Have some dim sum with tea for Asian New Year!

Dim sum teapot. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Many of the people in San Jose’s substantial Asian community are celebrating Chinese New Year this week, with dim sum and, of course, lots of tea. Dim sum is a customary assortment of snacks, usually enjoyed on the weekend or during the New Year.  While there are several restaurants in the San Jose area where you can eat dim sum and drink tea with friends, (a meal known as yum cha), it may be cheaper to put together your own dim sum lunch at home. Look for appropriate food items in one of the South Bay’s many Asian supermarkets; even if you don’t read Chinese, almost all products sold in local Asian shops are labeled in English as well as Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai.

Some people like to think of dim sum as analogous to tapas: a bunch of bite-sized sweet or savory foods, including steamed and fried items, meant to be eaten with the fingers, chopsticks, or in the case of noodle soups or porridge, with a spoon. It’s a similar idea to the traditional English-style afternoon tea!  Dim sum foods include fried things like egg rolls, steamed or baked dumplings like pork buns, and sweet things like sesame seed balls, coconut jelly, and egg custard tarts. While there are literally a hundred possibilities, here is a selection of some of the most popular items to make, or to look for in the stores:

Chinese green tea
Jasmine green tea
Pu-erh tea

Sticky sweet rice
Steamed barbecue pork buns
Spring rolls
Green onion pancakes
Egg rolls
Green tea roll cakes

Baked egg custard tarts
Mango pudding
Coconut jelly with red beans
Coconut balls
Sesame seed balls

The tea served is not only a good food pairing, but it helps the diners to digest all the great food.  Of course, it goes without saying that you should use loose tea leaves for this party!  Using tea filter bags makes it a lot less fussy and more convenient to serve your tea without the leaves in the pot, as is often done at Chinese restaurants.  Decorate your house with red for good luck, or blue and white to imitate traditional Chinese porcelain, and gather some cherry blossoms from some of the local ornamental cherry trees in the San Jose area (hint: check the suburbs and VTA Light Rail stations) for the table.  While San Francisco’s Chinatown has tons of authentic tea wares for sale, San Jose’s Asian shops have a pretty good selection, too.  Check out the grocery stores and other shops in Japantown, for instance.

Copyright 2010, Elizabeth Urbach.

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