Our Yum Cha experience

Recently, my Uncle invited my family for yum cha. This wasn’t my first such lunch, but I it had been a while. Many moons ago, I recall my Aunty Ade treating us at Rhodes Waterside. She was accompanied by her two daughters, who were still in high school. I remember it being a sumptuous and different experience. It was similar to sushi train; you pay for the plates you consumed. Both also mobilise chop sticks. However, the seating was more comfortable. There was all manner of dim sums and dumplings. Desert was special, too. In particular, my cousins enjoyed the mango tart. The restaurant was packed. Afterwards, we had a look at IKEA; they have a big store there.

Southeast Sydney

I had my most recent yum cha in southeast Sydney. My uncle met us at the plaza and gave me gifts. He told me that millionaires rock up in those sweatpants. I thought he was joking but he was serious. I also handed him my gift: a pair of Tommy Hilfiger sunnies, the case, with a greeting card. Mum and Uncle shared a hug upon meeting. They caught up for a while. After all, he is her eldest sibling.

Soon, it was time for yum Cha. Uncle had advised us to meet up early as the tables get filled quickly. The restaurant had an open plan arrangement. There were easily twenty round tables within. All of them had white tablecloth. Uncle decided for us to sit near the stairs. As soon as we took a seat, they gave us a pot of green tea. Soon we were feasting on dumplings with fresh prawns and pork dim sums. Employees moved around with pushcarts, hawking their treats. Once you get a serve, they’ll note it on your invoice. We also decided to give the spring rolls a try. Uncle said that they’re delicious. We did all this while manoeuvring our chopsticks.

While we ate, there was a steady stream of clients coming in. Most of them were Chinese, as they are the suburb’s dominant nationality. After the pandemic, a few of these places weren’t able to survive. They are one of the lucky ones. I saw a client munching on congee so I had to have one. The rice porridge was good. Their dessert wasn’t as good as Rhodes Phoenix.


After our meal, I did some research on yum cha. I learned that the latter is a Cantonese tradition that’s popular in Hong Kong, Macau, and countries with large Chinese diasporas. Yum cha involves servings of dim sums and dumplings washed down with hot green tea. They are usually carried out for celebrations such as graduations. Over the years, yum Cha has undergone various evolutions. One common mechanism is the tapping of two fingers on the table as a sign of gratitude to the host. There are also various unwritten rules regarding chopsticks. The custom of leaving the last piece to your elders is another time tested one.

Table whispers

Conversing over Chinese food, I learned that Uncle preferred one Filo carrier over another. He admitted that they were both bad, but the other one was definitely worse. He likewise mentioned that he already had a collection of sunglasses. It was good listening to him, as he’s now effectively the patriarch of my mum’s family. He has a lot of stories, including his mother in law, who has now reached the century mark. Together with Auntie Evelyn, they have been the resounding immigrant success story. Both of them have been well ahead of their time, so it pays to perk up to them. To paraphrase my dedication, ‘Knowledge they share will always be treasured.’

Korean, Japanese, and Cathay

I recall going to a Korean barbecue in Strathfield for my friend’s birthday. I was surprised to learn that we were going Dutch. In Pinoy custom, whoever invited you would shout you the meal. We also ate at the sushi train a couple of times. They’re all variegated; ‘Different strokes for different folks.’ One is Korean, the other is Japanese, and the third is Chinese. All use chopsticks but you have to cook your own meat at the Korean barbecue. I remember the latter for offering us Wagyu beef. The Cantonese version is pretty much a wide selection of entrees. Yum Cha may not be cheap but is worthwhile, a healthy indulgence while connecting with loved ones.

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