The spiritual center of dim sum—which means "snack" in Chinese—can be found in the Cantonese-speaking regions of China, where once the doors of the banquet hall open and people file in, voices immediately crescendo to a deafening clamor. People scream out their orders as waiters practically fling out plates and platters from roving carts. Each table gets a pot of tea, and the Cantonese tradition requires you to tap your index and middle knuckle on the table whenever someone pours for a cup for you.
Welcome to the Chinese version of teatime, a meal laden with rituals and symbolic meaning. But unlike the dainty scones and delicate spreads of the West, the food here is designed to fill you up. That goal is easy to attain, for dim sum menus are vast and diverse in their offerings. And while part of the enjoyment means sifting through many options, shooing carts away or beckoning others over, not all dim sum is created equal—especially in the minds of its proud loyalists.
When it comes to dim sum, tastes vary widely. Some families may consider themselves texture aficionados, opting for bony pork ribs and chicken feet. Others may be dumpling purists. This is just the type of debate dim sum inspires. In light of that, we’ve put together a power-ranking of dim-sum staples to set the record straight once and for all.