Eating Chinese Yum Cha in Australia

An arrangement of dim sum on a table.
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Yum cha in Australia, and particularly in Sydney, is a serving of small Chinese dishes of a large variety of mainly steamed items, such as dim sums and barbecued pork buns, served from trolleys that go around among the diners. This form of dining is a favorite amongst many restaurants within Australia on account of its great value and the variety offered. If you haven't had yum cha before, it is a must try. If not for the taste, then try it for the experience alone. Be warned, you could easily get hooked.

Yum Cha and Dim Sum

Traditionally, the term Yum cha translates to “drinking tea” while the term dim sum roughly translates to the phrase “to touch the heart.” However, these terms have come to mean different things across all parts of the globe. In some countries, the terms yum cha and dim sum are interchangeable, so it’s always important to keep that in mind when dining. In San Francisco for instance, you could be asked out for dim sum instead of yum cha, and you could expect the same thing. In Sydney and most other places, dim sums are the food servings, and you go to, say, Dixon St for yum cha and have dim sums. If ever desperate for a quick yum-cha fix, Chinatown is the place to visit.

In some parts of Asia, yum cha is available for morning or afternoon tea. Morning and afternoon tea in Australia essentially refers to those teensy meals that are consumed in between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner. When trying yum cha in Sydney, you can experience this meal around 11 am until 2 pm. Serving times remain consistent across the majority of Australia. Yum Cha, is one of the greatest meals to be consumed during the middle of the day.

What to order

When going out for some yum cha, the traditional method of ordering one's meal is not typically followed. Halfway between buffet and traditional ordering, yum-cha requires the customer to select their foods in an incredibly intriguing manner. When eating yum cha, a trolley of goodies passes by, and you choose whatever takes your fancy. Following you making your choice, the food is handed to you instantaneously, and voila, you are ready to eat.

There is no sin in asking what particular items are and there’s no sin in taking multiple plates. Merely point and nod at whichever dish you want, and it will be yours. When indulging in yum cha, rather than choosing from the cart, the customer is typically expected to order drinks. The usual accompaniment for yum cha is Chinese green tea, which is typically served in traditional teapots. One of the best things about ordering Chinese green tea is the fact that restaurants are always happy to do refills as the pots can easily be replenished with hot water,


There will be chopsticks at your table. If you are uncomfortable with chopsticks, you can ask for forks, or spoons and forks. There’s never any shame in asking for westernized utensils, so don’t be ashamed if you can’t grasp it first thing.

Assortment of Dishes

There will be a large assortment of dishes to choose from, some of the most popular ones being har gau (shrimp dumplings), cha sit bau (barbecued-pork buns) and tsun guen (spring rolls). Alongside these traditional items, there are many variations of these on offer as well. There will also be desert items, such as egg tart, lychees, and sweet sticky rice, to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Vegetarian Options

Though a large amount of yum-cha restaurants typically cater to those eating meat, vegetarians can rest assured knowing that Sydney provides options for all diners. With countless vegetarian options including; Zenhouse and the Bodhi restaurant all hope is not lost. With the Bodhi restaurant specialising in vegan produce, it’s clear to see how these services truly cater for all.

Keeping Track of Costs

Usually the size and type of container dictates the cost. As you order your food from the trolleys, these items are stamped in clearly marked price columns on an order sheet for each table. They are then totalled when you ask for your bill.


Edited and updated by Sarah Megginson.

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