Everybody loves Yum Cha. If you don’t, I probably would have unfriended you by now. Yum Cha means “drink tea” in Cantonese – it is originally a southern Chinesestyle morning or afternoon tea where high-quality tea will be drunk and admired, usually with a few small bites between each sip. However, this tea appreciation culture has evolved into the more popular “brunching” trend popular all around the world during which an array of small dishes are the main focus.
Yum Cha on the weekend in Sydney is an extreme sport. The ritual begins by picking up a raffle ticket and an excruciating long wait outside the restaurant. Once your number is called, you must navigate your way through the sea of hungry dumpling devotees, dodging the trolley dollies to get to your assigned table. The mission is rewarded with basket upon basket of delicious steamy morsels.
Chinese tea is poured, soy and chilli dipping sauce are on standby, and just when you thought you’d be able to relax to enjoy some tasty dim sums, another customer comes out of nowhere and steals all the popular dishes from the trolley just as you’re about to take them. The feisty and chaotic nature of yum cha is definitely not for everyone, but as soon as I munch on that fluffy Char Siu Bao, everything is forgotten.
Yum Cha can be found in almost every suburb of Sydney but most Chinese restaurants around Chinatown are open for yum cha daily. Whether it’s a well-loved institution with familiar hospitality or a newcomer that’s earned its reputation through an innovative dim sum menu, everyone has their favourite yum cha spots. Here’s my listopedia of the best Sydney yum cha haunts:
Marigold Restaurant inside the Citymark Building has been in the yum cha game for decades. Despite the face that the quality of the food has dropped a little and the obscure location (hidden on level 5), this old girl definitely won’t be slowing down anytime soon. It has a dedicated fan base who will religiously sit down to sip tea and chow down a few dumplings. The trolley ladies can be abrupt at times but don’t let that deter you. Make sure you try a few classics including Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork steamed buns), Siu Mai (steamed pork dumplings) and Pai Gwat (steamed pork ribs).