There have been some grumblings recently about Canberra’s high tea options being light on their savoury options. But what if we include the Hong Kong equivalent of high tea to the mix: yum cha! A blissful tradition of sampling bite-sized morsels to your heart’s content.
I am having my very first chopstick tutorial, sitting in Yum Cha CBD. It is not going too well on my end, but Angel, who is showing me how to hold chopsticks, assures me that practice is key. Her graceful fingers deftly tweak the chopsticks. I start off all thumbs but gain some dexterity under her tutelage.
The restaurant is at capacity, given that it is the Sunday Yum Cha service, yet food travels seamlessly around the restaurant – a roaming smorgasbord where trolleys piled high with bamboo steamer baskets float past, delivering dim sum or ‘small dishes to share’ right to your table.
“Yum cha is not just about food,” Angel says. “It is a gathering time for family and friends.
“When I was in Hong Kong, I would do yum cha with my grandma on Sundays. We would enjoy eating lots of small portions and chatting about what was happening in our week. The egg tart was always my favourite because I have a sweet tooth and it is so smooth and milky.”
Adrian and his partner Angel run Yum Cha CBD with Adrian’s parents Henry and Carol. Adrian says that the yum cha tradition runs deep in his family as well.
“We are a big family. Every weekend we would go to yum cha, taking up two large round tables. It was a great tradition connecting the older and younger generation as we feasted on lots of different dishes together. We are replicating the service that we used to experience when we were kids, seeing friends and families sharing dishes.”
I am seated near a pair of friends who have been regulars since the restaurant opened in May 2019. They recommend their favourite dishes: prawn dumplings, the prawn and garlic chives dumplings, and the fried lobster dumplings.
After a cup of Chinese tea, the food begins to arrive. The sesame prawn rolls are crispy deep-fried pastries full of tender prawn, juicy in the middle.
Rice noodle rolls glisten on the plate, prawn filling wrapped within their gossamer folds. Their silken texture and flavour delights my tastebuds.
The Har Gao dumplings are translucent, their prawn and garlic chives filling visible through the delicate rice paper casing.
Shui May, a yum cha classic, is juicy pork and prawns encased in a wonton wrapper and topped with a distinctive orange dot of fish roe.
The lobster dumplings come to the table straight from the deep fryer. The satisfying crunch of wonton exterior gives way to the luscious lobster inside.
The dish that fascinates me most is the taro dumpling. A crunchy deep-fried shell encases a soft layer of fluffy taro with a seasoned pork mince centre. I could keep eating these all day long, marvelling at the strange and magical taste sensations.
Obviously a favourite, the egg tarts are flying off the cart. I like the slightly salty crispy pastry that surrounds the sweet custard.
The two yum cha chefs creating all this deliciousness have been proud Canberrans for many years. They still reminisce about watching on with great excitement when the Raiders won the Grand Final in ’91.
“We don’t just do yum cha,” Adrian clarifies. “We also serve authentic roast duck and BBQ pork. We have slow-cooked dishes like beef brisket and taro duck. These take 18 hours of preparation and are infused with five-spice flavours. And of course, there is live seafood.”
Angel said that practice makes perfect when it comes to the wielding of the chopstick and I think Yum Cha CBD is a great place to hone my skills.
Yum Cha CBD is located at 32 West Row in Civic. Yum cha runs from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm every day and dinner is from 5:00 to 10:30 pm.