Let's Go Out for...Dim Sum

Dos and don'ts for these Chinese bite size bits
dimsum Lets Go Out For
If you think Chinese food begins and ends with General Tso's chicken, we’d like to introduce you to classic Chinese cuisine: Dim sum refers to small plates with small bits of food — for example, a few dumplings and a little mound of sticky rice with shrimp and vegetables. The food is steamed, fried, or baked, usually served during the day from small steaming carts pushed around the dining room of a Chinese restaurant. In general, dim sum is served at more authentic Chinese restaurants, usually in the Asian neighborhoods of a city, almost always from midmorning to early afternoon. Servers usually push loaded carts into the dining room straight from the kitchen, the food kept hot by steam or warming trays so that everything is as fresh as possible. While it’s impossible to time the carts coming out of the kitchen with any regularity, you’ll know you’re in a good restaurant if the carts keep coming, one after another, perhaps in three- or five-minute intervals.
Although most Americans are unfamiliar with these bites and nibbles, dim sum makes for some good choices: You share dishes with friends, some of them quite low in PointsPlus® values, and almost all are offered in small portions so you can try many different things at one meal. In other words, you don’t have to commit — always a plus for a guy. You don’t have to order that steak and then get stuck with it for the whole meal. You can play the field — and how bad is that? What’s more, you can practice good portion control — a little of this, a little of that — while still getting a lot of variety.

Many dim sum restaurants offer a supplemental menu, from which simple stir-fries and traditional noodle dishes can be ordered.

Once the carts start coming around, you may well have to point and talk with your hands to get what you want. In more authentic restaurants, few of the servers will speak English. But go slow, savor new tastes and share everything. Here are some of the things you’ll find:

Dumplings Dumplings can be filled with anything from mixed vegetables to pork, tofu to crab. They can be sealed or left open on the top to expose the filling. The thin dough is usually made from wheat or rice flour (the latter is whiter, more translucent and chewier).

The PointsPlus values are the same whether the dumplings are steamed or fried; the difference lies in the fillings. Three vegetable dumplings have a PointsPlus value of 3, but three chicken or shrimp dumplings have a PointsPlus value of 4, and three beef or pork dumplings have a PointsPlus value of 5. Go for the vegetable ones every time for the biggest bang for your dietary buck.

Tofu: Made from fermented soy beans, tofu is perhaps the most versatile food on the Chinese menu. On dim sum menus, you may find fresh tofu (also called “bean curd”) in three basic forms: 1) fried cubes (sometimes called “bean curd puffs”); 2) triangular wedges stuffed with shrimp or pork and then steamed; or 3) a warm, soft pudding, scooped out of a bucket and served with a sweet sauce.

Some dim sum dumplings are wrapped in what’s called “tofu skins” or “bean curd skins” — technically an inaccurate name since the thin, chewy material is made from fresh soybeans and not fermented ones. These dumplings are most often filled with ground shrimp, vegetables or thick black mushrooms.

Pork Buns
Buns: Savory filled buns come in two varieties: 1) baked and served at room temperature, golden brown and cakey or 2) steamed and served warm, squat, thick and very white, often split open on top to reveal what’s inside. Filled with sweet barbecue pork, ginger-spiked chicken, or even just glazed and baked plain, Chinese buns should not be missed. But be careful: One barbecue pork bun has a PointsPlus value of 5. It’s usually big enough to be cut into quarters — a little smaller than a basic burger at a fast-food joint — so cut it into quarters and share it around the table.

Sesame Noodles
Noodles: Dim sum offers noodles made from wheat (those found in lo mein, sort of like Italian pasta) or rice (pale-white, delicate threads). Noodle dishes can be hot or cold, spicy or mild, and are always ordered from the menu rather than the cart.

Wheat noodles are the base for all lo mein, often made with vegetables or shrimp. They also are a part of cold sesame noodles, a popular dim sum dish, topped with a cold sweet sauce made from sesame paste or peanut butter, vinegar, soy and chilies. These dishes can be high in PointsPlus values (1 cup of vegetable lo mein equals a PointsPlus value of 8). A better alternative might be to try the recipe for Shrimp and Vegetable Lo Mein in the Weightwatchers.com data base.

Rice noodles, called “fun,” are the basis of chow fun. Thin rice noodles called rice sticks are used in the popular Singapore mai fun, a curried noodle dish with sliced vegetables and usually some protein like tofu, shrimp, chicken, pork, or beef. None of these dishes is meant to be eaten on its own by one person. They should be shared, a few chopsticksful for each person. In addition, many noodle dishes can be oily, but most restaurants will honor your request for very little oil.

Order a noodle dish for the whole table and share it.

Barbecue: Chinese barbecue is made from pork or duck. The meat has been marinated, roasted and then hung to drip off excess fat.

Barbecue pork is usually sliced; the duck is cut into small pieces, best eaten with your fingers. Both are served hot or cold. In all cases, take the skin off the duck before eating. Also, ask for lean roast pork, almost always available, usually made just for Westerners.

So get a map of a local Chinatown, read some reviews online or in your local newspaper, and find some restaurants that serve dim sum — they'll usually be packed on a weekend morning. All that’s left is to make good choices that reflect your healthy lifestyle. So count your PointsPlus values and have a blast. What could be better than that?
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