It's hard not to fall for dim sum. These dainty morsels give bursts of different flavours, tempting you to eat more than you intend.
Good dim sum is a reflection of the chef's art and craft, and his or her mastery. I suppose that's why dim sum - which means "touching the heart" in Chinese - has gained popularity worldwide.
It's said to have been created in Guangdong Province and is synonymous with the popular term yum cha (to drink tea) because it is best paired with a pot of good Chinese tea.
Influenced by culinary styles of China's south, Malaysia actually outdoes many Chinese cities in offering a good variety of dim sum.
The diversity of cultures here has spawned various creations, Malaysians enjoy even more flavours ranging from spicy, tangy and herby. Here are five places to go for good dim sum:
Restoran Jin Xuan Hong Kong A32-36, Jalan 1/116B, Kuchai Entrepreneurial Park, off Jalan Kuchai Lama, Kuala Lumpur
In recent years, Jin Xuan has emerged as the household name for dim sum in Kuala Lumpur.
Its branches can be found around the city, and it is not hard to tell why the restaurant is popular.
My family often dines at the branch in Kuchai Lama as past experiences prove that the food there is tastier.
The dish that impresses my mother most is the steamed fish ball, and this is her way to tell if a dim sum restaurant is good or not.
Her criteria? The fish ball must taste of fish (many fish balls taste of just flour and MSG), be springy in texture, pale yellow in colour (the yellow and grey ones do not appeal while the white ones look too fake) and fresh.
Jin Xuan's always pass with flying colours.
Jin Xuan should also be praised for its version of loh mai gai (steamed glutinous rice with chicken), which is juicy but not soggy, while the marinade still allows the flavours of the chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage to shine.
Evident from the stream of customers (I avoid this place on weekends), the classic items such as har gao and siew mai are satisfying but I like their exclusive creations, too.
The bamboo fungus shrimp dumpling is a surprise, as bamboo fungus' high absorbency texture makes every bite flavourful and its crunchiness sets it apart from the others.
Restoran Ful Lai Dim Sum 47&49, Jalan 3/62a, Bandar Menjalara, Kepong, Kuala Lumpur
Char siew pau (BBQ pork bun) is an item I normally skip because it often fills me up, leaving little room in my tummy to enjoy other delights.
But at Ful Lai, I religiously order this as it is arguably the best in town.
To be honest, its appearance is not that appealing.
The bun looks crude with its flat shape and yellowish dough, but it may well be what char siew pau looked like in olden days.
But it oozes traditional goodness in every bite.
The pork has just the right cut for one to appreciate the chunks yet it is pleasant to the palate, and soaked in an intense and creamy black gravy with an aroma that lingers.
The sad-looking dough is the best part of the dish, as its sponginess shows that it is hand-kneaded, much unlike the mass produced thick and cottony version.
The deep-fried prawn rolls here are well done, too, thanks to the light, fluffy and crispy beancurd skin, complemented by a mayonnaise dip enhanced with a lemony zest.
Moon Palace Cheras Unit No 700-3F-1, 2, 3 & 7, Level 3, Cheras Sentral Shopping Mall, Jalan Cheras, Kuala Lumpur
This place was a recent discovery and is one of my family's favourite dim sum joints.
Located on the top floor of the refurbished mall, its ample parking space just steps away from the restaurant and spacious dining area always draw us there.
Of course, the food does not disappoint and sometimes the experience is made better with good promotions and discounts.
The dim sum here has exquisite craftsmanship, and are often sights to behold.
I like their siew mai (pork and prawn dumpling wrapped in wan tan skin and topped with fish roe) for being just the right size, because anything bigger cannot be regarded as "dainty" and anything smaller would be stingy.
Their Har gao (shrimp wrapped in snowy, translucent dough made from wheat starch) has a pleasant texture of chewy skin and firm stuffing, suggesting freshness of ingredients.
Another classic item is the fried radish cake, which unlike in other eateries, retains the radish's natural sweetness and boasts a rich aroma from the egg, leek and bean sprouts.
The Yam Nest or deep-fried taro dumpling is a must-try with the BBQ pork filling marinated with sweet dark sauce, encapsulated in moist yam paste with a crispy coating.
The Oriental Food Restaurant 45-G, Jalan 3/62A, Bandar Manjalara, Kepong, Kuala Lumpur
Located just opposite Ful Lai, this is where I would go for budget-friendly Shanghainese xiao long bao (pork dumpling with soup).
This restaurant was a surprise find as for the longest time my family thought it was expensive, judging from its banquet-style setup. We discovered that most of the dim sum items were RM5 (S$1.60) and the delicate pork dumplings were only RM7.50.
The food fulfilled my requirements of good dim sum - fresh ingredients, fine and balanced flavours, and exquisite presentation.
Xiao long bao is often an indulgence as it is not commonly available in many dim sum restaurants, and the good ones must have a spoonful of soup wrapped in the fine skin. This restaurant passes that test.
Another plus point is that the restaurant offers a wide selection of not just dim sum, but other Chinese dishes.
The desserts here are good enough to fix a bad hair day, with more choices offered compared to other dim sum places. We realised that the proprietor also runs the famous KTZ Desserts chain.
Do not miss out on the Mango Sago with Citrus, a refreshing chilled delicacy that pleases with tangy bites of pomelo and sago in creamy mango paste.
Fu Jing Dim Sum 2&2A, Jalan Temenggung 29/9, Bandar Mahkota Cheras, Selangor
Despite being new, Fu Jing Dim Sum is fast gaining popularity because it meets the needs of a rapidly developing area.
While the classics met our expectations, we were pleased with the ones with a creative twist.
The flavourful bacon roll immediately conquered the palate with its smokey aroma, while the Thai-style beancurd roll spiced up the dim sum experience.
The array of yong tau foo stole our hearts with the smooth gravy. An interesting item on the menu - century egg - certainly whetted our appetite.
The last time we visited, the restaurant had a roast duck promotion of only RM33 per bird, a real steal.
Guide to Chinese tea
As dim sum goes hand in hand with drinking tea, here is my little guide on the common Chinese teas.
Pu Er is the intense and woodsy dark-coloured tea, while Xiang Pian (jasmine) is light and floral.
My personal favourites are Tie Guan Yin and Cha Wong. These two belong in the semi-fermented oolong category and have a golden brown hue.
They have a sharp scent with a mild and rusty taste, making them unique.
Kuk Bou is a combination of chrysanthemum with either Pu Er or another dark-coloured tea like Liu Bao, hence the intense and floral flavours.