Book Review: Not Sure What to Order at Dim Sum? No Problem. The Dim Sum Field Guide is Here to Help


Image by faikevin on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Can’t tell the difference between xia jiao and guo tie Don’t fret, a new dim sum field guide is looking to make you an expert in this ancient Chinese culinary tradition.

dim-sum-field-guide-coverWritten and illustrated by Carolyn Phillips—a food writer, editor and illustrator fluent in Chinese—The Dim Sum Field Guide: A Taxonomy of Dumplings, Buns, Meats, Sweets, and Other Specialties of the Chinese Teahouse, has already become my go-to guide to everything and anything that pertains to the history and dishes of dim sum. An in-depth exploration of the delights of the Cantonese version of dim sum, this guide was born out of a shorter, but equally descriptive and enticing piece published in Lucky Peach magazine in 2012.

When “The Beginner’s Guide to Dim Sum” was first published, there were many of ecstatic foodies out there. I, for one, devoured the Chinatown issue of Lucky Peach within hours of purchasing it and kept returning to “The Beginner’s Guide to Dim Sum” again and again. When Buzzfeed republished a couple of months later, it became an instant sensation and several of my Facebook friends kept posting it throughout the winter. It garnered more than 425,685 views and still counting. I was thrilled that Ms. Phillips’ article was gaining the attention it so clearly deserved, but it wasn’t until Ten Speed Press announced that it would publish an expanded version of the guide as a hardcover book, when I knew everything would come full circle for me. My thirst for more dim sum knowledge was quenched when the book  finally came out last week.

Dim sum’s history goes as far back as one thousand years and according to Ms. Phillips, the culinary tradition reached its height in the tea houses of Southern China, specifically those in the city of Guangzhou. The Guanzhou version is more or less the version of dim sum many of us know today.

The Dim Sum Field Guide, being just over five by six inches in dimension is a bit too big to fit in a pocket and yet too small to be considered a coffee table book. (I think this could be a very cool coffee table book featuring both photographs and illustrations of dim sum dishes across China). However, the book is portable like any field guide and its size should not discourage you from bringing it to your next dim sum adventure.

The guide is beginner friendly and comprehensive at the same time, which is something difficult to accomplish when compiling a field guide of any sort. As someone already familiar with many dim sum dishes, I found myself learning about many more I was vaguely familiar with or too hesitant to order prior to owning The Dim Sum Field Guide

Part of the allure of a field guide is a having layout that’s easy to follow along with descriptive text and accurate illustrations. The Dim Sum Field Guide does not disappoint in this aspect. Organized into two sections: savory and sweet dishes, the guide includes full size illustrations on the left-hand page and detailed information—including historical background on many of the dishes featured in it. Flavors and variations of the same dishes area also discussed with each entry.

If you’ve never had dim sum, but have always wanted to try it The Dim Sum Field Guide is a book for both the beginner and the “expert.” For the beginner, Ms. Phillips includes a discussion on dim sum dining etiquette as well as a brief introduction to the types of tea served during this very popular meal. For the “expert,” it works up an appetite for more adventurous dim sum dining possibilities.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Featured image by faikevin on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.