Chef Ben Ting on dim sum, the delectable Chinese hors d'oeuvres

From afar they look like small-sized kozhukattas with a touch of culinary artistry to them. Chef Ben Ting deftly wraps wafer thin slices of dough around an array of mouth-watering vegetarian and non-vegetarian fillings to make the quintessential Chinese hors d'oeuvre known as dim sum.

“Dim sum are typical Chinese appetisers had for the Yum cha [literally meaning ‘drinking tea,' it is a dining experience where one drinks piping hot green tea with the dim sums]. They are traditionally eaten for or before lunch,” says chef Ben, the resident dim sum expert at The Leela Kempinski, Mumbai's signature Chinese restaurant, The Great Wall. Chef Ben is in the city for the ongoing ‘Unlimited Dim sum' food fete at The Tides, The Leela, Kovalam's beachside restaurant.

“Dim sum, which literally mean ‘touch heart,' can be eaten as appetisers or as light meals. They can be had steamed (in a bamboo vessel), pan-fried, deep-fried or baked,” adds chef Ben, a native of Singapore, in his halting English. Chef Ben began specialising in the dim sum while working at the Royal China restaurant of the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. “It all lies in the technique of moulding the dough into the desired shape,” he adds as he points out the bud-shaped vegetable sui mai dim sum, the golden skin bean curd prawn roll (which resembles a small spring roll) and the shell-shaped crystal vegetable dumpling – some of the more exotic varieties of dim sum. His favourite, he says, is the char siew pao (pork bun), which comes stuffed with roasted pork. He has given a local twist to this favourite of his at the fete in the form of the curry chicken bun.

Despite being steamed, the dough does not have a yellow tinge to it as is wont with maida dough. That, says chef Ben, is because the dough used for dim sum is super-fine flour such as wheat starch, potato starch and hong kong flour. This also makes it quite distinct in taste from momos, which are Tibetan versions of the dim sum.

You can try unlimited numbers of chef Ben's signature dim sums and wash it down with unlimited jugs of beer at The Leela's fete. It costs Rs. 750 plus taxes per person and is available for both lunch and dinner. The fete concludes on Sunday. Bon appétit!

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