dim Sum restaurant, you will first wait in line for a table. This seems to be true no matter what time of day you go, or how crowded the restaurant is. Once it's your turn, you'll be ushered to a table and served tea or other drinks. You will not, however, be offered a menu as there aren't any. The menu is the food itself.
Weaving among the tables are servers pushing small carts stacked with servings of Dim Sum. Each Dim Sum is bite sized, but there are many different dishes to choose from. A Dim Sum might be a mixture of meat or vegetables wrapped in noodles or Won Ton. Or, it might be small BBQ pork ribs, or chicken drumsticks. The consistent thing about the different dishes is that there are two to four modules per serving and each serving comes in the small cylindrical steamer in which it was cooked.
You simply point to an item you want, and the server will place the steamer on your table. You can pick as many items as you wish throughout the meal, until you are full.
Eating Your Meal
Now you can proceed to eat your Dim Sum. Although the bite-size pieces appear to be finger food, most Dim Sum is meant to be eaten with chopsticks3. The only problem with this is that many Dim Sum restaurants seem to like providing you with those smooth plastic chopsticks that make gripping slippery noodle-wrapped items moist from the steamer, very difficult indeed. At least once during a Dim Sum meal, expect an item to slip out of your chopsticks just short of your mouth. It will unerringly fall into the mustard or soy sauce on your plate and splatter it in a nice radial pattern on the white tablecloth, your shirt and your date. Nonetheless, Dim Sum is delicious enough that such concerns are minor. In fact, sometimes it's hard to know when to stop eating.
Paying For It All
Each dish has a separate price. Every time you pick one, your bill is tallied to indicate how many items you have selected4. In some Dim Sum restaurants, each dish is colour-coded by price, and at the end of the meal you simply present your empty dishes in lieu of a bill.
Since you never know how much you're paying until the end of the meal5, if you are on a budget it may be a good idea to eat moderately the first few times you try a Dim Sum restaurant. This is especially true if you're there with a large group of people, as the continually passing carts of food lull you into an all-you-can-eat mode, which can be quite detrimental to one's wallet. And waistline.
So, try something new. Go to the nearest Chinatown and find a Dim Sum restaurant. Bon Appetit!