FOOD REVELATION : DIM SUM VS. YUM CHA // the meaning, the culture, the tea, the food, the meal times

Did you know that there’s a difference between Dim Sum and Yum Cha?

Yeah! Neither did I! I’ve been referring to the food cart dragging, receipt stamping, Cantonese shouting foodie adventures, Yum Cha, for as long as I can remember. I mean, I never thought about calling it Dim Sum before… and to be perfectly honest, I thought that Dim Sum was the “English Version” for Yum Cha; however, both Yum Cha and Dim Sum are Chinese words with different meanings.

So how did I realize the difference?

Well, as soon as I relocated to the Far East, I’ve been asking for “Yum Cha” on a daily basis. This is not an exaggeration. However I was told by my Aunts and Uncles, who are natives here in Hong Kong, to refer to this type of breakfast as Dim Sum. When I asked why… they said, “because Yum Cha is for high tea!!”

When I asked what’s the difference between Dim Sum and Yum Cha… they said, “because Yum Cha is for high tea!!”


Since I didn’t quite understand the difference between Dim Sum and Yum Cha based on their description alone, I decided to do a little food research on my own.

Food Curiosity Research

With my limited Chinese vocabulary, I tried to order some of my favorite dishes for both Breakfast: Dim Sum and Lunch: Yum Cha (yes, I know important words in Chinese like spare ribs and dumplings, thanks Grandpa).

So, what’s the difference between DIM SUM and YUM CHA?

Dim Sum: The small Chinese tapas-like dishes that are served to your table via cart or waitress… that’s Dim Sum. Dim Sum refers to the food served during breakfast time in Chinese culture… and even though they serve lots of the same dishes during Yum Cha, there are certain dishes that are only served at certain meal times (please do not ask me which ones, my Chinese vocabulary only consists of the following: spare ribs, dumplings, thank you and bathroom).

Yum Cha: The literal translation in English means Drink Tea. Therefore, Yum Cha refers to the whole process of eating while drinking tea in the afternoon… hence the reason why I was told, “Yum Cha is for high tea!!”

PS: When I was younger I was taught to use the term “Yum Cha” correctly because we’d always eat in the late afternoon… however I was wrong thinking I could apply “Yum Cha” to everything that was served in a wooden container. #chineseschooldropout

But can I be perfectly honest?

Even though there’s a written description to distinguish Dim Sum vs. Yum Cha, I really don’t see a significant difference when I look at my table for either meal time:

  • you wash your chopsticks, cups and bowls with tea
  • you drink tea
  • you sit at round tables
  • you put in your food orders (by calling over a cart or by putting in the order on paper)
  • they stamp your receipt
  • you eat family style with chopsticks and small bowls
  • sometimes there’s a turn-table to make it easier to share with everyone
  • you lift the lid of the teapot when you need to order more tea or water
  • you leave stuffed to the brim

So no matter which way is the correct way to call a Chinese breakfast… lunch… brunch… dinner… I’m just happy when I see food served in these cute wooden containers.

Do you have a favorite DIM SUM dish?? Need some options to choose from?? Click the link below…

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