Putting the yum into yum cha

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YUM cha is centuries old and remains a tradition with Chinese families gathering for a pick-me-up of piping hot tea and hand-made, delicate, bite-sized dim sum.

They say it all began with farmers and labourers working along the Silk Road, stopping at quaint tea houses to rest and recharge.

Today yum cha is served around the world. Technically, the term means “drinking tea”, but the definition has extended to eating dim sum and drinking lovely, digestive tea.

Most of Canberra’s well-established yum cha establishments are on the northside. Locations on the southside include the Hellenic Club and Noble Palace in Woden and, now, China Plate in Kingston.

Yum cha aficionados get a thrill out of dining in a massive space packed full of diners with staff zipping here, there and everywhere serving from carts. The range of sweet and savoury dim sum is extensive and the fun part is trying as many as you can before you’re absolutely stuffed.

China Plate serves yum cha differently – banquet style, which is perfect for those not enamoured with the frenetic pace of traditional yum cha eateries. It’s also great for those preferring to be presented with a formal menu and a set price. And China Plate offers a more intimate setting where you can settle in for as long as you want without feeling you’re depriving the next group in line the opportunity to dine.

China Plate’s premium yum cha banquet ($40 per person) includes 13 dishes and Chinese tea. The standard banquet is $30 per person. On a recent Sunday, owners Lin Pun and Amy Lo were on site, serving our party of five at the pace we set.

Dumplings are a huge feature of yum cha. My favourites are the steamed varieties. Pork is always a highlight and we drooled over the Shanghai dumplings, which China Plate excels at, with a tangy ginger and vinegar sauce on the side.

The scallop dumplings were subtle and the lobster dumplings a big hit. But my favourite of the day was the spinach dumplings, which several of us had never had before – a nice hit of antioxidants and Vitamin C.

Steamed barbecue pork buns are another yum cha “must”, although I’m not a fan, finding the dough heavy. You couldn’t stop me from tearing into the soft shell crab dish, though.

By the time the rather fattening Char Kway Teow came, I was getting a tad full, but managed a few mouthfuls, loving the great flavours and contrasting textures, with the noodles silky smooth and the bean sprouts popping in the mouth. And, yes, I indulged in the cooling, creamy coconut sago.

China Plate serves yum cha on Saturdays and Sundays. Bookings essential. Kennedy Street, Kingston, call 6260 7555.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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