‘Dim sum means a little touch of the heart’, explains Jeremy Pang, founder of the School of Wok, relating the delightful tale of how dim sum developed. Traditionally, the old yum cha (tea drinking) houses of China served only tea, but one day the owner of one such tea house welcomed a traveller so tired and worn out that she decided to serve him some food with his tea and made him some dumplings to eat. When her neighbours caught wind of this, they decided to do the same for their customers. As it quickly became a competition as to which tea house served the tastiest and most beautiful dumplings, dim sum – a meal of bite-sized items served with tea – was born.
All of us attending today’s Dim Sum class are excited to learn how to make our favourite dim sum treats at home. In just 6 hours, we will cover 5 recipes including black bean spare ribs, tofu skin rolls and two steamed dumplings. It will be intense – to learn this many dishes in one day is ambitious – but it will also be relaxed, fun and delicious.
Class tutor Melissa Wong starts the day by leading us through the recipe for lor bat gou (turnip cake), which is the most time consuming of the day. Not only do some of the ingredients need to be soaked overnight (already taken care of by the helpful gang of cookery school assistants) but the turnip cake mixture needs to be cooked first on the stove, then steamed in blocks and cooled, and finally cut into slices and fried.
As we work through the recipes, we also learn more about unfamiliar ingredients. We use guangxi brown sugar slices to balance out any bitterness from the mooli; palm sugar is a good substitute.
Later, we wrap a filling of crushed prawns with doufu pi (tofu skin). During the process of making tofu, a skin forms on top of the setting curd; this is carefully lifted off the surface, dried and sold in large sheets. We paint the tofu skin with egg-wash to soften it and help it stick together once rolled.
Knife skills are also covered, along with handy tips such as peeling ginger by scraping it with a teaspoon instead of a paring knife.
Where the School of Wok’s teaching methods truly come into their own is for the steamed dumpling recipes. We crowd around the tutor as she mixes the pastry for the wrappers, shows us just the right technique to roll it into perfect circles, slightly thicker at the centre than the edges, and then how to fill and shape the dumplings. The folds seem complicated at first, but Mel takes us through slowly and patiently to make sure we follow every step. When we try for ourselves, she and Jeremy walks around the class, reminding, correcting and helping each student to make the best dumplings they can.
When developing the school’s dim sum classes, Jeremy adapted traditional recipes to be achievable by the home cook without losing the essence of the dish. ‘If something needs to be made a certain way, then that’s the way we teach people to make it’, he says.
We make the kimchi dumplings first, mixing a wheat flour pastry that is very forgiving and easy to work.
These we cook and eat straight away; a welcome rest and snack before we carry on.
Later, when we make the har gau (prawn dumplings), Jeremy tells us it’s considered one of the hardest of all dim sum to make; the translucent dumpling wrapper is achieved by mixing wheat and tapioca flours but this pastry dries out quickly and is difficult to work; the new wrapper fold we learn is more complicated too.
Once the hard work is over, we sit down to enjoy the feast we have made. Unlike the old ladies of the yum cha houses, it’s a sense of pride rather than competitiveness that we feel, as we gaze with newfound expertise at the beautifully made dim sum before us.
The School of Wok offers a range of cookery classes in Oriential and Asian cuisines. Courses range from 1 hour tasters through to 5 day intensive and include classes on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Fish & Seafood, Sushi Making and Understanding the Wok.
Sister school, the Oriental Culinary Institute offers training and certification for professional chefs.
We attended this class as guests of School of Wok in 2015. We have since been back to School of Wok for several other classes; teaching standards remain at the same high level for all classes. The full day dim sum course is currently priced at £160, and the menu of dishes covered during the day has changed slightly since we attended. This review was previously published in Good Things magazine. © Kavita Favelle.