Yum Cha, a Cantonese Style

"Yum Cha" (飲茶) (literally meaning “drinking tea”) is originally a Cantonese custom of people having breakfast together with family or friends. Roughly translated as “a little delicacy,” Dim Sum is the edible counterpart of Yum Cha. There’re usually plenty of choices of Dim Sum (small dishes) like Shrimp Dumplings and "Siu Mai" (Meat Dumplings) served in Cantonese teahouses.

In the past, people often enjoyed tea in old restaurants with a long history, also known as "neighboring restaurants" (茶寮). This kind of restaurant was built with simple and cheap decoration. However, it was the place for the neighbors to meet as a morning routine. Especially for the elderly, their main entertainment was going to chat with their neighbors in the "old place". Most would like to go to the same teahouse as usual, where they would take the same seat to meet with their friends and fellows. They read newspapers; discuss current issues, their family life and their good old days. As time passed by, a strong bond would form between the patrons and the restaurants.

Today the Cantonese came to the teahouse for different reasons. The working class usually have breakfast in these Cantonese restaurants in the early morning. They enjoy 一盅兩件 (Literally One bowl with two pieces, meaning a cup of tea with two Dim Sums) and they read newspapers in the morning before they go to work. Many elderly people bring their caged birds to the restaurants and chat with others. They can spend a whole morning doing this. The real tea-drinkers, for instance, preferred to kill time with one pot of fragrantly hot tea and two plates of snacks.

Yum Cha is also an occasion when families often gather to visit each other on the weekends, when everyone has time from their busy schedules. It may resemble, as a Chinese friend suggested, the Sunday brunch after church that is familiar to many religious Westerners. It is a time filled with catching up on what went on in each other’s lives in the past week and what the family plans are for the near future. Many Yum Cha restaurants, in their relaxing atmosphere, share some similarities with contemporary Western café culture, replete with frequenters of a “chatty” bend.

Join the Cantonese in their passion for morning tea. In the midst of the crowds of Cantonese teahouse goers, you may get a better idea of what life of the Cantonese is like. But don't stay up late! Most of the restaurants in old estates close before the noon. Those popular and favorite dim sum would probably be sold-out before noon as well.