I’m sure most foreigners already know about dim sum, and love eating it! But how about yum cha? For those who don’t know what yum cha is, this literally means drinking tea. However, in most cases, yum cha usually refers to the action of going to a Chinese restaurant to have dim sum as well as tea. Since knowing your dim sum isn’t enough to give you the whole experience and be fully submerged into the culture and authentic atmosphere of Chinese restaurants, here’s our guide to the culture of yum cha in Hong Kong, so you can really eat and drink like a local!
Getting a table
Well. The first thing to figure out is, how to get a table? The host from the restaurant will most likely ask you whether you are okay to share a table with other people or not. This will definitely be the case if you run into peak hours like lunchtime and throughout the afternoon. But if you don’t mind waiting, of course, the restaurant will not force you to share!
After they have collected your ticket and taken you to your table, they will ask you immediately ‘what tea would you like?’ So it would be better if you’ve already chosen while you were waiting for a table. Your server will bring two teapots to your table; one will be your tea and the other is hot water so you can refill your teapot. Do you know there is another way to let the servers know that you need to refill hot water or tea leaves apart from waving your hand? It is by giving the signal that’s specifically meant for hot water refilling. If servers see the lid of your teapot had been taken off and was put on top of the handle, they will know that you need them to refill hot water for you - this is more efficient because of the noisy and busy environment of the Chinese restaurants.
Now for how to drink your tea correctly. I guess what most of you will do is to pour tea for yourself or for your companions. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that, but, if you want to do it our way then there are things you will need to know. The youngest at the table always pours the tea to show respect to their elders, and the person who has their tea poured should express their gratitude by making a gesture of knocking on the table.
Wash your own dishes!
So, are you ready to take things to the next level? ‘Cause, let me tell you this will be a great chance to impress the locals, showing that you’ve really made an effort to understand the culture and blend in! When your server brings your tea and hot water, they will also bring a rather big bowl. You may think this is for washing your hands, but no, it’s actually for rinsing the teacups, bowls, spoons, and chopsticks with hot water. Don’t worry! It’s not because the tableware is dirty, just that the locals are so accustomed to doing it as they believe hot water can kill every germ!
When it comes to ordering, the price depends on whether you’re eating dim sum for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. You’ll find the best deals at breakfast time and afternoon tea! Next, you’ll have to figure out the pricing system, as the dishes are categorized by size, with bigger sizes having higher prices. Depending on the time of day you’re eating, and the sized dishes, you’re likely to have more than one order form which can be confusing. But don’t worry, just group all of the order forms together and hand them to your server to place the order. Once your dim sum has arrived, try not to dive into your food straight away, as at this very moment the lady who handed you your dim sum is also putting stamps on your card. Known simply as a dim sum stamping card, the number of stamps on this card represents how many dim sum were delivered to your table. So, keep your card safe!
When it comes to yum cha, the adults should be responsible for teaching their younger fellows some table manners, especially not to play with the tableware since Chinese tableware are usually comes in different tiny parts made from ceramic. It’s not hard to imagine that kids are probably going to improvise, using chopsticks to do a little jam before the meal, but it’s considered very impolite to make sounds with your utensils in the culture of yum cha. As for other table manners for yum cha, you may find spinning glass table tops, but the thing you must not do is to spin the glass table if someone is taking food from a dish. To locals, this is a big no no and a very rude behaviour! And remember to first spin the dish towards the oldest person seated at the table, as a sign of respect, letting the elderly have the first bite.
Grab a deal!
And here it is, the last tip! Are you guys still with me? I saved the best for last! This is a tip for anyone who wants to save some more money besides going in as the breakfast or afternoon tea time. Normally, about halfway through the afternoon tea service, there should be some dim sum ladies walking around with a tray full of dim sum. Wave at them! Let them know of your existence! Because these dim sums come with a much cheaper price! But if you don’t act fast, they’ll all be gone before they even have the opportunity to get to your table.
Paying the bill
So are you now feeling satisfied? Did your stomach thank you for feeding it with so much yummy dim sum? There is only one more task left to be done - pay the bill. So, hopefully, you still have your dim sum stamping card with you, as your bill will be calculated according to what's on this. When you get your change, follow what the locals do and leave the coins as a tip, taking only the notes away with you. Now that you are all set, feel free to show off your newly learned knowledge about yum cha to your local friends. They will be 100% surprised, and on top of that, you’ll get respect from other Hong Kongers!
Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Our personalized, private tours, led by local hosts, make you feel like you’re exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend. We’ll take you to well-known sights and reveal Hong Kong’s hidden gems, unveiling stories typically missed by traditional tours. So unscript your journey, and see Hong Kong through the eyes of our local hosts!
Top private experiences in Hong Kong
We’ll pair you with the perfect host
There is no better way to see a city than with a friend who lives there. This is why we carefully match guests with their perfect host based on interested, personality and type of experience so they can discover a city beyond the tourist trail.
Make your inbox happy with our travel tips and inspiration as well as exclusive offers and first access to new services.