I grew up in Penang knowing “yum cha” as “dim sum” with my grandfather. He used to take the little ones; that is, us little siblings – brother, sister, aunty, uncle, nephew depending on our relationship with one another. We were all about the same young age between one to ten years difference. My grandfather would go for his usual early morning walk. In his good mood, he would come home first and collect us little ones for an early morning treat at his favourite “kopitiam” (that is, coffee shop in Penang local dialect – Hokkien). Only those little ones who woke up early got to follow him. Grandfather would order a big pot of freshly brewed strong Chinese tea. In the old days, the tea would come in a large aluminum pot and a shallow plastic bowl filled with boiling hot water with little Chinese tea cups, little saucers and chopsticks. The hot water was used to sterilise the cups, saucers and chopsticks before using them. Then came the little treats of delightful dishes passionately known as “dim sum”, which was really a variety of little dishes (in our modern world, dim sum is almost like a small “tasting” plate). Called it the old traditional Chinese way of degustation breakfast meal. That was my childhood memory.
Turning the clock forward to today’s time, Dim Sum is now available in almost all Chinatown in western capital cities. They are extremely popular and the good ones usually will have crowd lining up as early as 10 in the morning. Most places do not take booking. You pick a number as you arrived and wait for your table depending on the number of guests. Other restaurants do take booking and provide two seatings.
I have used the word “yum cha” and “dim sum” interchangeably. “yum cha” is a Cantonese word which refers to drinking tea, whereas “dim sum” depending on how you pronounce it, is also a Cantonese word but refers to “little dishes”. It depends on where you are, the phrase is used interchangeably but refers to the same thing – little dishes and drinking tea. In Australia, it is more commonly known among the Chinese as “yum cha”, but in Penang, my hometown, it is known as “dim sim” in Hokkien among the local Chinese. I like to call it “yum cha” here in Australia, but again when I am back home in Penang, I will call it “dim sim”. Sounds confusing enough??
In Hobart, we are very lucky to have a good “Yum Cha” place at the elegant and best Chinese Restaurant in Tasmania, “Me Wah“. This is a small city and to have such a good Yum Cha’s place is indeed very special. There are not much varieties compare to the bigger cities but good enough for the small crowd here. The small selection of “dim sum” has the advantage of being very fresh.
At Me Wah, they offer yum cha on both Saturday and Sunday with two seatings. One starts at 11 am, and the second seating starts at 1 pm. I have been to the Saturday and Sunday 11 am seating, and also the Sunday 1 pm seating. My preferred choice is the Sunday 1 pm seating. I have not tried the Saturday 1 pm seating before. But, what I have noticed with the Sunday 1 pm seating is that they bring out the trolleys with the food. I love that. That is how it should be done. The trolleys will move around the tables very quickly and you pick what you want to eat. The other time I have been there, which was the 11 am seating, I had to order from the menu. I like the trolley movement for yum cha as this is what yum cha is all about. The chaotic-ness of a moving trolley and the waiter/waitress calling out, “would you like Sui Mai, Har Kow, Char Siew Pow….” adds to the experience of a true Chinese style experience of enjoying the dim sum. But, Me Wah is a proper and fine dining Chinese restaurant which lacks the noise and rude services that come with a typical yum cha place like in Sydney’s Chinatown. It offers an entire different experience. It is smooth and very professional.
The other thing about yum cha that is missing in today’s time is that it is almost like a Chinese fast food place. You get in. You order what you want very quickly as the trolley passes by. You eat quickly and then you leave. Everything done and dusted in less than an hour. In the past during my grandfather’s time, they would sat down, read the newspaper, ordered the food and took their time to eat, drank the tea, chat with friends and drank more tea which could last for a couple of hours. There was no rush. It was an enjoyment of drinking tea (that is why it is called “yum cha”), which purify the body and mind.
Last Sunday, my partner and I went to Me Wah for yum cha. It was fully packed. We had a wonderful time and meal. It was definitely a great place to enjoy a good yum cha in Hobart. We had 8 different dishes and a bottle of Goatyhill Riesling with a total bill of $109.40. The wine cost $44.
Sunday Yum Cha at Me Wah
Note: the post image is not taken at Me Wah. That was a photo I took in Penang at a Dim Sum’s place in Kimberley Street. All other photos were taken at Me Wah.