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The DIM SUM Pocket Guide

Speaking of Dim Sum, I have this neat little pocket guide (Dim Sum Pocket Guide by Kit Shan Li, Chronicle Books, 2004)that is small enough to stick in a purse or pocket and can guide you through about 46 common Cantonese dim sum. They are categorized by how they are cooked - steamed, deep-fried, pan-fried, congee and desserts. There's a clear photograph of each type of dim sum accompanied with Chinese characters, Cantonese pronunciation, English name and short description of the dim sum. The author also starts the book with short chapters on how to order dim sum, use chopsticks, the different teas, and a glossary of some unusual ingredients you'll encounter.

Many Cantonese dim sum restaurants still have the push carts where the server will bring the various dim sum right to your table and you can peek under the bamboo steamer lids and see what you might like to order. Some restaurants have abandoned the carts and list the dim sum on a menu instead. I prefer the push carts because you get to see everything before you order. Either way, you'll find this little handbook very helpful.

Some of my favorite dim sum are the chicken feet, euphemistically called Phoenix Claws in the Chinese; steamed spare rib nuggets; shrimp dumplings wrapped in rice flour skins ( ha gao); barbecued pork buns called cha siu bao; sweet sesame balls - glutinous rice flour balls filled with lotus seed or red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds before being deep-fried; and tofu pudding (dao fu fa), a very soft, silky tofu served warm with a sweet ginger syrup. YUM!

Cantonese dim sum, sometimes also called "yum cha", is very famous and enjoyed by all Chinese. The busiest time is on the weekends when whole families along with friends gather together to savor the large variety of textures, tastes and flavors. It's always so exciting and fun to be in what the Chinese call a "hot and noisy" environment enjoying food.

So, gather your family and friends together and look for a dim sum restaurant near you. Armed with this little guide book, you'll find yourself to be an old Chinese hand!

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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.