Dim Sum vs Dim Sim

Possibly because of the increased prosperity of the Tang era, it is also the first time we see a mention of a particular kind of snack food, intended to be consumed between meals, and increasingly as time wore on, in accompaniment with tea. Named as mere Touches of the Heart (dian xin), which is to say barely enough to fill you up, they are better known abroad by the Tang-era pronunciation preserved in the tea-taking, brunch-munching culture of the Cantonese: dim sum.

There is a curious Australian habit of calling them dim sim, which seems to confuse a topolect variant first recorded in the Melbourne Argus in October 1928 with a large pork dumpling invented in the same city by William Wing Young in the 1940s. As a result, whenever I am among Australians we find ourselves hectoring each other about pronunciation, with me pedantically trying to get them to speak medieval Chinese while they try to get me speak Australian. Another peculiar Australian coinage is to distinguish between Long Soup, which has noodles in it, and Short Soup, which has dumplings in it.

Jonathan Clements is the author of The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals.

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