Tuesday, 19 October 2010

M&S Dim Sum - Don't Do It

Steamed prawn dim sum (top) and vegetable siu mai (bottom)
Prawn & coriander spring rolls
Dim sum is one of the great restaurant experiences, as it is very difficult to recreate at home from scratch. I mean who has the patience and expertise to knock up a selection of dumplings, buns, and rolls that are variously steamed, baked, fried, and grilled? So the only viable way to enjoy these treats at home is to get some in.

You can buy pre-prepared dim sum from your local Chinese supermarket. Whilst obviously not as good as restaurant dim sum, some shop-bought items can be quite good, e.g. roast pork buns (cha siu bao 叉燒包). That said the more delicate dumplings like har gau 蝦餃 don't quite hit the mark.

This is all well and good if you can get to a Chinese supermarket but if you can't then you have to rely on High St shops like Marks And Spencer. So in the interest of research, I popped into my local M&S to buy some dim sum from their 'Taste East' range. Thank God, I didn't bump into anyone I knew. I'd have a hard time explaining what I was doing with M&S dim sum!

Steamed Prawn Dim Sum
This is M&S's take on the prawn dumpling (har gau 蝦餃), one of the best known dim sum. First impressions weren't good as the pastry was far too thick and claggy and there were only 7 or 8 pleats. Things didn't get any better once you bit into it, as there was hardly any filling. I could barely pick out the prawn and there were all kinds of superfluous crap in there like water chestnuts, courgettes and carrots. One plus point was that the dumplings were well seasoned with a nice aroma from the sesame oil.

Vegetable Siu Mai
Siu mai 燒賣 is another dim sum stalwart and is traditionally made with pork and prawn but this version is vegetarian with rice and various vegetables in the mix. That said, other than the rice, the only ingredient I could actually pick out were the black-cap mushrooms. The seasoning wasn't that balanced with an overriding taste of pepper. They were also over-glutinous and prone to breaking up. It was a real struggle to transfer the microwaved dumpling into the steamer for the photo, so in the end I gave up!

Prawn & Coriander Spring Rolls
Having eaten the steamed (microwaved) efforts, I was beginning to get really depressed. My mood wasn't lightened when I retrieved these spring rolls 春卷 from the oven. Being oven-baked rather than deep-fried meant these rolls weren't particularly crispy. There also wasn't much prawn in them and they really ought to have been called water chestnut & coriander spring rolls. In fact the best thing about these was the coriander although in fairness they weren't badly seasoned.

The Details
Each of the above snacks cost £2.49/pack or £5 for any three from the 'Taste East' range. In the case of the prawn dim sum and vegetable siu mai, you get six per pack and it's recommended that they be microwaved for 'best results'. There are four prawn & coriander spring rolls in a pack and these should be oven-baked.

The Verdict
I wasn't expecting these to be brilliant but I did expect better from M&S. I'm not sure under what circumstances you would actually buy these efforts at dim sum. A waste of a fiver.


  1. Ha haaa you did it so we don't have to! I confess I'd never buy dim sum from regular supermarkets!

  2. I do hope all of this was in the name of research. Hahahaha.

    I've only brought cha siu bao from the supermarkets in Chinatown. They were not bad. Plus I am rather fond of those naff spring rolls you get there as well. Shameless I know.

  3. The things you'll do in the name of research...!

  4. I know I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to food, but anything from a supermarket that says "microwave for best results" has my suspicions raised. A lot.

    I've tried other 'ethnic' foods from M&S, usually when desperate for some food before a long train journey. Without exception, they've all been crap. Sushi (dry and old), Vietnamese fresh rolls (totally tasteless), noodle salads... They were rubbish. Depressingly so.

    Glad you've taken one for the team so we can all move on without wondering 'what if...?'

  5. Kavey - you should do a similar expose on supermarket samosas, pakoras and the like. On second thoughts, perhaps not!

    Mzungu - many restaurants use the cha siu bao that are sold in Chinese supermarkets.

    GDiva - never again!

    Gworm - I kinda knew it was going to be crap but I wasn't quite prepared at how crap it was. I agree that M&S's 'ethnic' stuff is pants and another one to add to the shitlist is their noodle soup, which I sampled in my civilian days.

  6. I hate water chestnuts. The photographs alone would be sufficient evidence of M&S dim sum's crappiness, but your descriptions ensure I'll never be tempted . . . no matter how much I'm craving dim sum on a weeknight.

  7. I would have also expected a little more from M&S, but then I noted more recently that standards have dropped considerably in many of their lines, and some of their luxury range of goods were discontinued, sign of the times I guess.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  8. A-in-L - you don't like water chestnuts! I can't really speak, as there's loads of stuff that I dislike. I don't mind water chestnuts and I do think they add a nice crunch to Chinese dishes if small amounts are added judiciously.

    LF - I know exactly what you mean about M&S although sometimes I wonder whether it's because I've become fussier!

  9. I am still giggling to myself about the fact that you bought M&S dim sum! The things we do in the name of research!!

  10. Catty - I was considering wearing a wig, shades and a disguise before heading out to M&S.